Nate & Hila discuss with Billboard their creative process, exploration of ecology and sex positivity, and how it all relates to mating bees.
What brought you two together?
HP: Four years ago, I was performing at different Brooklyn and Manhattan venues at open mic nights and stuff like that. I was booked on a show that was sort of a salon in Bed-Stuy. Nate was one of the other acts booked on that show and that’s how we met. We both did alternative, wordy lyricism.
NO: We were solo artists initially. Her stage name is Hila the Killa and I go by Sir Kn8. We were both booked on the same show. We’re doing similar types of things, but at the time Hila was doing more comedic rap and I was doing academic, almost philosophical rap.
It sounds a little niche!
NO: Extremely niche -- as niche as could be. We started hanging out because we wanted to busk on the subways together. She had a speaker, and I had my beat machine. From there, we started making songs together.
Why did you start making music about environmental issues?
NO: We got into zero waste first. We were trying to live in a way that accumulated as little waste as possible. For example, we started bringing our own cups around to get coffee and not buying food with packaging. From there, we started becoming more interested in larger ecological things, and then we got into the philosophy of ecology and what it really means to orient yourself to the planet as a whole. We wanted to reflect that and explore that musically.
HP: Prior to becoming interested in zero-waste living, I was composting for years. While learning about environmentalism, I built a compost in the back of this cafe and started composting all of their coffee grounds and food scraps for a whole summer, which was exhilarating. From that initial experience, we learned about how you can compost organic waste and what happens to it after. I even became interested in what happens to poop if you compost it. We have a song about human poop. The song is called “Humanure.” [laughs]
Who are you trying to reach with your music?
NO: We’re trying to reach everyone. I view what we do as being in the tradition of edutainment. Hip-hop is probably the best vehicle that exists now for really engaging with people’s hearts and minds at the same time. The original impulse of poetry is to connect with people about what’s actually going on in their world and what’s actually happening historically, politically, ecologically, spiritually, all those things.
HP: I also see our work as creating songs for the pioneers of the environmental era we’re hopefully going towards. Our “Bring Your Own Cup” song is supposed to be an anthem for those who bring their own cup. It’s something to empower and enrich the life of people trying to connect with the Earth. I hope our songs become what people listen to while planting trees. I want them to be like, “Yeah! This is my pump-up jam!” when doing cool environmental work.
Your music video for “Die for That P--sy (Honeybee Sex),” isn't just about bees, right? Can you expand more on the double meaning?
HP: We definitely wrote the song about bees and to educate people and get them excited about bees. Honeybees -- and all pollinators in general -- are so, so important. Having people engaged and wanting to know more about them is part of the goal of that song.
It also hits on ideas about society, community, gender norms, sexuality and mortality. Because of things that happen in the honeybee community, we can learn about different ways of structuring a society. Honeybees are very collaborative. They work together to create a harmonious home in the hive. We have the worker bees that clean and create the cells, creating the queen. They collect the pollen, bring it back, make the honey. The queen lays all the eggs and lives the longest. The queen can live up to five years and lays thousands and thousands of eggs. When the queen goes on her mating flight, she only does this one time, so she collects all of this sperm from all of these drones. That’s the sperm that she has for her whole life.
It’s interesting to look at this community and how they create more life and sustain themselves. It’s also interesting to see where the parallels are with our society and how we structure ourselves.
Your Naughty for Nature album is a collection of songs about how different animals mate. Does it have an overarching theme that parallels the human experience?
NO: In a literal sense, it’s about how animals have sex. On a deeper level, it’s about how we as a society are starting to recognize how diverse our sexual experiences and identities are. There’s a feeling that this is such a new idea, or that this is just for humans, but nature is full of precedents for all kinds of diversity of sexual life. We need to look no further than the rest of the world to find queerness everywhere.
HP: Nature is queer. That’s one of the big messages of the album. Also, it plays with our understanding of the natural world and how we anthropomorphize it, assign gender to animals, and understand their behavior from. It’s hard to really understand what’s going on in their world because we are projecting our own understanding of our bodies and our societies on their natural world. On Naughty for Nature, we’re almost taking it to the max. We completely anthropomorphize bee p--sy and bee d--ks.
You previewed the album this past January at House of Yes. How would you describe the venue to someone new to New York?
NO: First place to go!
HP: It’s a mix of circus, art and nightlife. It has a lot of different things going on for it: burlesque, clowning, comedy, variety shows. It’s also very progressive and politically forward. House of Yes champions itself as being a radically inclusive space where everybody is welcome and consent is mandatory. It feels like a really safe place to explore your creativity, expression and to interact with similar people.
Do you have any special events coming up?
NO: The Naughty for Nature musical will come back in September! The musical is the album, but live...It’s fun. Everybody likes animals and sex! Name one person who doesn’t like those things.