The artists discuss their new album and share it with Backseat Mafia.
Virginia rapper Hernon and Toronto-based producer Frowns met the way many artists meet each other today, on social media. After exchanging some direct messages on Instagram, they began to collaborate on a project together, their new album, Masterplan. While the process of creating the album itself was relatively smooth, the album’s genesis resulted from the turmoil that Hernon faced in his personal life; Masterplan is the product of much blood, sweat and tears for the twenty-six year old rapper, as he worked through the personal trials in his life that proceeded the LP’s creation.
Masterplan is a compelling and spiritual work, a fine example of abstract and introspective hip hop that is deeply personal and heartfelt. Hernon’s raps meld with Frowns’ production, which ranges from warm, soulful beats to more trippy and claustrophobic sounds, all of which convey the anxiety and emotion of the words his partner spits. Together, the artists have created a novelistic album, intimate and textured, and one that demands repeated listening to appreciate its strengths and to decipher all of its wisdom.
Sometimes, the most meaningful art is art birthed from trauma and loss, and this album is no exception. Lyrics are, of course, subject to interpretation, but it’s difficult to listen to Hernon’s lyrics and not reflect on the trauma of being a young, Black man in the United States, one who was homeless for a time, and one who is coming to grips with Bi-polar disorder. In spite of these circumstances, or maybe because of them, Hernon dug deep. He gave himself to his art, and we should give ourselves over to his art, too.
Cardi B, Travis Scott, Megan Thee Stallion and other stars are an important part of the cultural firmament, but so are Hernon and Frowns; they are artists who deserve our support. At a time when much of the world is suffering, music is still vital to our well-being, and, collectively, we need to support the artists who are supporting us, especially smaller, independent artists. Many toil at day jobs to create their art and their struggles are our struggles, literally and figuratively.
Tomorrow, you will be able to purchase Masterplan on BandCamp. Today, enjoy the music, care of Hernon and Frowns; tomorrow support the artists and buy their art, if you can.
Backseat Mafia spoke to Hernon and Frowns about the making of the album, their own artistic journeys and influences, and their individual creative processes. The duo also generously agreed to premiere the album on Backseat Mafia.
Photos of Masterplan, Hernon and Frowns are courtesy of the artists. The interview has been lightly edited for publication.
Backseat Mafia: Tell our readers something about yourselves.
Hernon: For starters, I’m from Richmond, Virginia. I grew up in South Jersey in a small town called Runnemede and moved to Virginia for the rest of my schooling. I attended Virginia Commonwealth University, but did not graduate.
Frowns: I grew up in Suffolk County, Long Island. I bounced around Brooklyn and Queens for some years. My wife and I moved to Toronto about a year ago.
BSM: How long have the two of you been making music?
H: I have been rapping and making music since I was 16 years old and I am 26 now.
F: I’ve been making beats on and off for the last 12 years. I’m a bit of a hermit, so working with rappers is new to me. I hadn’t collaborated with anyone prior to Holding Hands Help with Damien Rose, eight months ago.
BSM: When do you first recall hearing music around you? What did you hear?
H: I first recall hearing music when my family had a karaoke machine in the house when I was probably 5 or 6 years old. My two sisters and I would play on the karaoke machine all night after dinner until we went to bed.
F: My brother has been in the Long Island punk scene for years, doing shows and putting out music under his label, 86’d records. Seeing his relationship to music helped me to develop my own ear for music and allowed me to appreciate it on a deeper level. My cousin, a dj, also had a big effect on my beats. He introduced me to Hip Hop.
BSM: When did you become an active listener to music? When did you start to really pay attention to music? Who are some of the artists who influenced your development?
H: I think it started around 2011-2012. I had been really into basketball and planned to try to go D1, but as that dream faded I started really getting into hip hop music. Mac Miller really helped me develop as an artist. Listening to Faces, Delusional Thomas and Watching Movies with the Sound Off [and they] showed me how versatile a hip hop artist could be with their subject matter. Earl Sweatshirt was a huge influence for me as well. I had just dropped out of school when Earl dropped I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside so I was dealing with a lot of different emotions and that album in a way shaped how I rap and listen to music.
F: I’ve always actively listened to music, but Slum Village’s instrumental “Players” opened my eyes to J Dilla and sparked my interest in production. It pushed me to really hone in on music I connected with and drew me to producing hip hop. Can’t get enough Dilla and DJ Premier.
BSM: Favorite artists right now?
H: Earl Sweatshirt, Mach Hommy, Jay Versace, The Alchemist, Navy Blue.
F: Akai Solo, Cities Aviv, Blackfist, Slauson Malone, Nelson Bandela, Maxo, Amir Bilal, Pink Siifu, Theravada, ZEKEultra. I could go on. I’m leaving people out.
BSM: Let’s talk a little about your creative process. Hernon can you walk us through how you create lyrics/rhymes? How do you develop and write the lyrics for your songs?
H: I keep a heavy number of raps in my notes, on my phone and MacBook. At one point, I had about 800 notes. When I was younger, I kept countless notebooks, but now I mainly turn to my notes app on my phone for writing. I tend to use notebooks only to vent and journal. Despite all this, I love to freestyle. I freestyled one of the tracks on the album and the rest were written. Everything I do is pretty much just a stream of consciousness. I edit my raps, but not heavily. If I don’t like my writing, I tend to start over and delete everything so the actual writing itself is just a stream of lyrics with few edits.
BSM: How did you develop your voice? On the new album, your flow is very relaxed. Was it always this way, or was it a process over time to find your voice?
H: I developed my voice by freestyling a lot on various different types of instrumentals, from classic boom bap to trap and drill beats. The process has been a lot of trial and error because as much as I’m a fan of certain sounds my natural voice may not sound good on every single beat I try to rap on. My first raps were recorded on Fruity Loops. I recorded them in my basement with one of the homies over an old school instrumental. I mixed the track myself so the levels were off, but the raps were solid. I had that joint on repeat for a minute, haha. To get my flow to where it is now has taken a lot of practice, but also a lot of trials and tribulations. I had to go through things like dropping out school, losing friends and girlfriends, and being homeless for a short stint. Those things helped shape my delivery more than anything.
BSM: Frowns, can you explain what your process is for creating beats? What kind of gear and software do you use?
F: I messed with Reason briefly, before I got a hold of Ableton. Ableton suited me much better. I could get my ideas down without a struggle and the interface just made more sense to me. I’ve had a bunch of gear over the years and used to sample records a lot. I got rid of most of the gear when I’d move or when I was disgusted with what I’d been making. I sample everything from YouTube now. It’s a totally different experience than digging for records. Sampling a record is a process. It requires much more patience and time but I feel more connected to the experience. It’s like the difference between going to Blockbuster or watching something on Netflix. I miss Blockbuster but I can stay in my underpants and watch Netflix. I think I’ll eventually set myself up again to sample records. When I’m sampling I listen for a sound I like and build it out from there. I’m not really looking for a loop. Just one note or chord to start the beat. Beyond that, I try not to follow the same method every time. I usually spend about 45 minutes on a beat to get something down. I’ll revisit it the next day to see if it’s worth working on. I’ll probably make about 60 beats in a month. I’ll be excited if there are five I really like.
BSM: Let’s talk about the new record, Masterplan. How did you two come together? Did you work long distance, or were you physically together working on the album?
H: We came together through an Instagram DM. I hit up Frowns and he was down to send some tracks through, and it was history from there. We never met. Everything has been through Instagram and email.
F: I listened to Hernon’s SDC album, [https://hernon.bandcamp.com/album/sdc], and I liked it a lot. I sent him beats pretty quickly after we linked up on Instagram. He’d send some rough tracks back with rhymes quick, before I even knew he was into a beat. I’d always have my headphones on me when I was out, so those first rhymes he sent back got me excited. We decided pretty quickly to make an album.
BSM: What is the significance of the album’s title, Masterplan?
H: For me, Masterplan talks about my idea for 2020. I thought for years this would be my year. Probably as early as 2015 or 2016. I had ideas of a five year plan and always heard how you have to put in your 10,000 hours so this title represents that. Masterplan is my idea of taking over and bringing that existence through trial and error.
BSM: Is there a theme to the album? Is it the product of something one, or both of you were going through when you made it?
H: The writings come from a time when I was going through a manic episode. I have bipolar disorder so that affected my emotions and outlook at the time. A handful of relationships I was dealing with around the time I was writing these bars were becoming lost and damaged and I was a mess mentally. At one point, I was living out of a U-Haul unit and sleeping on my friend’s couch so the writtens reflect that struggle.
F: For me, the beats are an extension of my feelings. I rearrange and distort sounds until the sequence moves me. So when Hernon hit me up to work, I was excited to hear him over my beats. He told his story and I was glad the beats helped to convey this story.
BSM: How long did Masterplan take to create? Can you explain a little about the physical process of getting the album ready for release?
H: It only took a few months to create the album. Frowns would send a beat, I’d go on it and he would go back and tweak the beat to his liking. After he finished all the beats we sent the beats and vocals off for mixing and mastering.
F: It went pretty quickly for the most part. I’d send him a beat he liked. Then he would get on the track and I’d tweak it again and finish it off. It was probably only a few months before the album was finished.
BSM: “Luther” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Can you talk about how that track was created, from beats to lyrics? Why is the song is named “Luther?”
H: I had that written lying around for some time and it fit that beat. I named the track “Luther” because that was actually what Frowns had named the beat in the original file he sent over and I liked it.
F: It’s a Luther Vandross sample. I made it so the timing was a little off kilter. I sent it to Hernon not knowing if he’d even get on it. He sent it back with his vocals and it gave me some ideas. He was cool with me experimenting. I sent him the rough idea and he liked it so I made some more changes and that was that.
BSM: Do either one of you have a favorite, or most meaningful track on the album? A personal favorite?
H: Each track is like my baby. I honestly don’t have a favorite because everytime I listen to this project I play it all the way through.
F: It keeps changing for me. I think right now it’s “Luther.” It’s hard for me to hear the final product and listen to it objectively. I keep hearing stuff in the beat I’d still like to tweak. But I didn’t listen to the album for a couple weeks so I could listen to it fresh and I liked it. I’m happy how it turned out.
BSM: Do other types of art influence you creatively?
H: Films and paintings can help move me in the right direction when it comes to the creative process, but the biggest thing that influences me creatively are my emotions.
F: All art, no matter the medium – painting, film, dance, etc – influences me to create. If I see something that inspires or moves me it helps stimulate my own creativity.
BSM: Are there writers you admire or writers who have influenced your own art? Writers you look to for inspiration?
H: I read some, mainly self help books, but my favorite writer would have to be Charles Bukowski. I admire his outlook and honesty.
F: I read a good amount of science fiction. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman are a couple of my favorite books.
BSM: When you blow up and tour the world, where is the one place you would most like to visit and why?
H: I want to go to [the Lower East Side, in New York City] again. I love the atmosphere there.
F: I think that’d be crazy. I don’t think I have one place I’d like to visit most. I’d like to see as much as possible. As many places as I can. Then go back to a cabin in the woods and invite people to come out and make music.
BSM: Future projects? Features? Collaborations?
H: I am working on another project with my brother she_skin who I collaborated with earlier this year. Another project with my homie D Thornhill, a very talented producer from the Richmond area.
F: I’m working on a project with Jay Cinema and another with Shaii Naiij. Then trying to get some singles in with a handful of people. Excited for all of it.
BSM: Final thoughts?
H: I just want people to listen and give the music a chance.
F: I’d just really appreciate it if people checked it out. I enjoy connecting with people that love hip hop. I always appreciate feedback on my music. I’d also love to score a sci- fi movie.
And we outta here…peace…peace…peace