Nico Segal and Nate Fox have worked with artists many producers only dream of getting in the studio. As Donnie Trumpet, Segal has produced and played for the likes of Kanye West, Ed Sheeran, J. Cole, and Neil Young, while Fox’s resume includes DRAM, Kehlani, Big Sean and Lil Wayne. As the Social Experiment, the duo toured the world with Chance the Rapper and released an exceptional album in Surf.
Though successful in nearly every sense, Segal and Fox were ready to start a new chapter in their careers. They wanted to step out from behind the soundboard and create a more traditional singer-songwriter album. When Segal moved from his hometown of Chicago to Los Angeles, the two opened a studio together. It was their chance to make the project they’d been longing for.
Under the moniker Intellexual, the two-piece is sharing its debut, self-titled album, which is out today (April 12). And though there is a star-studded list of features that include Vic Mensa and Raury, Segal and Fox are letting their voices be heard front and center for the first time. The project is also a conduit for Intellexual’s larger message.
“We’re trying to talk about love and relationships, as a whole, in more of a, for lack of a better word, intellectual way,” Segal explains. “A lot of the time in popular music, it’s just a really shallow perspective that’s out there. I think this album talks about relationships and love in a different way. In a more 2019 and beyond kinda way. Besides just highlighting ourselves, we’ve highlighted people that we really think have the same goals in mind and belief in positive relationships and treating people with respect. I think those are themes that are kind of lost today in music, and they don’t need to be.”
Billboard chatted with Segal and Fox about the new project, and why Chance the Rapper is missing from it.
What does the word “intellexual” mean to you?
Nico Segal: I think one of the first things we ever made with the idea of Intellexual in mind is a song we just released called “Intllxl” and the only lyric in it is “I love you ‘cause your mind,” so that’s what it means to me.
This is your singer-songwriter debut. Though there are still plenty of features on the album, how does it feel to have your voices showcased for the first time?
Nate Fox: It’s terrifying to me because I’ve never considered myself a singer, so to put that hat on and not have an audience—in this case let’s call it a mirror—I have no idea what this hat looks like on me. It could be really cool and it could be a whole new look, or maybe it looks like an old man wearing a fedora. I really don’t know.
Segal: We’re wearing a lot of hats on this album, and I think we had a really focused aesthetic that we were trying to achieve with this album. We’re critical of a lot of things on the album, but I think that’s led us to a lot of really cool findings and cool places musically for us to feel really good about our creative output.
There are parts of the album that sound similar to The Social Experiment, but this stretches sonic boundaries even more than your previous work. There’s jazz, there’s funk, there’s blues, there’s folk, there’s classical influences — how were you able to weave together all these sounds cohesively?
Segal: One of the big differences between the making of Surf and the making of Intellexual is that initial thought process: this is what it’s gonna feel like, this is what t’s gonna sound like, even this is what it’s gonna look like — we’ve had the art for a really long time for this album, and we’ve just always looked at it and always drawn inspiration from it. And I think that’s kind of what anchored all these different sounds.
In Surf there’s still many different influences and many different genres, and the aesthetic is somewhat cohesive, but it was from a much larger pool of music. It was a mix of what worked together and also what was the best from this big pool of music. Intellexual was more focused — this is the type of sound I want for this song, this is the type of aesthetic we’re going for, this is how this song is going to get executed.
You mentioned pulling from a big pool for Surf. Did you write a lot of songs for this album too?
Segal: For Intellexual it wasn’t just about a song being good, it was more so, What is intellexual about it? How do I make it intellexual? How does this song get executed in an intellexual way? So it all has the same aesthetic even if it was made in different places or with different people witting or arranging. So it was just trying to conceptualize that from the beginning, and trying to stay true to that.
There’s a lot of great features on the album, but one person noticeably missing is Chance the Rapper. Any reason why he’s not on it?
Segal: Nope. There’s no main reason. He’s always makin’ so much music. A lot of the time period at the beginning of Intellexual was at the end of Coloring Book, so we’ve just been making lots of music together and doin’ the thing, and I can’t really say if there’s going to be a song with Chance eventually for Intellexual, but we’re all good. He’s our friend. We’re making music together still in different capacities. Intellexual is its own thing — not that Chance couldn’t be involved, he just hasn’t.
Fox: We really wanted to stay true to this first idea of Intellexual, and amongst the songs that we had created and what we felt worked best to form a full project, there wasn’t something that felt appropriate for Chance’s version of what an Intellexual song would be. So it’s not to say we haven’t made things, or we haven’t tried things. We didn’t nail it this time, and when we do nail it you’ll know about it.
What about this project makes you most proud?
Fox: I’m most proud of our personal and professional growth from this project. Both Nico and I challenged ourselves to the max and I think we both came out much better from it.
Segal: I think we both have different moments on the album that we really feel like we captured what we were trying to say or do musically, whether that’s in production or in the way that we got a sound recorded in a really great way, but I think since it’s pretty new for us the songwriting aspect of the album is probably what I’m most proud of. Having produced so much, getting to write all the songs and all the words and everything was terrifying, like Nate was saying, but also really liberating. There’s a song on the album called “Over Thinking,” and that’s the song I’m most proud of.
What is it about that song that stands out from others?
Segal: It’s a song I wrote and I sang. I don’t want to talk about it too much because I want people to get from it what they get from it, but it’s just a song that I feel like is very relatable and yet very unique and very personal. It also is a song that has to do with a lot of these topics we’ve been talking about — releasing music and wearing all these different hats — some of those things are talked about in a better way than I can describe right now.
There’s a fine line between being proud and excited over stuff and overly critical, because that’s also part of what we do. The first lyric to that song is, “Once you share it all, it’s not yours anymore.” I think that says a lot about how I feel about this album. It feels amazing and exciting and liberating and freeing, and it’s also like we’re in uncharted waters. We’re in space, and we’re finding stars.