The rising indie hip-hop duo G-Side is composed of two different rappers with a clear, shared goal: to be No. 1. Hell, G-Side won’t even release an album on a date that doesn’t have a “1” in it (The One … Cohesive was released Jan. 1, 2011, and Island was released Nov. 11, 2011). ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova have been players in the Southern rap game for nearly a decade, but their ambitious persistence paid off in 2011, as they enjoyed nearly universal praise for Cohesive. After playing a few festivals and some one-off shows in Europe earlier this year, G-Side is ready and eager to embark on its first official national tour.
Before their Dec. 13 stop at the Empty Bottle, ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova talked to The A.V. Club about going from Alabama to the Internet, all of the white kids at their shows, and the duo’s high ambitions.
The A.V. Club: As a rap duo, you’ve been compared to Outkast a lot. Do you think you experience as many creative differences when collaborating?
Yung Clova: We are two different artists on one track. I think that’s what gets people. I’m more cool and laid-back, rapping about down-to-earth stuff, but ST is more lyrical and uses a lot more metaphors. You get the best of both worlds on one track. It’s two totally different styles of doing hip-hop. If you’re a fan of music in general, I don’t see how you couldn’t enjoy it. I always compare it to when Yeezy and Jay-Z are doing a track together.
AVC: Do you feel you’ve done your part to put your home state of Alabama on the musical map?
ST 2 Lettaz: It was all about building a hip-hop scene. Rather than going to a bigger city with a bigger market and trying to match up with it, we knew it was going to be a long, hard road—but we decided to build up Huntsville. Not just Alabama, but Huntsville. And we want our own sound, so that’s why we weren’t gonna go to Atlanta. We don’t have an Atlanta sound; we have our own sound.
AVC: Your sound has been called a couple of different things, like “cloud rap.”
ST: Our partner Walkmaster Flex actually made up that term. But I don’t know, I feel it’s just Huntsville music. We get a lot of comparisons to these other artists who are coming up, because they have a sound that’s a lot like ours, like that sound that’s real airy and spacey like us. But I like to think that the [G-Side producers] Block Beataz do that better than anybody else. But no, to us it’s just Huntsville hip-hop; it’s not cloud rap.
ST: Walkmaster Flex is actually Main Attrakionz’s manager; I haven’t had a chance to listen to much of their shit though. I heard a few of [rapper] DaVinci’s records, and I’m a fan of his. We’ll do a date or two with him. But yeah, I don’t really know if it’s a good fit or not; we’ve just been working on Island for a while now. Most of what I’m listening to now is other Huntsville music, focused on the people coming up around here.
AVC: It seems like a staple of cloud rap, but how important is marijuana to you guys?
ST: It’s 50/50. Clova doesn’t smoke, even like once a year, maybe to celebrate something really big. Me, I smoke daily. I mean, I wouldn’t even say it’s so important, because we never really make smoke songs or anything like that; we just make music. And I don’t depend on marijuana to make music. It’s something I do every day, but if there’s an instance where I don’t have it, like if we’re in Europe and there’s no weed around, I can still record quality music without being high.
AVC: Your music has noticeably high-quality production. Do you think G-Side could ever blow up on mainstream pop charts? Or are you content with more of a niche, indie-rap audience?
YC: Well, everybody wants to go to that next level. Everybody. But we don’t want to compromise who we are or the music we make. We want to bring that mainstream to Huntsville, to Athens. Let them respect what we do.
ST: I think the thing with the majors—all we would really want is creative control. If we can control how our sound is, and they don’t try to change it, then yeah, I think we’d be cool. As far as being pop artists, I can’t see us being the Black Eyed Peas, y’know? I could see us with that type of fan base, and even that large of a fan base, but I can’t see us dressing up in crazy costumes and doing bullshit like that. We’ll still be us at the end of the day. If we ever get a chance to do the Super Bowl halftime show, we’ll probably be dressed in Purple Tyrant, our clothing line. We’ll have our shit on. We’ll remain true to who we are.
AVC: On Cohesive you say, “If you’re paying attention to your rearview, you can’t see what’s in front of you … You’ve been to the past before; you’re looking at the future out your front window.” What do you see through G-Side’s windshield?
YC: We want a Grammy. Independent. That’s one of our biggest goals man: a Grammy. Like, we love doing the festival circuit; we like just making great music; but man, if we can go down as legends and say we’ve made our mark on the game, I think it would be good. We want to be able to tour when we’re old if we want to. We want the option, to be able to do it—not just because we have to, but because we still want to.
AVC: You’re just now going out on your first national tour. What are you looking forward to?
ST: We want people to see that we have one of the best live performances in music. We wanna get new fans, y’know? I think our music translates much better live than it does on record.
AVC: When playing festivals like Pitchfork Fest and Fun Fun Fun Fest, most of the attendees are younger, white college kids. Are you comfortable with a crowd like that?
YC: That’s our whole fan base. We’re used to it now. All our crowds be like that. I’m not mad at it at all, especially coming from Alabama. Just that two black dudes from Alabama, to be able to perform to—well, I wouldn’t say all-white—they’re pretty mixed crowds, but a majority white. For that to happen, I think, is a testament to the music.
AVC: So would you say the music is particularly appealing to white listeners?
YC: It can appeal to anyone. It’s not the same as most urban music. There’s a big difference between what you get from a G-Side record and a 2 Chainz record. I think this is just the way we were put on, as far as blogs go, and that’s kind of steered us towards a certain crowd. I mean, not a lot of black people are on Pitchfork, so it was about the media outlets who picked up on us and were nice enough to write about us. That’s kinda how we built our fan base.
AVC: You seem to have made as much use of the Internet as possible, releasing both of your 2011 albums exclusively on Bandcamp. What inspired that decision?
YC: We did our research and realized it just fit our lifestyle. Being on an independent label, Bandcamp is just a good fit for our projects. Once we were on Bandcamp, we didn’t see any reason to go elsewhere.
AVC: Some artists still try to sell their armfuls of CD-Rs at intersections. Do you think that’s still a viable method for young guys trying to get their music out? Or should they do what G-Side does, and get a Bandcamp?
YC: It’s kind of like walking into court. If you got all these big gold chains and fancy earrings on, how can a judge take you seriously if you just committed murder, you know? I think those days are way back. If you want people to appreciate your music, you gotta at least put a little bit of money into it. Quality is what it’s all about today. Back in the day it was cool, but we didn’t have the technology then that we have today. Gotta put money into it.
ST: Presentation is everything. Even with us, like, our live show is not just two rappers up on a stage. We got background singers to, one, change the perception, where it doesn’t matter where we play, if you don’t like hip-hop or whatever, there’s a different dynamic to the show that those background singers bring. And two, it will match what our sound is there on the record. It’s all about presentation.
AVC: It really sounds like you guys have strong convictions about the artistic integrity of your music.
ST: I think it comes from time. At first we wanted a quick fix, like everybody else. We wanted to be on BET, XXL, and Source, but after a while when we realized it’s not gonna happen doing it the way we were doing it, and that nobody would give us anything, then we decide to build our own structure, our own machine, our own way of doing things. And, after a while of doing so much work, you have to have pride in it. That was just something we were taught as kids. We apply that to whatever we do. Being an independent artist on an independent label, and the rat race of all that, you have to make sure your product is at the highest quality it can be just in order to survive.
AVC: Do you want your listeners to be challenged at all by your music?
ST: Just enjoy it. Just be a fan for a minute, have fun, and listen to some good music. We’re not gonna be able to change the world. The world is what it is. Hopefully we can change our world, and [if] it can pull away any kind of knowledge, that’s great. We want people to know where we came from and how we get to where we’re going, but at the same time we want you to enjoy it. Don’t overthink it. Play it, ride to it, smoke to it, fuck to it, whatever you wanna do. Enjoy it.
AVC: “Speed Of Sound,” one of your tracks, samples Enya. It’s a little off-putting at first, but it really just works. There’s not even a hint of irony to it.
YC: That’s all our producers, CP and Mali Boi. That’s all the Block Beataz, man. That’s what they do. They’re some genius guys who find go and find these crazy sounds. They gave us a whole, brand-new sound. That’s why it’s kinda off-putting at first, ’cause it’s not what you’re used to. But then, it’s dope! So you can’t be mad at it. And I think that’s why we get critiqued extra hard, harder than most other artists, because it’s a whole new sound.
AVC: But it seems like the critiques are mostly positive.
YC: Yeah, it is mostly positive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not critiqued extra hard. You might turn your nose up at first, but then say, “This shit is dope.” I think our listeners keep listening to see if they can find what’s wrong with it. Like, “Why am I enjoying this so much?”