An Interview With Angry Blackmen

Will Hagle speaks to the rap duo about their new album, "The Legend of ABM," making an impact through social commentary, their Chicago rap roots and more.
By    February 7, 2024

Image via Joseph Torres

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Will Hagle hopes the ghost of Gene Wilder haunts Timothy Chalamet at night.

The legend of Angry Blackmen began long before Brian Warren and Quentin Branch were born. It is the entire history of America. The duo’s music transmits the emotions of two individuals raised in and living through the modern dystopia.

Warren and Branch formed Angry Blackmen in 2016 to critique the systemic issues impacting their existence. They speak about struggles unique to them, but the underlying despair is universal. Think of Angry Blackmen as somewhere between the abstractness of the underground and the pop sensibility of the mainstream. They rap with more clarity than Death Grips. Their rage is less vibey than Travis Scott’s. If there was an Animorphs book where Chief Keef turned into Chance the Rapper, Warren and Branch would be the mid-way point on the cover, like this half-human half-tiger. Branch can spit like Wayne in the early era of Tha Carter if he was produced by Trent Reznor. That’s their pocket.

Their debut LP on Deathbomb Arc, The Legend of ABM, serves as an official introduction to the wider world. It’s an origin story but it’s also a reboot like Creed. After all, Warren and Branch have made music together for almost a decade after meeting as solo artists in the vibrant Windy City music scene.

But it hasn’t been a frictionless ascent. Midway through recording The Legend of ABM, Branch was involved in a three-car crash. No one got seriously injured, but the experience sent him into an existential tizzy. He channeled this mortal dread into his art Charlie Kaufman-style, unloading an introspective psychological torment onto the beats. The wide-ranging subject matter makes The Legend of ABM, and the broader “Legend of Angry Blackmen,” more complex and layered than what appears on the surface. They aren’t a modern incarnation of Public Enemy, even if they come from that lineage. Angry Blackmen are well-rounded individuals who comment on politics and society by displaying their true selves. Their true selves happen to be products of their environment.

A beatmaker named Formants – who Warren tells me listens to Nine Inch Nails more than contemporary hip-hop – produced the entirety of The Legend of ABM. The metallic glitchiness of Formants’ beats make the LP fit well on Deathbomb Arc, a label who’s released albums by Death Grips, JPEGMAFIA, and clipping. But Angry Blackmen have always considered themselves Boogeymen, both as Black men in America and as nonconformist artists. The way they rap over avant-garde beats makes them an outlier on their label and within the “noise-rap” scene. It also makes them more conventionally appealing.

Warren encapsulates this sound’s almost-dichotomous nature on “FNA”: “This that rap caviar mixed with the mosh pit.” Angry Blackmen are capable of rapping over anything, but Formants’ beats can be grating and discordant. This sound makes sense with lines like Branch on “Suicidal Tendencies”: “You can see the pain / When you staring deep in my eyes / People say I changed, but they hating on the sidelines / Trying to maintain, my depression on a fine line.”

Few rappers on either side of the Drake—Yasiin spectrum can juggle so many concepts in couplets, and orate them over bone-rattling dissonance. Both members of Angry Blackmen do this across The Legend of ABM with ease. Their closest analogue might be Fatboi Sharif, who apparates into a swelling cloud of synths on “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” singing a haunting threat toward a cop then cackling his way back to whatever dimension he came from.

Warren and Branch’s worldviews are distinct, yet interconnected in core ways. Branch grew up a movie buff, Warren was outside. Both understand, and are talented at conveying on record, how racial and economic circumstances shape their inner lives. The Legend of ABM is a complete reflection of who they are. It re-establishes their legend, telling one part of a story that’ll outlast us all.

The new album is called The Legend of ABM. I want to talk about the myth-making process and the importance of artists establishing their own legends. But I also want to quickly get down both of your origin stories. Where are you both from? I’ve heard on the record some references to Sauk Village and a couple other places.

Quentin Branch: You’re the first one to mention Sauk Village in any of these interviews, which is really cool. I was born in Florida. My family moved from St. Pete to Chicago in the early 2000s. I pretty much grew up there. Then from Chicago, I moved to the burbs. Sauk Village was primarily white at the time. But over time, the high rises… Cabrini-Green got knocked down. And then a lot of people spread to the suburbs. It’s really interesting history. A lot of white flight happened. In Sauk Village, a lot of money stopped coming towards us.

I love Sauk Village. It definitely built me as a person. But it was a rough place to grow up. But I loved it because it made me stronger. So that’s my origins as far as where I’m from.

Brian Warren: My origins were, I started off in Chicago, because I was with my grandma at the time before she passed. And then I slowly but surely migrated to a little bit of the south side. It was an eye opening experience for me because I was around a different type of vibe of people. In Chicago, people are not the nicest. It depends on where you go, between the north and the south and the west. Out in Richton Park it was more snobby in a way, but they were more easy-going than Chicago people. So yeah, that’s just a little bit about me. My origin story.

On the album I heard you, Quentin, mention going to New Mexico. And you both mention going to college somewhere. Did you both end up leaving Chicago at some point?

Quentin Branch: I actually recently moved from Chicago a couple years ago. To New Mexico. But I’ve been doing a lot of back and forth to record The Legend of ABM, and for press, video shoots, working on the album. I’ve been doing a lot of commuting. But yeah, I did go to college. I went for almost a year to Prairie State in Chicago Heights.

Brian Warren: I went to the same school. I went to Prairie State for two years. Then I went to another college, Harold Washington, for another year.

Quentin Branch: Harold Washington… Chance went there right?

Brian Warren: Yes, he did.

Quentin Branch: He got kicked out right?

I thought he went to college in my hometown, Champaign. I might be wrong.

Brian Warren: I think he was bouncing everywhere. But they had a picture of him in Harold Washington. Because he went there for a short period of time. I think he was just a little bit everywhere, just like I was.

So Quentin, with going to New Mexico, then going back to Chicago. Does that change your perspective on Chicago at all? Getting out then going back?

Quentin Branch: Yeah, it did, for sure. New Mexico is just different. It’s a different place. The people are more in tune with, like, the earth, versus a big metropolitan city like Chicago. People are nice here. But also people are shit drivers. That’s another story. They suck at driving. Really, you don’t even have to take a test to get your shit renewed. I got my new license. I was like, “Do you need to take the test?” They were like, “Nah.” I was like, “Oh, damn, alright, whatever.”

But yeah, it’s really interesting culture-wise. New Mexico is one of eight of what they call minority-majority states. So it’s mostly Hispanic. Kinda like Georgia is mostly Black. It’s one of eight states out of 50 that’re like that.

So it’s different, culture-wise. The people are open. They’re not really used to seeing black people, so I’ll get the occasional stare every blue moon. But I don’t think it comes from a place of malice or anything. I think people are just kind of curious.

I like New Mexico a lot. It’s taught me a lot compared to Chicago. I do still miss Chicago. I like it. And I go there. It’s home. But New Mexico is still a very interesting place. Very beautiful place. Just very earthy. Reservations everywhere. Mountains. Like, I’m so used to seeing mountains. At first, I was like, “Whoa,” now I’m just like, “Yep.”

Since you mentioned shit drivers… You rap about a car crash that happened and affected you across the album. Can you talk about the details?

Quentin Branch: Yeah, I was coming back from seeing Black Panther 2 with my girlfriend, and this guy tried to run a light last minute. We hit the back of his truck, because we couldn’t stop in time. We had the go signal. But he tried last minute to make that shit. So we just hit the back of that [truck]. Then that car hit another car. So it was a three car interaction.

The front of our car was completely smashed in. The other car that he went onto hit and spiral, his shit was wrecked in the beginning. But the truck was one of those really hefty tracks. It only had, like, two dents in it. It was completely fine after. That’s real steel, because our shit, our little cars—I think they’re from Asia, I want to say—that shit was wrecked. It was done.

But miraculously, nobody was hurt. It was a very cold night, too. Nobody was hurt. I only have one little bruise from the seatbelt. That was really it. I think my leg was kind of throbbing because of the force, but me and my girlfriend were fine. Everybody was fine in the altercation, but the guy was off his shit. He was high, drunk. He was not there. So I was like, “Yeah, that could have been crazy.”

But yeah, it really changed my life. I just started taking shit more serious.

Does that affect your driving now? I’ve been through a few car accidents too. Even if no one gets hurt, the impact rattles you and you realize that can happen at any moment. So I hate driving.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, honestly, I’m gonna keep it real. Everywhere I go is super close to here. Like really close. My job is close. I’ve driven like twice since the accident. Most of it was in Chicago, when I would visit.

You remember that time we picked up that rental Brian and I had to drive back?

Brian Warren: Yeaaaah.

Quentin Branch: I was kinda hectic but I needed to do it. So yeah it changes your shit. It makes you want to go harder. So that’s what we did for the album. I was like, “Man, it’s either now or nothing.” So I’m gonna just do that. But it definitely changed me.

When was the accident in comparison to when you started recording the album?

Quentin Branch: That was like midway through the album. When did Black Panther 2 come out? November 2022. Yeah. Two years ago, or a year and half. So it was in the middle. It’s crazy because when I listen to the album, I can see all the stuff I recorded before the accident and all the stuff I recorded after.

What do you think the main difference is?

Quentin Branch: The stuff before was more focused on capitalism. And like, just kind of maneuvering my way through society as a Black man. And the stuff after is more existentialist. Just dealing with depression. Being reflective on life.

Did you guys come into this project with a specific intention of what you wanted “the legend of ABM” to be? Do you leave it open to interpretation, or do you have a concept behind it?

Quentin Branch: What do you feel, Brian? I got my two cents but I’m interested to hear Brian’s perspective.

Brian Warren: We do have a concept behind it, from the book [I Am Legend] that we used as a skeletal form, and then we just beefed it up with our own lives and what we’re dealing with in today’s society.

Honestly, the skin is pretty much up to the audience to decide on what they think we meant by the legend. Because an apocalypse can happen and then we definitely gonna be speaking about the legend ABM then, because we’re not gonna be here no more. So I don’t know. That’s just my little two cents with that.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, I agree with Brian on a lot of that. I think it’s up to interpretation for a lot of people. However, we did walk in wanting to reboot our name. I always say, we wanted to f*cking Creed this shit. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ghostbusters Afterlife. Any other f*cking 2010s reboot?

I say Creed because I think that’s the most successful version. I think the Force Awakens is kinda ass. But we wanted to reboot this shit for the 2020s. And just our name. We were very surface level at first. So we knew going into it, we wanted more people to know about us and our band, or duo, or rap duo, whatever you want to call it. That was the real intention. We were like, “Man, we got to make something full length that people are gonna be like, this is the one.”

Because everything before was just 15 minute EPs. It was just little slices. So this one, we went into this, like, “Let’s do it.”

The title “The Legend,” because we didn’t really go in with the title, just made sense. After we listened to it we were like, “This is the story of us.” And I was telling Brian about the book I Am Legend. The book is just so much better. Because in the movie, he’s a legend in a different way. In the book, he’s like a boogeyman story for the new race that took over the earth. And I was like, man, this is like our f*cking legend. We’re the boogeyman. Black men are like the boogeyman of America. So it’s like, we’re like the legends of this f*cking story.

Brian Warren: To add on to that, which is crazy… Throughout the years of doing this, I felt like we were boogeymen even way before we even came to this point. Or before he even pointed out that we’re gonna piggyback off of I Am Legend the book. I’m like, “I’ve been feeling like we’ve been the boogeyman for a long time.” Because every show we show up to, people just grabbed their hair, and they did not know how to react. And they’ll just be in total awe.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, it really depends on the audience. But nah I agree, man. It was just everything. The whole presentation of us: Angry Blackmen. It’s actually interesting. And I don’t know if you noticed this, Brian. But before George Floyd, people had a different reaction to us than after George Floyd. That’s what I started picking up. Like, the name and what we’re doing. I feel like white liberalism didn’t really kick in until after George Floyd. I think we’re perceived a lot better now than when we first came. That’s something I thought about, and I wondered if Brian realized that.

Because at the end of the 2010s, we were coming off Obama and shit and then Trump was gonna be elected. It was just a different thing. Then when George Floyd and the riots happened—I think it was like the biggest riot in American history—people started seeing that Angry Blackmen name and logo a little differently.

So how do you feel about specifically white people listening to your music or interpreting it in a certain way? On the album you talk about Pitchfork and Anthony Fantano and say “a bunch of cracker kids hype our music on the internet.” Then I just saw Pitchfork reviewed your album and I think Fantano did too.

Quentin Branch: [laughter] Nah I’m still waiting on the Fantano review. He did a track. I’m waiting on that. I hope he does that shit.

I’ve said some shit [about this], but Brian have you ever said anything particular about white fans? I can’t think of it but I’m sure you feel it. What’s your thoughts?

Brian Warren: I got some heavy ones. Honestly, we’re obviously putting music out for people to listen to it. I don’t care—me personally, as a human being on this planet—I don’t care what person is listening to my music. Whether they’re black, blue, yellow, red or white. I don’t care. I’m going to love you in your shoes and socks as you come.

I make music for people—I’m sure Q does the same thing—he makes the music for people to relate to and to find some strength, even when they have weakness in their life. I don’t want to shut out anybody from listening to us. Not the project, but us. I feel like that will be doing no type of job, no type of service to the community, to the fan base that we’re trying to build. We just shut out and be like, “I just want all Black, I just want all Mexicans, I want Asians.” No. No. I want all races to come and join, because everybody has issues. Just like we do. And we’re putting it out for you to hear it for a reason.

Quentin Branch: I agree with some of that. It’s definitely a pros and a cons situation, because white people are the majority in America currently. So if you want to be quote unquote successful or make your music palatable, it’s going to have to get in some of them. To eat off your music.

So it’s a pro and a con situation. I’ve always been conflicted about it. Because like Brian said, I’ve always wanted people to enjoy the music, no matter what race. But it’s definitely interesting to see what people get out of it. And race definitely plays a part. I’ve seen early reviewers be like “I love the f*cking There Will Be Blood reference or the Synecdoche, New York reference.” All these movie references and pop culture. Philip K. Dick and Blade Runner. I love all that shit. But there’s other stuff in there. And it’s mostly white people saying that stuff.

There’s some people that’re like, “Ah man, I love the critiques on capitalism, the racism, the depression y’all been going through. The hope at the end of the track, like y’all are still like trying to move forward. I love how you and Brian are dealing with self love.” There are those people, and a lot of them have been not white.

There is a perception of race, and I don’t know what to make of that. That’s the pros and cons. Maybe white listeners don’t really deal with the racism, so that’s not something they look to off the rip. That’s not the thing that first catches their attention. Like, “Ah I f*cking love that movie.” That’s cool, too. But what else do you get out of it?

I will say, no matter what race, though, everybody agrees with the anti-capitalist lyrics. That’s one thing we all can agree on.

Since you mentioned George Floyd, that’s really interesting. I don’t know if you can say exactly, or if you even know, how white liberal people are reacting to you after that. Like, I’m white. But obviously we saw the meme of Nancy Pelosi kneeling in her scarf. It was cringey how white people wanted to read James Baldwin in 2020 even though they’ve never read it before or thought about racism at all in their life. Do you think white people are more comfortable talking about racial issues? Or are they still uncomfortable about it, but more open to the idea of it? And does it make a difference to you at all?

Quentin Branch: That’s an interesting ass question. I understand what you’re saying and I agree with that second part. I think it’s still hard for them to talk about it but they definitely are open to it, in my opinion. Being out there in the world more and traveling more, I’ll go to airports and just talk to random people off the rip sometimes. Or even at my job. Everybody wants to have some type of conversation about it. It’s weird because they always say Black people want to bring up race. But a lot of white people have brought up race in the last five years, to me at least. Or something about it. I thought this wasn’t a topic of conversation.

But I do think the George Floyd shit had a big change on people. I’ve been thinking about this. From the end of the 2010s with Black Film, like Black Panther, Get Out, Straight Outta Compton, Moonlight, it was like a crazy resurgence in Black Film at the end of the 2010s. It was a bunch of this shit going on. Even from rap being the most popular genre in the last couple years, it’s just been a topic. Everybody’s tapped in. You really have no choice at this point.

I feel like in the 60s you could have got away with that shit. Because it really wasn’t in your face. I feel like it was like that for a long time. This is the first time a lot of this shit is really at the forefront. Since Civil Rights. Even the Civil Rights movement, they didn’t have social media. You could turn the TV off. Like, “Martin Luther King just got shot.” “Nope, turn the TV off. You don’t need to see that, kids.” Now the kids got TikTok. F*cking George Floyd got killed, let me watch that video. Their parents don’t know, they’re working, they’re not monitoring their phone. So this is the first time everybody tapped in. That’s how I feel. Even if it is kinda cringey.

Brian Warren: I say f*ck the cringey. I mean, it’s clear and obvious that it’s wounds that are still hidden on this planet. And the Band-Aids need to peel off.

Quentin Branch: It’s gotta get worse before it gets better. At least we’re trying to have the conversation. It’s crazy, because I’ll be talking to a lot of old white dudes randomly. Their perspective on some of this shit is interesting, because I can tell they used to think one way. And then by the time the conversation’s done, even if I didn’t change the full f*cking scope of this, it’s definitely like, there’s something more here.

This one dude at the airport was like, “Man, being a straight white man is the hardest thing in today’s society.” I’m like, “You really feel that way?” He’s like, “Yeah, man. We get all this criticism. We get everything held to us.” And I ain’t gonna lie, he had me thinking, like, “Oh, I can see your point.” If I was a more ignorant person, I’d be like, “Nah, you got it all!” But I can definitely see how living up to some type of pedestal would be stressful.

So me and him were having a real heart to heart talk. There’s pros and cons and different opinions to everything. He kind of opened my eyes to see it a different way. Like “Maybe you do have it hard. I’m not gonna say everything’s perfect for you. Maybe there’s things that feel that make your shit hard. I don’t want to play the oppression olympics game and compare to somebody else, but you definitely have it easier than other people. But it’s still hard for you.” The conversation is nuanced, though. It’s not as black and white as people would like it to be. Everybody’s got their struggles.

On a related note, the album artwork I found very interesting. I saw in another interview you mentioned it’s a Japanese artist, Yuki Fujinami, who you’re friends with and is actually on the album. What are your thoughts on having a Japanese person holding that image on the album artwork? Is there any meaning behind it or does it just look cool?

Quentin Branch: I’m curious what Brian says but I’ll say this. I thought it was gonna look cool. Because it was gonna be anybody, at that point. We originally conceived it like, “Bro, we should have somebody holding this shit. That shit would be hard.” But as the album came together, it took on a new meaning.

I originally told Yuki, who had been an internet friend from Japan for a long time: “Hey, you should hold this and take a picture, if you want to do the album cover.” She was like, “Cool.” I didn’t think it was gonna come out as sinister. I was like “Oooh, this album is gonna be different.” Because this is 2021. So all this stuff didn’t happen yet. Life just started happening, and it started molding into what seemed like the perfect storm.

Brian Warren: Yeah, I just felt like the photo just went with the times. It’s always gonna be dark times on this planet and it’s always gonna be bright times. Yuki, she’s a beautiful woman that knew how to really dress the part for the album. In my opinion, I feel like anytime you got a girl on the cover and she holding up the sign, you know that project’s finna be hot. You know. You gotsta.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, I feel like it’s a very interesting piece. But it definitely has a meaning, though. It really encapsulates the legend. This person holding this up. This is the legend of these guys. The fact that she’s Japanese holds a lot more weight because it’s not even an American. The legend stretches out even that far.

Have you guys gotten a response to your music from overseas, all over the world?

Quentin Branch: It’s been f*cking crazy. I was just telling Brian like, man, like I just retweeted a Spanish speaking guy and a Japanese guy. The Japanese hip-hop fans have really been growing and I don’t know if I told you, Brian, but it’s been a lot of them.

I do think it’s because the cover, too. Because they have a big hip-hop market. They love that shit. Yuki is a DJ. When you think of Japanese people, she is not who you think of. We have this weird perception of Japanese people. This girl DJs, she likes hip hop. She does her own shit. She has a company with her dad. She sent me a video of her dad turning up to the song and a picture. He’s holding the phone. He’s smiling with it. But nah, she absolutely killed that. It’s been interesting to see the larger fan base. It just makes the legend look even cooler.

Going back to you saying how you felt like you were boogeymen in the Chicago scene. What was that scene like? I feel like, at least on this album, the beats are very noisy and they fit in with the label you’re on, but you guys also have a kind of melodic way of rapping. For me personally, it’s a lot easier to listen to than something like Death Grips, for example, where there’s more shouting and it’s harder to understand the lyrics. And now I’m asking 3 questions at once, because I just went back and listened to your first single, “OK!”, and that has a totally different sound. Basically, what was that early scene like – how did you fit into it and then evolve the sound?

Brian Warren: Oh, shit. I didn’t know he was going to say he went to listen to “OK!”

Quentin Branch: [laughs] That’s crazy. I think the scene was crazy when we started. You gotta remember we were coming off of Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef. So everybody was trying to eat. Everybody thought they were the next Chance, they thought they were the next Keef. That’s actually died down now. I still keep up with the scene and it’s not as active as when we first started. Like 2017, everybody was trying to eat. We saw so many different artists, and they’re all gone now. It was very creative. It was a very good time to say I’m from Chicago. People showed love and it just was really nice. I think about that a lot. It was a great time, a lot of great people. Supa Bwe was an artist I was a really big fan of. Shout out to Sen Morimoto from Sooperr Records. Shout out to NNAMDÏ. Ric Wilson, who mixed our first single “OK!” It was a crazy time. Mick Jenkins. Brian, man, if you got any more extras, man. That was crazy times.

Brian Warren: Ah, man. Shit. Honestly, with the sound change from “OK!” to what we’re making today… It was a lot of steps. We had some building to do. It really just came from meeting different people over time. Different producers and engineers and just trying them out. And then, we would get something out of that project. And then it propelled us into the next few pieces that we need to bring together. Which helped us make Headshots!.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, it was definitely gradual for sure. That’s actually weird to think about. When we first started the Chicago scene was vibrant. So “OK!” was like a reflection of our mindstate at the time, in the scene at the time.

And then Rick Wilson, who’s also from Chicago, he makes music like that. So we just started gradually getting darker. We did an EP called Talkshit! with a guy named Wendigo who actually blew the f*ck up recently. He works with Little Darkie and they have this whole collective, it’s really hardcore stuff. After that, we worked with a guy named Gary G Beats for Headshots!. He had a really distinctive sound. We really started getting deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, and it was because of people like JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown. They opened up a world I didn’t know existed. You can really tell when we started tapping into that. Me and Brian actually look back… There was a single called “COENBROS.” It was a collab between Deathbomb and another label. I can’t remember the label’s name right now.

Brian Warren: It was Hausu Mountain.

Quentin Branch: I think so. But that was the first song, where it was a challenging beat, and we were like man we can go off the deep end like this all the time.

Brian Warren: I remember. So that was the turning point, dude.

Quentin Branch: That’s what I’m trying to say.

Brian Warren: Yeah, “COENBROS” was a really great turning point for me, because it forced me to put how I’m feeling in a much more compiled way. It felt like you were skipping steps in a house. Imagine you got half steps here and then no steps here then steps here. We had to really work hard at catching the beats, and putting down meaningful bars to that.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, that one was crazy. We delved deep and we found out about these other artists. Like Death Grips, JPEG, clipping. We got deeper. But that single’s the one that made us want to push the boundaries.

But shout out—I like Death Grips. I know you brought them up. We get a lot of comparison to them, but I don’t think it’s the same. It falls more into that white people lens. Like the yelling, surface level shit. I’m not saying they’re surface level. But if you ask the average Death Grips fan in 2024, they’re not the Death Grips fans from 2012 who really tapped in and understood these dudes are like mean men and “Oh Mc Ride, scary black man.” Shit is different now… I do like their music, but I think our shit’s more palatable to what we really feel. We ain’t trying to be edgy and do all that weird shit. No disrespect to Death Grips. It’s weird shit, but we’re true to ourselves. We ain’t trying to rip off or be like them. We get a lot of those comparisons. At first I thought it was cool. But now it’s kind of like, it’s not even the same shit. At this point.

Brian Warren: I just want to give a warm shout out to Khaki Blazer for that “COENBROS” record that we worked on. Because honestly, without him putting that together, we wouldn’t have been able to figure out that we can go beyond boundaries with our bars and storytelling at that.

Yeah, it’s interesting too that you said you got into that type of music later. Rather than setting out to do it at first. The line on the album “Rap Caviar mixed with the mosh pit,” I feel like perfectly encapsulates your music, or at least this album, because like I said it’s almost like your voices are clear and melodic over the noise. So it gives you something to latch onto. It’s like a perfect mix of both. So you were listening to more mainstream stuff before that, then you fell down the rabbit hole?

Quentin Branch: Yeah, Brian, I think this was after, right?

Brian Warren: Yep.

Quentin Branch: Because we liked shit like Tyler, Lil Wayne and Kendrick and Jay-Z. Kanye is one of my favorite artists of all time. So I found out about that shit later. I was like, “Oh this is cool. I f*ck with some of this shit.” But it was definitely later. It’s not something we set out to do.

Like I said, we were actually rapping. MC Ride is very abstract. He’s doing his own thing. The Death Grips shit kind of pisses me off at this point, because it’s like “Man, we’re actually rapping, bro. We’re spitting bars. This is something that Nas would say.”

Brian Warren: I don’t want to reach a point to where it’ll be somebody else out there in the world that is saying the same thing Q is saying about Death Grips that would be saying the same thing about us. Before that point, pull the plug. I don’t want no part with that one.

It’s pretty clear you can rap over anything. So even if “OK!” sounds different, we know you can always switch it up.

Brian Warren: I feel like if me and Q went back to traditional hip-hop beats, it would be too contained. I wouldn’t really get too much enjoyment out of trying to rap over that.

Quentin Branch: I think it’s really interesting, the people that find out about us now, because they’re going to go back and see like, “They were doing some other stuff before this.” They’re gonna think that we’ve been this all this time. But early on, it wasn’t like this. This shit was a gradual descent into the deep end.

So talking about social commentary and music… There is something about the noisier beats that makes you feel a certain type of emotion or anger. Do you have any thoughts on how music can make an impact on society?

Brian Warren: Yeah, for sure. I feel like what you choose to lay down on the mic, you’re building a platform for yourself. So you can say anything. People are going to play this back and forth. They’re gonna remember it. They’re gonna go to sleep to it. In my mind I feel like it’s called programming. You have to essentially program the audience on how you want them to be in a certain way.

In the venue, I feel like we’re the teachers and the audience are the students, and this is a big classroom. Ya’ll coming for a learning experience from us, on our life, how we think, what we find funny and humorous, and all of that good stuff. Me and Q, it’s been a brotherhood for I don’t know how long. So we want to extend that to the audience and bring more people that are like ourselves in on the fun, on the actual circle.

Since you do talk a lot about capitalism and consumerism, what do you think the balance is of being an artist and talking about those issues? Is there a way to balance it?

Quentin Branch: Yeah, it’s definitely a pro and a con thing. It’s weird because, even going back to what we say in our music and put out… We want to just be generally honest. We want to be us, as genuine as possible. So when we talk about these things, it’s a task, because we don’t want to become too preachy. But we also want to say some stuff.

I feel like with this album, we had a nice balance of some fun shit, like ha ha ha… Bars, but also saying some dark shit. I just really want people to take in, like Brian said, like a lesson. Really dig into some of the stuff. Who was Philip K. Dick? With socialism, with anti-capitalism, what do you know? What are some of the things these dudes are talking about? I hope people don’t just take it as, “Oh I love There Will Be Blood.” Because even There Will Be Blood is the biggest anti-capitalist movie. If you’ve ever seen that movie.

I saw it a long time ago. I barely remember it and don’t like the director as much as everyone else does. I feel like if I was smarter I would like him more.

Quentin Branch: I love Paul Thomas Anderson, man. But yeah that movie’s a big allegory for religion and capitalism. I’m not just saying this because it sounds cool. I’m like Daniel Plainview if you treat this music like it’s oil. That’s one of the cons to the music industry. I treat this music like he treated oil. It was a journey for him, it was a pursuit. He wanted money. The oil was a means to an end. He got wrapped into it. That’s how we’re treating this music sometimes. But I also love the music because of the outlet. I go back and say in “Suicidal Titties…” Suicidal Titties…

[Like I say on] “Suicidal Tendencies,” “My relationship with rap is hella toxic and abusive.” All the bars are connected in some ways.

Brian Warren: Yeah, Suicidal Titties is hella toxic.

That’s the remix. So talking about movies… Obviously I’m white so I have to bring up the movie references. [You have a song called] Stanley Kubrick. I was just talking to Fatboi Sharif about Stanley Kubrick being one of his favorite directors. Obviously, [Sharif] is on the album, too. Is Kubrick one of your favorite directors too?

The thing I was talking about with Fatboi Sharif was how Kubrick uses sci-fi or horror like in The Shining, but then he also has a real human element to his movies. And Fatboi Sharif does that really well. You guys do, too.

Quentin Branch: Honestly, shout out to Fatboi Sharif because he does do that very well. I actually think, in retrospect, some of that rubbed off on me, for sure. Because he likes Stanley Kubrick. He likes David Lynch. I don’t really care for a n*** like that. But I respect David Lynch and Twin Peaks and all that weird shit.

But yeah the movie references, Brian’s not really a pop culture guy. So it’s mainly me talking about movies and shit on there. That shit came natural, but some of the shit I was talking about Brian was already pretty much aware. And if he wasn’t, I kind of filled him in on it.

Brian Warren: Yeah, I was trying to tap in when I was an early child, but it was hard for me too because I always went outside a lot. I never really stayed in and watched movies. When I did, I did pick up quite a few movies. My dad and my brother, they would watch Stanley Kubrick films. That’s how I got hip to who Stanley Kubrick was. Then I stopped for a few years. Then here comes Q, and he brings it full circle. Like, “This is who Stanley Kubrick is.” I’m like, “Oh! That’s whose movies I was watching.”

I can’t help it. It’s just a thing. I’m more of an outside person. I never was inside watching movies and stuff like that.

Quentin Branch: Yeah I have a couple references. Like Blade Runner’s in there. Somebody needs to do a breakdown and shit. I mention Synecdoche, New York, Blade Runner, Stanley Kubrick, There Will Be Blood. I know there’s more, but that’s off the top of my head. They’re just all movies I really love.

You also mention Harry Potter. That one jumped out at me because I think there are multiple Harry Potter references. Are you a Harry Potter fan?

Quentin Branch: I do. I said to myself, I’m gonna make a Harry Potter reference every f*cking project. I don’t think I did on Reality, but I know I know for Headshots [I did]. I also did Lord of the Rings. Shout out to Lord of the Rings, man. Frodo with the ring. Yeah, [on] “Magnum Opus.”

But yeah “Dumbledore your dome, shooting spells at your body b*tch.” I love that shit. Shout out Harry Potter. I know it’s not cool to like Harry Potter anymore because of the author, JK Rowling, but it’s already ingrained in me. I don’t know what to say. I love that shit. I f*cking love Harry Potter.

Brian Warren: Bro they have a marathon on for Harry Potter. It’s been going for like three weeks straight.

Quentin Branch: Are you a Harry Potter fan?

Yeah, I’m the exact same. I grew up reading all the Harry Potter books as a kid and I saw all the movies. I’m not a huge super nerd like some people who know every single thing that happened but it’s definitely ingrained in me.

Brian Warren: Will is like me. I got every other book of Harry Potter. I used to read them when I went to school and we had book report projects, and the book fair came in, I would pick up a Harry Potter book.

Quentin Branch: I love Harry Potter. I absolutely adore Harry Potter. I think it’s one of the best shifts to come out of the 2000s. I got into Lord of the Rings later. There’s a lot more depth. I love Lord of the Rings, too. But Harry Potter is special. Especially that third one, that Prisoner of Azkaban? Shit’s fire.

Yeah, that’s the best one.

Quentin Branch: Yeah it is.

Brian Warren: I’ma say this. I’m going to make it a goal to do more movie references, because I feel like people will need to see my favorite movies. I don’t know. I just feel like an artist not having no movie references, it doesn’t go hand in hand. It needs to go hand in hand, is what I’m trying to say.

Quentin Branch: Honestly, bro, I think you’re better just being you. That’s what I think makes this shit so special. I actually want to tone back on the movie references. Like I said, I feel like people focus on that rather than the actual themes. So I kind of shot myself in the foot. But at the same time, I love that shit.

Brian Warren: The f*cking movie references are needed. You know how many references this motherf*cker Wayne be doing?

Quentin Branch: Even Chief Keef’s tapped in. Nah, that Philip K. Dick shit is crazy. Blade Runner. I’m a huge fan. I got really weirdly obsessive with him. He’s from Chicago, which is pretty crazy. I got really obsessed with him, from the last couple years. Some of the shit he was saying, some of his books, like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and A Scanner Darkly…

I was just going to bring up A Scanner Darkly, the book or the movie. The animated Keanu Reeves movie. Brian, if you haven’t seen that, you gotta watch it.

Quentin Branch: I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard good things. Yeah, he was before his time. Minority Report. That man predicted a lot of shit, if you don’t realize it. He died broke. He didn’t take off. Blade Runner was about to come out, and he died. He saw a rough cut of it. He didn’t see the effect that movie had. That movie influenced so much cyberpunk shit. It’s crazy.

Since you mentioned Wayne, and I’ve heard you talk about him in other interviews, how did he influence you?

Brian Warren: Heck yeah, man. I remember going with my mom to her job and I would print out Lil Wayne lyrics just because I didn’t know how to compose lyrics myself. Because I was maybe 9, 10 years old doing this stuff. I would just sit there and memorize his lyrics off a sheet of paper off of Google. I think I would go print it off of Genius. How long has Genius been around? I don’t know where I would get his lyrics from. I would just be reading them back and forth. I actually visualized myself on a stage, and just, I’m rapping Lil Wayne’s lyrics. Like they’re my own.

What era Wayne was that?

Brian Warren: This was back when “A Milli” first dropped.

What’s the best Carter?

Brian Warren: Oooh. Good question. None of his recent stuff really stuck out to me like that. I want to say his mixtapes went harder than anything. Like Sorry for the Wait. His Sorry for the Waits went harder than any of the Carters.

Quentin Branch: You don’t got a favorite Carter?

Brian Warren: I’ll say Carter III.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, I was gonna say, bro. Come on, now.

I’m the exact same and sometimes people give me shit for that because there’s a lot of Carter II fans out there.

Brian Warren: Damn. Yeah, nah. I just felt like he stepped up the pen on Carter III, and on the Sorry for the Waits he went even dumber because of the fact that they’re mixtapes. So he could’ve went any way he wanted, and nobody could box him in on those.

Quentin Branch: Yeah, I also want to say this shit because I totally forgot. Shout out to The Matrix 1999. That’s all I gotta say. I’m done.

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