The Palmer Squares: The Plums of Hip Hop

The Palmer Squares are a pair of hip hoppers hailing from Chicago. They started rapping back in high school as more or less of a joke aimed at showing up the trash rappers their friends listened to. Before long, they were spending their free time uploading cyphers to YouTube. While never losing touch with that side of their craft (they just dropped the Interstate Cypher this week) the duo evolved into something much bigger as evidenced by their back catalogue which includes two EPs, their debut album Finna, and their most recent project, the In Context mixtape. Along the way, they picked up a few fellow wordplay warriors to make up their label Stank Face Records. The group includes emcees Bruce Bayne, Loud Mouth, Rebel Legato, Will is Chillin', and producers Irineo Jaimes and Drew Mantia

With the release of their sophomore album, Planet of the Shapes, less than a week away, I thought a proper interview was in order. On account of the bantering that often goes on when they interview together, we elected to conduct the interview over Skype. After transcribing that hour long conversation, I had about 12 pages of questions and answers. While some may have taken that, pulled a couple quotes, and put out a flowery prose type interview, I felt that the only way to do it justice was to include the raw back and forth. So, I widdled it down as best I could without losing their distinctive mannerisms and personalities. Not all the quips made the cut, but there is some golden information below about the creative process behind, as well as what we can expect from, the upcoming Planet of the Shapes. Additionally, we get to hear what Term and Acumental think happens when we die and what kind of legacy they hope to leave behind. Planet of the Shapes crash lands on the 25th, before then, read this interview and cop some official merchandise while you still can! For those true fans, check out the dates for their upcoming summer tour here.

How would you feel about someone describing you as the craft beer of rap?

Term: I’m whatever about it. I get it.

Acumental: I guess we are an acquired taste, I guess that’s how I’m seeing the question.

I meant more quality over quantity. You operate on a smaller scale, you’re not commercial, you put care into each track you release rather than mass produce singles for the public to binge consume.

People have said they didn’t like us at first, or that we had grown on them. I think we have a pretty solid track list at this point. This album coming out is three years in the making so it’s not exactly quantity for the most part. We take our time with shit. There’s something unique about it, I don’t know how I’d characterise it. The way I think of craft beer is I like some of them.

Anything that’s not like Miller Light.

Acumental: Yeah, just something fancy.

Term: We’re like a Hamms.

Acumental: You just bought a six of Coors.

Term: It was the only thing that was six dollars.

Acumental: Okay, so you just buy whatever’s cheapest.

Term: I just wanted beer to watch the game and eat my own dinner.

Acumental: Well, you did it.

Term: I didn’t want to spend $10.

Acumental: Well then we aren’t the craft beer because we’re charging $10.

We’re like a Rolling Rock.

Acumental: That’s as far up craft beer chain as we’ll go. So just shy of anything good.

How do you guys feel about the stigmatisation of wordplay that seems to be gaining traction within the hip hop community as of late?

Acumental: That’s as old as time, or as old as rap. And rap goes through phases. Rap in the last eight years didn’t sound like the generation prior. I remember when we were in High school like 10 years ago, that’s kind of why we started rapping, it was just crap rappers and that was what we saw was popular amongst our friends. So we were anti that and then that led us to end up rapping and making our own thing out of it.

There’s a lot of people in the new sound that I don’t get, I don’t fuck with. Like whatever happened when Migos blew up and the flow changed “ababa dadada yedadeda.” That became a new style almost and it’s just a new form of the same repetitive shit that’s been going on forever. There’s always going to be artists that are anti that, I’m not trying to put us on a pedestal, but like above that shit lyrically. It ain’t just us, there’s a whole scene. The problem is they spoon feed you the stuff that’s not so thought provoking and you have to search yourself to find something more lyrical or more thought provoking.

Term: I don’t think it’s a conspiracy or nothing. I think it’s just that what the common demands is not conscious or whatever the fuck. And I don’t like speaking as an authority on hip hop and what’s fucking dope and what’s not. The more we got into it about not liking whoever and shit, a lot of the dudes who we thought were whack when we started rapping, we’ve grown more of a liking to or more of an understanding for what’s appealing about them. My taste doesn’t really define what’s hip hop and shit.

Acumental: Just somebody’s marketing game is impressive to me now because I know how hard it is to market yourself. So I might just totally negate somebody’s rap skills but still like them as a rapper because they have the best agent in show business. It's like anything, you don’t feel like you agree with everybody else, just under a broad umbrella. Like fucking Donald Trump, everybody’s on his side but I haven’t met anyone who is, for the most part. There’s gonna be lots of people who are going to buy whoever’s album, like Desiigner’s fucking album, and I won’t, I guess. 

If Ben and Jerry’s were to make a Palmer Squares ice cream flavor, what would it be composed of?

Pralines and jizz.

How have you evolved as artists since Finna and how does that progression manifest itself in Planet of The Shapes?

I don’t know

Think about it man, that’s the whole point of the…

Term: I don’t know particular ways. I just know that both projects tried to step out of our comfort zones and our listener’s comfort zone. A lot of people wanted it to sound Spooky Languagey, very boom bappy shit. With each project, we try something new, something that we’ve never done, or something that’s more contemporary at the moment.

Acumental: Its just kind of like learning how to structure an album or what kind of variety to have. Finna was the first project of ours that had all different producers. Before that, we had Nate Kiz produce one and D.R.O. produced one and I think that’s an interesting element that we broke away from that we’re gonna go back to inevitably.

We’re in this kind of goofy dynamic phase right now. There is definitely a couple different vibes on Planet of the Shapes. It could be slightly jarring as far as just a banger and then more of a summer time jam and then something making a statement in a different cadence or flow than we tried before. We’ve seen comments and, it takes us a while, but we incorporate a lot of that into our feedback. Like people said they wanted to hear Term sing more and there’s a fair amount of Term singing on the album. I don’t know if it’s in the way people were hoping to hear. But that’s something we saw and I think that’s something that’s reflected on the album.

To people that are missing the collaborations with Nate Kiz and really enjoyed and found out about us because of Spooky Language, we’re talking to Nate we’re gonna do stuff in the future. Again, back to quality over quantity we’ve been on some other shit since between Finna and this album.

Since Finna we’ve learned that when you’re making a new project it’s just as important to focus on, in my opinion, appealing to the people that didn’t like the last project for the reasons they didn’t like the last project as it is appealing to the people who did like the last project. It’s not 100% catered for the people who liked the last shit. I think it’s important to expand.

Acumental: Planet of the Shapes, there’s a song very much inspired by Chicago itself but there’s a song inspired by the Chicago drill scene which we are not a part of but is a sound that is representative of where we’re from. We took our take at it. It’s different, I don’t know if it worked or not. We wanted to take a drill beat but flip it and make it about something different. There’s a song with autotune on the album that’s tastefully done, but I don’t know if people are going to fuck with it right out of the gates.

Term: “No Foam In The Cup” was the same sort of idea. It was meant to be something of a sort of parody of something else and that wound up being the most popular track, unfortunately. The whole concept and beat were made by my brother and his friends. They don’t really listen to rap and it’s their kind of mock.

Acumental: But I think it’s important we made that song. We both knew it wasn’t the vibe that we were gonna stick to or that we were representative of. But, we wanted to make it and a lot of people like it and it kills at live shows.

Term: The song that Matt was talking about on the new album that’s sort of influenced by the drill shit is in that realm where it’s not really about the drill shit or making any statement too much. So if anyone that likes that type of music would hear it they’d probably hate us. But I think our people would fucks with it. The approach is more of like, we are being very grammatical and intellectual.

Yeah, the theme of the song is education but with a monotonous hook.

Term: Instead of being very monotonous we’re being very intellectual.

Acumental: Mmm very intellectual. Here’s the best way to put it. We put out a mixtape a year ago called In Context. Ever since Finna in 2013 we just started working on our next album. And a year ago we realised we had too many songs. So we split it in half and In Context, in context, is actually like the B-side of Planet of the Shapes. It was all recorded in an effort for the new album but then we recorded too much over three years so we just split it into two projects and sat on our favorites for this album.

What do you think happens when you die?

You know I would have just said nothing, the easy answer. I’ve been thinking a lot more about that lately. Not that specifically, but just about things. But, also ignorance is bliss and I try to just not think about that shit where I’ll never find the answer cause I’ll drive myself crazy.

I kind of liked the idea of reincarnation when I found out what that was. And I thought when you die, you know if you have a spirit or a soul or whatever makes people themselves that at that moment it transfers to a birth and then you’re just somebody else now or whatever a butterfly of fucking whatever… But that’s not what I believe. I really think life just keeps going on and then I’m not here anymore. I think I go back into the Earth and feed the planet until it shakes everybody else off like a bad habit.

Term: Physically, we know that’s what we’ll do but… nobody knows breh.

What production and guest verses can we expect to see on Planet of The Shapes?

Acumental: There’s a couple of our Stank Face affiliates, I don’t know how much I want to spoil. I guess, I’ll just tease that there’s one person that we think our fans will really enjoy that we haven’t worked with prior to this. So there’s one collab I don’t know if people are expecting and it’s definitely a really dope feature, no pun intended.

Another big one for us was Psalm One who is a Chicago emcee. We went on tour with her in the fall and that was actually our first real tour as far as driving through the mid-west and you know, gone for a while, hitting like twelve dates. Even prior to that we had been working on this song so that’s just kind of like on our Chicago bucket list. Psalm’s been very cool to us and is somebody we had heard and seen live and had a respect for before we were the Palmer Squares. That’s something cool that’s happened since our last release too, we’ve done a little more networking with new people and got a chance the collab with some different artists. I don’t want to spoil too many names. We are releasing a new video next week.

And release it they did:

You can only do one drug for the rest of your life. Which drug and why?

Someone asked us a drug question at a Q & A and I said sugar.

Term: It’s like a chemical.

Acumental: Yeah, but there is an addictive quality, like if you don’t have sugar for a couple weeks you’ll like…

But I wouldn’t classify it as a drug, it’s not fun.

Acumental: So we’re talking more like a “drug.” I think sugar is a drug somehow, people are addicted as fuck to sugar.

I don’t want to say weed cause I already smoke weed every day so that’s boring.

I’d probably say weed.

Term: What was the question? I have to do one drug every day?

OK-Tho: You can only do one drug for the rest of your life.

Term: It’s the only drug I can do. I mean is caffeine in there? I like coffee.

I’m gonna have to play it logical and give the fucking cliché answer and just go with weed. That’s the one thing, you know, I smoked weed when I was a teenager and shit and I’ll smoke weed now. In a different capacity, it’s different, not so enthusiastic like a high school kid you know? But, I don’t know cause I like to drink especially when we are playing shows. Those nights are usually my have some beers and push it to the limit nights. But if I had to pick forever no, because I know that even without it I’ll be like a rageful psychopath person and I’d have to go with something that would cool me out instead of fire me up and weed does that.

Well, weed isn’t a drug, it’s a plant, so I’m gonna say…

Acumental: Yeah, but that doesn’t change my answer.

Term: It all depends on the stigma of coke or meth, whichever one’s cooler with y’alls.

Acumental: An upper, something to keep you up?

Term: I would say pot or mushrooms or LSD but I’ve had LSD and mushrooms sitting in my drawer for like a year.

Acumental: Yeah that happened to me too. You just turned 25 right? You hit 25 and then it’s just like, “Eh yeah I’ll trip but, so sparingly.” I’m too busy to hallucinate now as I get older. I never have that chunk in my schedule clear and when I do I don’t want to spend it just out of my mind. I got shit to do.

OK-Tho: Yeah, that’s how I feel about edibles, I just don’t have the time.

Perfect for a plane ride, though. That’s usually when I’ll eat an edible.

Term: I never eat them, I just hold on to them forever.

I don’t get that. What you do is you eat half and then you see how you feel and you eat the other half! That’s what you do when anybody gives you anything shady. 

What did a typical day working on the project look like for you guys?

Term: A typical day, we usually try and, if it’s starting something new, we write separately. It varies again on how long it could take but it’s always fun to open up a beat we’ve both been writing to for the first time and really go at it for the first time together when we’ve both been figuring out how we’re going to approach it for a couple months.

Kind of lucky too because we do have our studio space with our engineer. Our engineer Drew Mantia is the same engineer who recorded, mixed, and mastered Finna for us so we were working with him ever since. He was a big part of this album too. Drew’s abilities really help us make our ideas come to life. We have our studio spot where Stank Face usually records and Drew is our point person. There are different producers all over the album but Drew is like our third Palmer Square, sight unseen, behind the boards at every session. That’s a noteworthy and crucial element of our sound that a lot people aren’t aware of when they hear the Palmer Squares.

OK-Tho: Is Drew Mantia a member of Stank Face?

I would say so. We kind of play this whole Stank Face thing, it has a very loose feeling because we established it. But yes, it’s definitely our crew that we’ve developed over the last few years and Drew’s been along that whole way.

When your children’s children are recounting your greatness to their children, how do you want them to describe you? 

With each other?

OK-Tho: No, I mean, if you want, but no not necessarily.

Hard worker. As dumb as this sounds, and I hate that it’s even coming out of my mouth but, followed their dreams. I used to go to concerts and want to be a person that was on stage before I knew that hip hop was even my outlet. I have another job. I do some of our videos and TPS reports is my thing and outside of that I do a lot of video work. Sometimes I think I should be doing even more of that but I’m not gonna stop working on this Palmer Squares shit. Planet of the Shapes is awesome and I’m so excited people are gonna get to hear it but I still think our best is yet to come. We have more ideas, we’re already working on some stuff that is post Planet.

I still think of us as late bloomers. I don’t really think of that in terms of the music stuff. I come from a musical family, I would like to pass that along or whatever. It’s not so much important, I’m not rapping for my great grandkids. I do have a dad who had a family and was in a band that was never exactly successful but they were known in their genre and shit. But, he felt, having the family and shit, like he never fully did what he wanted to do and never accomplished his shit and never really made it. I wanna do that.

Acumental: Hopefully, it’s overall positive, that’s all. Like even Michael Jackson it’s like “well, I think he might have fucked kids, like but yeah he’s Michael Jackson.” As long as I can make it and there’s no like question of like “Eh but he was kind of a, you know, he had slaves!” be like well what? I don’t want any bad marks on my shit. If I can just be a generally good person who is not a piece of shit to the people around him and can hopefully give back in other ways if I am ever fortunate enough to be able to share any of that. I just don’t want to be a piece of shit.

Term: Making it is not about being a household name. It’s just, I don’t think my dad ever lived off the music, he always had a job while doing it. The goal is for that to be the job. We don’t ask too much, just to be known. Like Run The Jewels level, like hip hop heads know who Run The Jewels is whether they like them or not they know and respect them as a successful hip hop act. It doesn’t really matter if we’re famous. I’ll settle for ICP, cause those dudes have an empire.

They have their own thing, people could laugh at ours I wouldn’t give a fuck about that if I had the following. Let them be whoever they are. We probably wouldn’t, we’ve never been super change your image type like paint your face and put in contacts. We walk on stage looking like two losers for the most part and hopefully we find our groove after five minutes like we did in this interview.

We are the Palmer Squares and being square is our gimmick.

Acumental: It’s not our gimmick, though.

Inherently being the shit is never our intention.

If Planet of The Shapes could talk, what would it say?

Acumental: Buy me! Buy me now!

Hello, I’m a CD. It’s all audio so it says a bunch of stuff.

Acumental: It talks for like an hour it just won’t shut up and then after like an hour you can’t get a word out of it. Definitely no one message kind of a hodgepodge of songs that we’ve been working on.

I think if you fuck with us you will fuck with it and if you don’t then you won’t.

Acumental: Yeah I think a lot of people will like some of it and some people will like a lot of it so quote me on that. You can’t please 'em all all the time, but over time everybody will have something they like hopefully, that’s always been our goal. There will be some people that like every song on Shapes and then there will be a lot of people that like half of the album. I personally think the first half of the album to the second half sound kind of a bit, just vibe wise, a little different. Just came out of the gate swinging, some upbeat or, you know, like "Holler" is in the first half of the album. And then some of the tail end is a lot more, what I would consider, classic Palmer Squares. Just more chill beats and craft beer verses. 

Term: We’re like the plums of hip hop fruit. I don’t know anyone who is crazy about plums, but I don’t know anyone who hates plums. If you’re deserted on an island and you find out there’s like hella, plum - bushes or trees? - you know, like for you to survive off of, you’re like “alright this is looking up already.”

Acumental: Wouldn’t you prefer to see a pineapple tree though?

Term: Pineapples, especially if you’re on a deserted island, pain in the ass to prepare a pineapple, a plum you just *clitch*. Which speaks to our accessibility. 

After the official interview had ended, the following interaction occurred:

Term: Sorry we lacked luster in the philosophical areas. You caught me off guard. When you die, I hope, your energy and your consciousness are like linked, so when your energy, like shoots off into space and then you just soar around space with just a POV but no body and you can just think and sing songs to yourself.

Acumental: See what happened is he’s been thinking about the answer to that after you die question since you asked it twenty minutes ago. Latest answer ever.

Term: And then those who don’t, there’s a mishap in the space transportation, those are ghosts. Those are people whose energy is stuck here. And it’s just like “oooh.”

Acumental: When you think about the galaxy and how small we are and blah blah blah. I’m not looking for the answer, I don’t care if we ever find out, we won’t. But there has gotta be something. Whatever it is, the idea that there is something literally bigger than us it’s like all of the shit up there, wherever, around: space, time, gravity! But no, it’s too big to understand and that’s what keeps you on your toes. Earth is a transitional phase. Stop spending all your life trying to figure it out, you’ll figure it out after.

No you won’t

Acumental: Yeah you will you’ll die and then you’ll figure it out and if you don’t I don’t care cause you’re fucking dead. What about those energies man? They’re gonna figure some shit out.