Nü Religion: Hyena
THEY. are an LA-based duo that combines producer Dante Jones and Drew Love on vocals. What they do as a duo is less easily definable. I know that Frank Ocean would love these guys. THEY. follow that same pattern of R&B genre-bending that he loves. I can also see where The Weeknd or twenty one pilots might fit in as well – THEY. seem to switch back and forth between rock, hip-hop, trap, electronic, R&B, and pop-based hooks and chordal patterns. It all comes together with a combination of the atmospheric and the heavy. And that’s just on one album – their first, Nü Religion: Hyena, which was released on February 24, 2017.
It sounds like THEY. heard what was going on in the music industry and wanted a change from the usual, but managed to maintain the elements that allow a band’s music to be easily accessible. It is a difficult thing to do – on songs like “What You Want,” there’s almost an element of Nirvana in the guitars, whereas only a few songs before on “Motley Crew” it sounded like almost-but-not-quite trap.
Their aesthetic is intriguing, too. It is usually dreamy and electronic counterpointed by staccato heavy beats, but there is something deeper moving behind it. A common musical theme throughout the album is that of North Africa, as is established in the intro song. The sounds are designed to shift from ear to ear and in the background is always the gentle hiss of voices. There is also the occasional flutter of a Middle Eastern-inspired flurry of notes that give it that flavor of something a little otherworldly and new. Even though the lyrics have not broken entirely from the thematic pattern established by popular hip-hop – money, women, alcohol – it is almost certainly something on which they can build.
As far as first albums go, it is extremely well done. THEY. crammed a whole lot into just one LP without it feeling cramped. Nü Religion: Hyena fits together seamlessly like a puzzle, and allows the band room to grow in their own sound. There are many sonic elements in the album and under any other circumstances they would clash horribly (I hear emo and mumble rap on the same album), but THEY. managed to bring everything under their control and marshall it into a new order.
On a personal note, I am a big fan of The Roots, so I always want to hear how everyone would work with them, but these guys in particular would be interesting, so I would like to talk about this possibility of collaborating with a more established group or artist. On the one hand, it is clear that THEY. like to have their own say in their production value, which is very polished and tightly controlled – because it is so difficult to pull off something new like this in the music industry, so THEY. have to do it perfectly the first time in order to establish their presence. But on the other hand, imagine for a moment combining The Roots’ love for experimentation and raw musicianship, as well as fondness for mixing instruments and stage experience, and combining it with Jones and Love’s new vision.
It would certainly be swung toward hip-hop, but within that realm there is so much that has yet to be done. It seems to me a crime that the most popular song so far on Nü Religion: Hyena is “Dante’s Creek,” which is easily the most poppy song off the album – and the weakest. Let the band highlight their vocal and production skills in the hip-hop community and THEY. will see a fanbase they never dreamed of. The Roots are a safe bet because they are huge and have clout, so they will automatically attract attention to THEY.’s rap work, and they also allow enough different in their music to keep everything that THEY. are already doing and then some.
It is essential wherever THEY. goes that they stay true to their vision, because what they are doing is artistically important. Jones and Love are two young black artist daring to break out of the mold that too often these days seems to be required for any progress in the industry. To make music that is progressive and different is not only a musical statement but a political one about all minority musicians taking back their identities. Should THEY. become huge, it will be because they started small, independent, and fiercely proud of who they are. It is refreshing and inspiring to see.
Just based off of their first EP, their collaborations with Skrillex and ZHU, and their raw talent, THEY. can definitely make it on their own. And is it up to us to dictate the way in which the band wants to grow? If their next direction focuses even more on that Egyptian trap sound, they’ll work until it’s perfect. If they decide to become more pop-influenced, they can do that, too. Judging by their latest single, “U-RITE,” they are going more heavily in the trap direction and killing it, but only time will tell how it plays out. The only thing I do not want to see is THEY. get tired of innovating and quit the game. They are a unique voice saying something which needs to be said: that there is no “right” way to be an artist of color and make incredible music. It may be lonely where they are at right now, but they should be warned: fame attracts imitators. Who will they inspire? THEY. are tastemakers. Watch them.
You can watch THEY.’s latest music video for their newest single “U-RITE” by following the link here. Their latest album, Nü Religion: Hyena, is available on Spotify and is available for download on iTunes.