Brooklyn hip hop duo 11roots is poised to release their debut, self-titled album this summer. The pair, consisting of rhyme artist and producer Ur Maa and beat smith Brown_buddha, create jazzy, swirls of sound behind abstract, poetic lyrics. 11roots is firmly based in the traditions of the greats of Brooklyn hip hop, while at the same time blazing a unique trail of their own. 11roots recently spoke to Backstreet Mafia about life under quarantine, their inspirations and influences and the method to their creative madness. The pair’s latest single, Tasms, was released in March and is available on both Spotify and Bandcamp. This interview has been lightly edited.
Backstreet Mafia: For those not familiar with your music, can you please introduce yourselves?
Ur Maa: I’m UrMaa, rapper and producer.
Brown_buddha: Just a producer, for now.
BSM: How old are you guys and where do you live?
UM: I’m 24 and I’ve lived in Brooklyn my whole life.
Bb: I’m 20, born and raised in Brooklyn.
BSM: How are things in Brooklyn, with the pandemic, social distancing and all that? Is the pandemic affecting your work or how you work?
UM: Staying safe is the main goal right now. I lost my swimming instructor job, but I’m still working as a 6th and 8th grade math teacher.
Bb: I’m just trying to keep a level head at the moment. I had some big things planned this year that just went down the drain, due to the pandemic. Just been making beats, attending school online, and making food deliveries.
BSM: How long have you all been making music?
UM: I’ve been making music since 2014, but didn’t take it seriously until 2018.
Bb: I got into making music around the same time as Ur did, but I didn’t start making hip-hop until 2017.
BSM: What musicians/artists/creatives have inspired you, motivated you? Are there writers who have influenced your creative process?
UM: Q-Tip is always at the top of the inspiration list. Listening to a lot of John Coltrane and Bobby Hutcherson. Also, I have a large love of theater and film, so Amiri Baraka, John Singleton, August Wilson, and Spike Lee. Music, theater and film help my creative process.
Bb: A huge influence on me will always be Madlib. My dad’s a house head, so anything that Frankie Feliciano makes means something to me. Reading a George Orwell book always makes me want to write some poetry. I love anime, specifically anything that [Japanese anime director] Shinichirō Watanabe is a part of. Also, the Nickelodeon throwbacks, like Hey Arnold!, Rugrats, Avatar, all inspire me to make something better.
BSM: What is your creative process like? Does one of you make the beats/music? Does one of you write the lyrics or is it a group effort?
UM: Buddha makes a beat and I write rhymes, pretty simple. We’ve known each other our whole lives, so it’s really comfortable making music with him.
Bb: I make the beats, Ur raps over them. Not really much change up in the plan for now, but you might hear me rap on a track or two.
BSM: Do either of you play an instrument? Do you use live instrumentation? Samples? What software/hardware do you use to create music/beats? Tell us about the creative process for the music part of the project.
UM: Used to play guitar and piano, but never practiced enough. Spent a lot of years playing African Drums, too. But I go crazy on Ableton; record, produce, and mix everything on there.
Bb: I’ve played guitar, as well as the violin, the alto saxophone, bass guitar, piano (which I’m in the process of picking up again), and some percussion. Right now, I’m mainly sample based. Looking to branch out into actually making some music with live instrumentation. Currently working with [Roland] SP-404A and Ableton. I also work in [Image-Line] FL Studio. For the project, I kind of just wanna make whatever comes off the top of my head and have Ur mold it and shape it into what he needs it to be. I imagine that every good group has a producer that has that mentality and approach to things.
BSM: Are you crate diggers? If so, do you have a favorite place to dig in Brooklyn or any where else in NYC?
UM: I’m a YouTube crate digger.
Bb: I dig in [the] YouTube crates from time to time, but I like actually going out and getting the physical copies or ordering them in. There’s something about having the physical copy that makes it worth the time and energy of going out to dig and finding something you really like. It’s like seeing Michael Jordan on TV versus actually being there and experiencing the game.
BSM: When you are creating, is there a non-music related thing, or object that you must have with you to enhance the creativity or help you create?
UM: Gotta keep the water on deck. Also, just copped Elucid’s Save Yourself vinyl and I enjoy having it in my workspace.
Bb: Currently I’m obsessed over a girl and all [the] recent beats that I’ve been making have been inspired by her. Really hope she listens. I have a little jade Buddha on my desk to remind me to always peace out and never stress over a beat.
BSM: How about the lyrics? Do you sit and create? Keep a notebook for ideas? Wait for inspiration to hit you? Talk out ideas and come up with lyrics together? Explain a little bit about the creative process for your lyrics.
UM: I gotta hear the music first to write the lyrics. The feelings and emotions from the music really dictate how I craft my lyrics. Riding on the train helps me write lyrics a lot, and due to the pandemic, it has been harder to craft lyrics.
Bb: That’s really all Ur.
BSM: You are working on your debut album? Will it be self released? Where is the work on the record taking place? Studio? Bedroom? A room somewhere?
UM: : Yes we are currently working on our debut album titled 11ROOTS. This will be self-released. We work on the album in our homes, and come together at my house. A real DIY approach.
Bb: Usually, we just chill in Ur’s house. I play him some beats, he tells me what he wants, we chill, then I go back home. Obviously now that can’t happen, but once this pandemic is over, best believe I’m hopping on the train to go chill at his place.
BSM: What is the approximate release date?
UM: July or August 2020.
BSM: What would you like fans and listeners to know about your music?
UM: This is music for people who want better from the world, and their lives. All about bettering yourself, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Bb: Spacial, magical, extraordinary. 11 Roots!
BSM: Favorite artist of the moment?
Bb: egoseed! Check him out on Soundcloud.
BSM: Favorite book?
UM: Why Black Men Love White Women: Going Beyond Sexual Politics to the Heart of the Matter by Rajen Persaud.
Bb: Segu by Maryse Condé.
BSM: Favorite movie/film?
Bb: : I only got into watching movies recently, but I’m really into The Irishman.
BSM: When you’re big stars, blowing up the charts, where is the first place outside the United States you want to tour? Why?
UM: Africa, the birthplace of rhythm, soul, and life.
Bb: Africa is the move. Definitely wanna check out South Africa.
11roots on Spotify:
Brown_buddha on Spotify: