Packaged with care

Local duo Obey the Crooks offer an impressive hybrid of sounds

Obey the Crooks make one thing clear — the up-and-coming rap duo doesn’t like to obey the rules. Indeed there’s little that’s traditional about this Calgary future-rap outfit comprised of members Beach Season and Monski. For one they shirk the traditional producer-rapper binary. (The former sings the latter raps and both act as producers.) Though they’ve cut their teeth in the local hip-hop scene they consider a post-rock group Mayland their sibling band. And as far as their creative process goes they’re gloriously open-source — and throughout the conversation they bring up interests from menswear to design which undoubtedly informs their hyper-sleek hyper-modern approach to music.

It all came to a head on Care Package their woozy forward-looking EP released last September. Confident and shockingly diverse the duo — who’ve been friends since middle school and were obsessed with climbing buildings “until police mistook us for robbers… so we decided to find something else to entertain us” — swaps off on sing-rap verses intertwining Monski’s braggodocio with Obey the Crooks’ mind-melting production. A good place to start then is “Steve Jobs” where Beach Season twists the Macbook’s startup chime into a chilly banger. “Beach and I both produce our own tracks” says Monski. “We have different styles of production as you can tell if you listen to Beach’s solo work. He brings his own sound into the mix which really diversifies our sound…. Having a vocalist with a unique voice such as Beach’s also brings a lot to the table.”

Monski’s not lying: Beach Season’s smooth shimmering vocals can change the entire dynamic of a song — look no further than “The Garden” a chilled-out track that transforms into an opulent yacht-worthy offering. But Beach maintains Monski brings structure to the fray; he’s the storyteller.

“To put it simply Monski brings the flow” says Beach. “There’s only so much a singer can do so Monski supplies the diversified lyricism to bring a more defined message and feeling to each song. It works out well because he can lay down a story and then I carry it with melodies hooks and ad-libs.”

Considering their differing roles in the project then it’s no surprise that OTC’s members cull different influences. When we ask about what’s dominating the duo’s playlist they cite wide-reaching influences: Monski the narrator has been listening to storytelling powerhouses like Pusha T and Chance the Rapper. Beach meanwhile lists Top Dawg Entertainment’s SZA Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield as current faves. But the duo is quick to maintain that these shouldn’t be used as direct comparisons.

“I try not to mimic these artists and (to) do my own thing” says Monski. “Inspiration is dangerous sometimes because you can find yourself taking too much from one source and making something that isn’t truly original.”

Accordingly their wide-open approach to songwriting means that a plethora of styles — and individual obsessions — appear in their songs. “We listen to a lot of different music so we like a lot of different things. It’s a bit hard to make a fusion of all of them so we just kind of make tracks depending on how we feel in that certain time…. With our sort of sporadic style we can pretty much do whatever we want we have the freedom to truly express ourselves.”

While Obey the Crooks is a shared outlet both members are also embarking on solo efforts. Beach opened January with his project Internet Evening the first release of 2014 from local electronic imprint Close to Modern. It’s a gauzy slice of not-quite-chillwave that should establish him as one of Calgary’s top producers. “I found out about their label from Chief Navaho and thought I’d give it a shot and submit some of my older stuff” says Beach. “They were really into it and wanted to release something right away. Although I wanted to wait a bit so I could concoct something special and fitting… there are continual things in the works.”

Indeed Beach leaks a few details about his future plans — namely to work with their Calgary peers A.Y.E. and Maxjullian. Monski for his part has been preparing a solo debut and hints that we might hear his work as soon as next month “and possibly a larger project sometime this year.”

As for the duo they expect to perfect their sound — and build off the success of Care Package .

“It would be ideal to get a full album completed by the end of this year but time will tell” adds Monski. “Staying creative and perfecting our craft has always been our motive.”