If the walls between genres are crumbling, the guys in Supreme Cuts are holding a couple of the sledgehammers.
Supreme Cuts is the Chicago-based duo of Mike Perry and Austin Keultjes. Their music weaves together swirling samples, quicksand bass, and percussion that is steeped in hip-hop while unafraid to challenge its conventions. In a short amount of time, they’ve put out their own releases, collaborated with left-field rappers Haleek Maul and Main Attrakionz, and remixed R&B crooners like Miguel and The-Dream, all while exploring and establishing a distinct sound.
After seeing them support Haleek Maul at Mishka’s CMJ showcase, I spoke with Perry and Keultjes about their musical commune, changing norms in hip-hop production, and their favorite Chicago rappers.
While based in Chicago, Perry is originally from Sacramento and Keultjes is from Chicago exurb South Bend, Indiana. “I grew up in the shadow of Chicago,” says Keultjes. “My older brother was heavy into [rap group] Do Or Die and [ghettotech pioneer] DJ Funk, so I inherited that a little bit.” In high school, he toured as part of an experimental metal band before finding that he was adept at making rap beats in Garageband. They both came to Chicago for after high school and met soon after.
“We really hit it off: we could actually talk to each other about music without dumbing it down or having to explain who Too $hort was,” says Keultjes. “It was a perfect connection, as far as knowing a lot about rap and respecting it, but also listening to ‘avant-garde music’, for lack of a better word.”
About two years ago, after trial and error on a couple projects, Supreme Cuts was born. “It took us a minute to fully work together, because we both have egos, but once we did, it was magical,” he says. Like so many others, they put their tracks on the Internet and “people listened, surprisingly,” laughs Perry.
Their first effort that garnered attention was ‘Amnesia,’ a twisted slice of R&B that was created “without expectations in mind.” Rather than a specific type of track, the song was the first time Perry was “able to vibe with a song and let it take me to the point where it was finished.” Of their first EP Trouble, Keultjes says: “We were done with nostalgia and done with genre constraints.”
For their first full-length, Whispers in the Dark, the pair had an idea of what they wanted it to sound like for years. “A couple of years ago, I said the best album would be a mixture of [Stevie Wonder classic] Songs In The Key Of Life and Goo by Sonic Youth,” says Keultjes. While that might not describe the final product, it is a “mixture of soulful, honesty with noise and it all running together,” that bounces between moods and textures. “They say it takes your whole life to make your first album, and Whispers was definitely that for us.”
As they established themselves as instrumental producers, hip-hop production was never far from their mind. This year, they worked with Haleek Maul and Main Attrakionz, relying on a production style that is unorthodox by contemporary styles. Rather than what Keultjes calls “the whole Myspace beat pack producer” method, they find that forging a true connection bears the most fruit. “One thing Supreme Cuts really stands for that really baffles a lot of artists that ask to work with us is just the concept of vibing together as opposed to sending a bunch of personality-less tracks to choose from.”
For example, even though they sent ten tracks to the Main Attrakionz, the two beats that the cloud rappers chose were the ones Supreme Cuts had “secretly produced” with the Bay Area duo in mind; those tracks became ‘Take U There’ and ‘Life Is Love’ on the group’s full-length debut Bossalinis & Fooliyones.
The process with Haleek Maul (aka 16 year old Barbadian prodigy Malik Hall) was an “extraordinary situation.” The three talked almost daily about his life, influences, and interests, building a relationship that made collaboration seamless, as Keultjes explains. “I would make a 10-minute demo, he would be like “I absolutely love this,” and I’d be like “I figured you would.”” As Perry points out, “We started at the same level: him as an aspiring rapper and us trying to get more into making beats. It was interesting to see how that all panned out over the span of a year.”
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