In today’s society of convenience and comfort, weighing our options becomes action’s enemy. You can spend hours reading restaurant reviews in search of the best meal, all the while growing hungrier, more frustrated and ever more anxious and unsure.
Musicians approach their craft the same way. You spend so much time listening and picking apart the same four measures of a song, you start to lose sight of the expression at hand. Other times, you make a song one summer, and a label waits until the next summer to put it out. The emotions are old. You’re a different person. It doesn’t feel the same.
You can also die, a lesson learned by Nick Hook and DJ Earl when their dear friend and mentor DJ Rashad passed in his Chicago home in April 2014. The two producers and DJs came together in the wake of the footwork pioneer and TekLife crew founder’s sudden end, but ends are often hidden new beginnings, and today, they celebrate Rashad’s life, their lives and your life, too, with an eight-track album that takes “living in the moment” to new literal heights.
“Rashad was a clear example of just being the best version of yourself, pushing the envelope and growing every day,” Earl says. “He taught us it’s about the process. It’s about getting better. No matter what you’ve got going on, you’ve got to work on yourself.”
“That’s everything he embodied,” Hook continues, “be who you are, be the best of who you are and share yourself with everybody.”
Hook and Earl share a new liberated side of each other on their collaborative LP 50 Backwoods, released Friday (Dec. 8) via Fool’s Gold Records. It’s a head-trip, psychedelic, groove-tacular journey through positive energy, togetherness and spontaneity. It’s about letting go to find yourself, stepping outside your comfort zone in order to be truly honest — and also exploring really dope beats.
50 Backwoods was written and recorded in seven days. Hook and Earl holed themselves away in Hook’s New York City studio with 50 blunts (all rolled by Earl), some acid sheets, and the will to make something real. It’s smart and slap-happy and strange. It doesn’t sound like anything either of them has made before, and really, not like much you might have heard from anyone else.
It was a short creative process that was a long time coming. Hook spent the first couple months of 2017 opening for Run The Jewels on tour. He says watching those guys come up on a catalog of brutal truth left him inspired and changed forever.
This summer, he visited Earl in his new Miami home. Earl played him some demos, and it instantly reminded him of that RTJ energy.
“I was blown away by his demos, because I knew [he was] sharing himself,” Hook says. “To a T, that’s the naked version of [Earl].”
They started that visit as friends, but they parted as soul brothers with a calling. A few months later, when Hook found out he might lose his studio, they knew time was of the essence. Earl bought a roundtrip ticket to NYC. He was there from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7, and when he left, the album was made.
“This whole process has been pretty organic,” Earl says. “We let it happen, and once we both knew it needed to happen, we just executed. We got in the studio, we just got free and made some stuff. The collaborators were something that just happened along the process, like, ‘Hey, we’re in New York. Who can we call? Which homies are passing through on tour?’ We just kept the whole process open.”
“The liberating factor in this project is that we both went outside of who we are,” Hook continues. “I got to have Earl’s back and say ‘get creative, don’t worry about what people think you are.’ It was a like a chess match. He would sit down in the chair and come up with some stuff. I would just be on the couch listening, and then I would get in the chair. It just felt so pure, and we knew there was nothing to lose by it. It’s been amazing to see it reciprocated. I think everyone is feeling what we were feeling when we made it.”
The whole thing plays like a spiritual pilgrimage through the mind. “We The People” featuring MeLo-X is a modern buddhist mantra. “Energy” is a self-love anthem. “Liberate” is a meandering, tonal exploration of the universe within. 50 Backwoods is like The Beatles going to India if the Fab Four were raised on hip-hop.
“This is all about everybody,” Hook says. “Life has taught us to be way too competitive, and when you start to see what life is really about – and I’m gonna hold Earl’s hand while I say this bit – It’s real shit. They can’t take this from us. We made this forever. The songs are our artifacts when we die. It’s not how much money we have. It’s not how many bitches we fucked. It’s what we did while were alive, and I think that’s all we got. I’m so proud of it, because again, in a week, you can’t overthink it.”
Now that the album is out, the energy keeps pushing forward with a whirlwind nine-stop tour, aptly-titled “Ayo, We On Tour — Slide Through.” It kicked off Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Raleigh, and the friend’s couldn’t have imagined a better welcome party. People approached them afterwards saying they were lifted to higher planed, hallucinating without drugs, and just feeling more confident in themselves.
“I feel like I was that kid,” Hook says. “We’re Midwestern kids that basically had no future at life, and it feels so good to be on the other side of the merch table, looking at kids and telling them ‘yo, you can do this shit, too.’ Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t, because we’re living proof that you can just go out there, be that crazy and keep believing in yourself.”
Nick Hook and DJ Earl invite you to light a joint — or not light one — and listen to 50 Backwoods with your friends. They also want you to come kick it with them if you can. The whole project is about building community, so check the full tour dates and get lost in the fresh posi-vibes below.