Timbaland has sprinkled his skillful magic onto many albums and songs throughout hip-hop history but not too many artists actually get to hear some of his rewarding advice. Singer Drew, 23, and producer Dante, 27, of the duo They. had the chance to score studio time with the lauded producer, which worked to their benefit while crafting their debut album, Nu Religion: Hyena.
Two years ago, Drew and Dante, who hail from Washington D.C. and Denver, respectively, and formed They. once they met in Los Angeles, traveled to Miami to The Hit Factory, where they went to work in the lab with Timbo.
“He was really like a big uncle,” Drew tells XXL. “He was just really cool. It was more just watching him, watching him work and watching how he interacted with everybody else. He just came like, ‘Y’all shit is tight, y’all shit is really cool.’ He gave Dante the freedom as opposed to sitting there with dante, like, ‘Yo, do this, do this.’ He let Dante do his thing and was like, ‘Yo, this is tight,’ and added stuff at the end and kinda gave him pointers from there as opposed to overpowering and overshadowing.”
Dante took Timbaland’s words of wisdom and applied it to the making of his and Drew’s album, which dropped last month. “It was crazy,” the beatmaker shares. “He just dropped gems from time to time. Even when I was finishing the album, one of the things he said was, ‘Don’t overdo the production. Take a step back and just let the song be what it’s supposed to be.’”
They. did just that. The 14-track project is a cohesive body of work replete with solid production and eloquent songwriting. While tracks like “U-Rite,” with its level-up lyrics and incessant alarm, and the bedroom-banger of “Deep End” dropped before the album arrived, they fit like perfect pieces to a puzzle among newer tracks like the rock-inspired ode “Motley Crew” and “Dante’s Creek,” which interpolates the vibe and some of the lyrics from Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait,” the theme song from the late 1990s TV series Dawson’s Creek. Clever, guys.
One thing missing from the grunge&B project is features. They. opted to go solo dolo on for this venture, relying on their own talents to craft their debut opus. “There was times when we riddled with it like, ‘This person would sound cool on this,’ ‘This person would sound cool on that.’ Thought about reaching out, whatever, but then we took a step back and Dante was just like, ‘Yo!’ He was really more of the one more than anybody that was just like, ‘Yo, no features,’” Drew explains. “Just something to have our own cohesive body of work, doing it all yourself, doing all the beats and writing everything yourself and having nobody else on it and it be fire. There’s so much more respect in that.”
According to Dante, it was all part of the creative process. “It just kinda happened that way,” he admits. “[Drew and I] we trade off like so much, you know? It’s like we try to push each other as much as we can to get the best results out of each other whether it’s me on production, whether it’s him vocally. I don’t feel like for me, especially when it comes to creating, I’m not the person who’s just gonna be bossing people around nor am I gonna sit back and put something out that I’m not happy with. So I’d rather it just be me and him hashing it out.”
When the two friends dropped their first EP, Nu Religion, in 2015, it was certainly practice for what was to come — in all aspects. For Dante, who loves new jack swing, the process of creating an album isn’t always sweet but the end result is well worth the effort put in. “I’ve never done an album before, a project before, so it’s just like the process of just doing that and putting it together. I kinda understand when artists say, ‘By the time I put an album out I hate it.’ But now it’s starting to get exciting ’cause we’re doing the videos and performing new songs so we’re seeing the reactions. I’m always super nervous before any new song gets released.”
“I’m excited about getting better every single day,” says Drew, who’s a fan of The Internet. “During the first tour, we were thrust into it. It was a great experience for us to grow closer. I think that’s the most important thing; that’s gotta be my best friend, my brother, everything. It gave us the chance to grow and I think we’re just getting better at everything.” Their growth shines through on Hyena.
The album title itself may throw people off but there’s a special meaning behind the famed scavengers. Dante and Drew see themselves in the carnivoran creatures. “They have characteristics of feline and canine but they’re not any of those,” Dante explains. “They’re their own very specific kind of mammal. They’re kind of outsiders. They’re kind of outliers in their community. All those characteristics are kinda what me and Drew feel… it’s like we’re taking a lot of different influences from different genres, like take 808s from here, guitars from here, and just kinda creating our own thing.”
“Hyenas are outsiders and whatever but when they step up and they show themselves they’re very, very respected and very feared,” Drew continues. “I feel like when we really put our foot in here and get our foothold out here, we’ll be a respected force in this game.”
That’s already happening. The Mind of a Genius Records/Warner Bros. Records signees are bringing grunge&B to the forefront (“Once somebody coined that genre for us it was just like thats the perfect thing”) and earning the respect of their peers — they landed a spot on PartyNextDooor’s Summer’s Over Tour last year.
During the nearly two years it took to craft Nu Religion: Hyena, They. entered 2017 with a wealth of knowledge from their own personal trials and tribulations in the music biz. They also learned quite a few things about themselves. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, first off,” Drew states. “Don’t get too high or too low, and just keep working and don’t get too complacent.” Facts to live by.
A figure in the spotlight was never part of the plan for Dante, but self-confidence has helped him make his mark. “I never really intended to necessarily be an artist,” he admits. “The music that we made kinda dictated assuming that role. There’s so much power in believing in your own abilities to make things happen, whether we think we need a feature, we think we need a co-produce, whatever, but every single time it comes down to us just like stepping up and pulling together and really just conquering each task together and just believing in ourselves.”
“To go from where we started, which was just two dudes in Hollywood making stuff and our voices pitched down, to we did Radio City to the Party[NextDoor] run, anything is possible,” says Drew.
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