Whether it's Black Thought rapping over Questlove's toy keyboard, or Q-Tip meeting Phife Dawg on Queens street corners, the greatest hip-hop legacies often start on the simplest of terms. Retro Su$h!'s began on Atlanta's Eastside when high-schooler Jace (Jason Harris) found companionship in the lunch table drumming of classmate Ceej (Charles Jennings). Jace was swimming in the fluid rhymes of his dad's old-school hip-hop vinyl, while Ceej was busy studying the Kanye school of production. As 16-years-old, they had no idea their classroom freestyling would eventually land them a spot on a major label.
Ceej, 24, and Jace, 25, first hooked up with the rest of the Two-9 crew while hanging around a skate shop. They found common ground in being "weird as shit," Jace says. "We all listened to whatever the fuck we were gonna listen to. We were never sheltered musically."
Ceej and Jace have carved out their own niche. Whereas Curtis Williams and FatKidsBrotha focus on trap's raw physicality, Retro Su$h! knows how to keep the sweetness of a good hook. Retro Su$h! brings the melody in Two-9.
"At the time Retro Su$h! started, rap had a more melodic tinge," Jace says. "When we started the blueprint of our musical identity, Drake's first tape and those melody-driven projects resonated with us."
That key difference is apparent on Ceej's production. Tracks such as the smooth "Zonin'" have similarities to the atmospheric production that has made stars like A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown stand out.
"It's our unique production that sticks out," Ceej says. "Kid Cudi's first mixtape had a big impact on me and Jace. It was crazy because it was melodic rap, and he was pretty much the first guy to do that."
In addition to soulful hooks, Retro Su$h! loves a club-crushing anthem. The duo's sound lies at the crossroads of harmony and the guttural intensity of Atlanta trap. But it would be shortsighted to say the ensemble's sound is merely a byproduct of keeping Cudi on repeat. Retro Su$h! is better thought of as a mirror reflecting the bizarro melting pot of East Atlanta.
"It was always so crazy to see that juxtaposition of people that were walking around in the same neighborhood," Ceej says. "That's like what me and Jace do. We look opposite. We're a tall ugly white guy and a tiny black kid, and that's everything about East Atlanta."
Hot off the heels of its first foray into the decadent world of major-label support, Retro Su$h! remains grounded. Ceej and Jace both say that gaining access to audiences far outside the Perimeter is merely a stepping-stone to something greater.
"We're so blessed to be at this position we're in," Ceej says. "Money has never meant a huge thing to us. Money is tight, but just to be able to do whatever it is you want to do is absolutely amazing."
Looks like I will get a chance to listen in March:
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