Los Angeles is the place where “the sun’s always shining so a lot of people are shady.”
As the hot sun glitters over the downtown corner of the city, colorful glass reflections come out of hiding from tinted office and car windows. But stretched palm trees, carefree citizens, and narrow alleys even the score, casting eerie shadows in tandem. In La La Land, navigating the light and the dark is essential.
That might explain why DMV-native Drew Love and Colorado aboriginal Dante Jones immediately isolated themselves in a production studio full of unfamiliar faces bustling with cameramen and crew members occupied by conversation. In a way that only They. — the eclectic duo comprising music's fresh, young, implant — could, Dante and Drew's energy still attracts a few people over for small introductions, to which they reply with welcoming smiles and friendly handshakes.
"[Dante and I] made an agreement with each other for the rest of our interviews," Drew would later reveal of their reclusive demeanor. "If we were going to get asked the same questions over and over in the same boring, introductory interview format, we were just going to stay distant."
Who could blame them? Distance might have been the only relatively familiar concept in the room. Dante's aura of Aurora, as he describes it on the duo’s siren-ous hip-hop banger “U-RITE,” is rooted in the woodsy and beautifully arid landscape of Colorado. Much like his Southwestern hometown, Dante is reserved and undemanding, yet storied beneath mountains of modesty and hills of humbleness. The producer and songwriter tapped into his musical discovery 15 or 16 years ago as just an emulating little brother fooling around with sound equipment that belonged to his older brother, who also took a stab at music production. At 18 years old, when he set his career on music, Dante probably didn’t imagine that those test runs would foster talents that would take him miles away to California.
Drew hit a similar milestone when he decided to fly under music’s wing for the rest of his life, singing from the time he was just a child all the way up until his early adult years. A military brat, Drew calls the tri-state metropolis of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia (aka the “DMV”) his home and spent his youth in the quintessentially destructive teen experimentation phase. Partying, wrecking cars (accidentally, of course), giving his parents their fair share of headaches, and having absolutely nothing figured out was the best way to describe life before They. But what he’d always been certain of was his voice, which was rooted in a mecca of different genres and beatnik influences, most prominently the late Kurt Cobain and his grungy rock collective, Nirvana. Old school legends such as Boyz II Men and MoTown’s soulful, jazzy roster, courtesy of Drew’s mother, peeled up his R&B impact. He now adds inspiration from the genre’s younger faces like Chris Brown and Jeremih to that list. But in the absence of his They. bandmate, he’d only swam in the shallow end of music. “I never really delved deeper into albums until I got older and met him,” he says while eyeing Dante, who is quietly relaxed beside him on a white couch. “He's the one who really got me delving into albums, because I was always a singles person. The only people I ever listened to full albums from were my favorites."
Dante may actually be one of the best things that happened to Drew’s internalized music catalog. Outwardly, there are only subtle nonconformities about Dante’s appearance: a Nike headband deliberately flipped upside-down, a mesh “Hart Varsity” jersey and Adidas track pants. But inside of his discreet appearance lies a hub of hip-hop knowledge. “He's smart,” Drew says among Dante’s quietude. “You can just tell by talking to him that he's smart. He's got good ideas. He's like a human encyclopedia, honestly.”
He tests this theory with a pop-up quiz on the release dates of several recent rap opuses. Drew hurls inquiries about Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2, Lil Wayne’s I Am Not a Human Being, Drake’s first mixtape, So Far Gone, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and J. Cole’s The Warm Up. Dante scored an A-plus on them all.
At 29 years old, you may not expect Dante to be so privy with ‘70s-era music imprints like Cameo and Prince. But you should. He even goes so far as to laud the Teddy Riley-branded New Jack Swing genre infusion of the late ‘80s and R&B’s early ‘90s golden boys, New Edition. The Harlem-bred Diplomats squad and Hov kept his hip-hop head bobbing, while indie and emo rock kept him cultured domestically and internationally with Vampire Weekend, psychedelically driven Animal Collective and the France-based synth-pop rock band Phoenix. “I've always been the person who would just sit back and listen to everything,” Dante says. “I wanted to know everything I could about music.”
they are two 20-somethings with countering musical tastes, from opposite ends of the nation, sound spectrums, personality profiles, and, most visibly, fashion senses. It's an oddly satisfying yin and yang. Raking his fingers through periwinkle-colored curls bunched beneath his hat, Drew is slumped into a laxed, cool composure. His slow blinks and head tilts are subtle affirmations of his confidence. Day-one fans know about the universal They. symbol, an abstractly sketched wolf, emblemized on his black hat: the Wolf Pac. It’s a Bat-signal of sorts. It characterizes their nonconformist, growing niche in hip-hop. Dante describes their canine complex best as it chronicles the 10 tracks of their debut album, Nü Religion: Hyena.
“Hyena is a chapter in the Nü Religion anthology,” he explained to fans via Twitter. “The hyena (Drew and I) is an outsider finding his way in L.A. Hyenas are these weird outsiders, and I really identify with that.”
To be initiated into the Wolf Pac is to be unwonted, original, singular, limitless and invested deeply in selfhood. Even in the Wolf Pac, there is power in lone wolf numbers.
As the swanky dynamic of the duo, Drew’s aesthetic is Dante’s inverse. The singer-songwriter is as busy as the melange on his multi-scenic jacket, which tricks you into a fast-motion illusion even as he sits still with one leg crossed. His knee pokes from the large rip in his black distressed jeans. Beneath the fashion show, Drew is wrapped in spellbinding tattoos that bridge across his chest, down his hands, and through his fingers. There’s a method, and a name, to his visual madness.
“I am thee Trap Bobby Brown,” he proclaims. “I feel like I'm entering a new phase in my evolution as an artist and as a person in general. So, I felt like I wanted to switch it up and do something a little different. Everybody else is doing the blonde hair. So I figured I should go semi-Sisqo with the grayish-bluish type of situation.”
His peculiar sense of fashion comes intrinsically and echoes his musical inspirations tactfully, like the aforementioned Chris Brown, with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee and Jaden Smith in the mix, too. For Drew, an ordinary mall excursion consists of randomized fashion choices that simply catch his eye. He’s just as inventive and visionary in his closet as he is in the studio. He uses his fingers this time to twirl the heavy, vintage-style ring fixed on his index finger.
“It's the same way we treat music,” he says. “Even though we get inspiration from everywhere, we make what we think is tight. And not think too much about it.”
Perhaps this is the same formula for how they turn resonation into auditory addiction with all 10 of Nü Religion: Hyena’s tracks. They. knew exactly what they were doing by creating a lyric-less intro to the album out of nothing but transcendental, ghostly vocals and textures with affecting instrumentals that trance the listener. With the project’s most sought-after tracks like “What You Want,” “Back It Up,” and “U-RITE,” Drew and Dante lift the bar to stimulating new heights. Together, both men master musical dichotomy. They. prove that the co-existence of lyrical substance and sound gratification are both practical and powerful. The Tarro remix of the infectious “Deep End” track even grabbed the attention of organizers behind America’s famous basketball simulation video game, NBA 2K18. The guitar-heavy banger sits comfortably on NBA 2K18’s playlist, which is just as heavily anticipated as the game itself, beside other hip-hop treasures like Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.,” Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” and OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean.”
The calmer of the Wolf Pac storm arrives toward the end of the album with “Dante’s Creek.” Written by the “Trap Bobby Brown” himself, Drew borrows Paula Cole’s 1996 “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” best known as the theme song for throwback teen drama series Dawson’s Creek.
“I came here when I wrote that song,” he recounted while sitting atop one of the many blue huts lining the beach of California’s famous Santa Monica Pier. Despite his loud, grungy physical appearance and wild days as a youth, the oceanfront’s tranquility seems to balance him.
“Eager” is the word Dante uses to describe his They. brother. Even as Drew glares jokingly at him, complete with a sharp head turn at the connotation of the term, Dante continues. “Eager to please. Eager to try new things. Eager just to enjoy the world for what it is. Sometimes I say he's an ‘eager beaver.’ I hate to bring that term because it sounds corny as f**k. But he just wants to experience this world and everything that it has. And be a part of something bigger than him. He has a lot to offer."
Take, for instance, the time he pretended to rob his high school’s 7-Eleven.
“So my high school had a 7-Eleven inside,” he recalls. The glow in his eyes seem to brighten as he details the rest of the fiasco. “I ended up by myself. It was supposed to be three or four of us going in there, but it ended up just being me. But I was a troublemaker in high school. That was my thing. I liked to play pranks and mess around with people. Just a little bit of a class clown. I got expelled like four times. I think after a certain point I was just like, 'You know what — let me just finish up [school].'”
Years later, and now that the two have matured out of their delinquencies, their label home at Mind of a Genius Records suits them well. They.’s career is soaring during one of hip-hop’s most dynamic times of the millennial era, like the emergence of “mumble rap.” Drew appreciates that the culture is broadening its horizons, especially with regard to music charts and the numbers finally reflecting the impact of urban music.
“You got Rae Sremmurd getting No. 1's, which is tight,” Drew praises. “At the same time, you have some people getting complacent, though. Knocking out 10 songs in a night and not really saying anything on the song. It’s arguable. Mumble rap is kind of taking over. But at the same time, I do embrace the fact that people are free to make whatever kind of music they want and have a legitimate chance to be a No. 1 artist. This is a unique time in music.”
Dante’s forecast on the current state of music runs parallel. The Colorado producer focuses on the “creativity” and “functionality” of different kinds of sound in this age of music. Admittedly, he’s not riding the whole “mumble rap” wave as heavy as everyone else, but you’ll still find him vibing to it in the club or in the gym. The real shift in music, Dante believes, is credited to a shift in power.
“We’re in this weird transitional music period to where the gatekeepers of the industry are losing the power they once had with the charts,” he says. “And now those numbers are reflecting what people are actually listening to, especially in the urban community. It's an interesting time. I'm glad to see what the new generation is coming up with, and their voice and their perspective. I feel like every generation has that pushback. I'm sure when Tupac and Biggie were out, there were people wishing they were the Temptations and Marvin Gayes. I try not to feed too much into criticism because every five years somebody says that. We'll see. Only time will tell.”
Time is another routine concept for They., who both exuded excitement for their first time on the BETX stage at the 2017 show. Drew makes it clear that even as a rising star, his admiration for other musicians hasn’t dimmed. He openly shares his honor to perform on the same stage that would be occupied by artists such as Jhene Aiko, Migos, Gucci Mane and Bryson Tiller, who They. also shared a stage and close relationship with while opening for the R&B crooner’s TrapSoul tour.
As time grows, he wants the perception and number of risk-takers in all genres to expand, too. “Individuality” and “creativity” are two of his guiding principles, he explains. “Even though there are these musical rules about mixing certain genres and sounds — just do whatever you think is tight at the end of the day. Even if everyone isn’t a fan of it.”
As Drew visually exhibits what authentic individuality and creativity looks like, it’s clear that a similar busyness exists in Dante’s head. But he chooses his words with precision as the thoughts flow.
“Especially within the Black community, I want young kids to know that they can still make excellently produced music,” he says. “That's just me as a producer. I feel like we sometimes fall into these paint-by-the-numbers way that people are going about making music. It's like a novelty almost: young kids just making a bunch of trap beats. But we can make a lot of different things and contribute in a lot of different ways. We can make something well-produced, well-thought out, and well-written. It takes those voices and those examples of people like us, who are doing it at that level, to spark the next generation. I looked at Kanye, and things played out well for him. I think now it's time for those new people to step up and make their contribution. I think we could definitely be one of those people.”
Little do Dante and Drew know, They. already are.