PENPALS is a hip-hop duo out of New York that is paying homage to the old school sounds and flavors. The group (consisting of Cynic the Apache and MC Rapswell) has done an admirable job of reviving the classic sound of sample based, boom bap hip hop.
With their dense, multiple syllabic and comical delivery, the duo has been making waves in the underground scene for some time now. Their latest release, “Made for the Underground” is a collaborative effort with the producer tag-team of The Slipmat Bros. The project is a perfect representation of the power and potential of this collaboration as it showcases the talent of each artist.
I spoke with the group about their inspirations, their friendship with The Slipmat Bros. and the inner workings of the PENPALS project.
Prox: Tell us about yourselves. Where did you grow up, how did you meet, and when did you discover your love of hip-hop?
PENPALS: Winter of 98’. A particularly cold one… The spring left us a poor harvest. Our village was starving. We were selected as the voyagers to seek out a more fertile land.
In the midst of our travels, we encountered several old LL Cool J and Nas tapes in the muck. We formed PENPALS and everyone in our village has since passed.
Prox: Do you remember any tracks or albums that made you say “Ok, I seriously want to be a rapper now”?
PENPALS: We’re still a little upset at thinking about our home village we abandoned and let starve, so this question’s a bit insensitive.
But Swell is a big fan of Edan, and uh… no no no, Don’t do, god damnit, don’t write everything I say. Nas? Uhh… Yeah yeah, that’s good, that’s fine.
And Cynic pretty much only grew up on that good old fashioned Paul Wall and keyboard superstar Rick Wakeman.
Prox: Did you guys ever play around with other styles of Hip Hop before settling on your current one?
PENPALS: We mostly performed a blend of Klezmer Jazz and glam rock before settling into our current niche.
Prox: As artists, why do you feel that you compliment each other so well? What are some of your individual strengths?
PENPALS: Cynic helps Swell get those pots and pans he likes to keep so high up in his cupboard, and Swell helps Cynic fight the Indian when he escapes. It just works, ya know?
Swell is really handy with his feet. He can pick up almost any item using just his big toe. Except rice, the grains are far too small for anyone to do that. If anyone has ever said they’ve picked up rice with their toe, I almost guarantee they’re lying.
Cynic is incredibly knowledgeable about jet-ski repair and maintenance. For rates call 917-678-2801.
Prox: Has there been any growing pains associated with making tracks that harken back to the old school sound in an era that prefers more synthetic sounding Hip Hop?
PENPALS: We’re not really concerned with what’s trending. We just try to make music we enjoy. As long as it’s a funky beat and a bassline, we’re down to throw some good clean lyrics on top.
Prox: What was it like working with The Slipmat Bros? How did you discover their music and why did you decide they were the right producers for this project?
PENPALS: Wow, great couple of guys. Working with them was an absolute joy from the start. We started off with Drop the Beat, and everyone seemed happy with the result. They kept sending us beats and we started on an album. They’re lovely human beings and we look forward to spelunking with them in Malta this coming June.
Prox: Was there anything in particular that you were trying to say with your first full length release? Do you feel that you accomplished this?
PENPALS: Well our first full length release was the self titled PENPALS on Chopped Herring Records. We were trying to just introduce people to the Filthy Animals. I feel like we succeeded. Overall I’d say it’s a C+.
Prox: Favorite hobbies?
PENPALS: Rock Climbing, Parasailing, Parachuting, Skin Grafts, Horseback riding, Jet-ski, Repair and Maintenance, Paperweight/Spoon collecting, Polishing said collections, Buying vintage cereal boxes on Ebay, Training for Events, Playing video games and watching cool movies with our pals, Sleep overs, and just hanging out.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?
PENPALS: J-Zone, Freddie Gibbs, Anderson Paak., Ivan Ave, Run the Jewels, Doppelgangaz, Homeboy Sandman, Your Old Droog, ScHoolboy Q, Mick Jenkins, Kendrick, Vince Staples and Open Mike Eagle.
Prox: Information on upcoming releases and projects?
PENPALS: Cynic the Apache has his next solo project coming out soon on the Millennium Jazz Music label. Produced largely by Squires and Rapswell of PENPALS. Look for it soon.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
PENPALS: Keep your ears clean, and your eyes on the road baby!
Prox: Final Thoughts?
PENPALS: If you do know who the muffin man is, keep it to yourself. Gravy is good but only in moderation. Keep on Schwampin’!
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