“Rappers shout fire when I spit/ call me inspirational/ yall mistake it though/ my aim is to inspire you to quit.”
This biting first line of The Palmer Squares track, “Jane Addams”, made me stop and take notice during a typically mundane scan through my Facebook newsfeed. After a friend of a friend’s brother posted it to the wall of another obscure acquaintance of mine last June, I became an everyday visitor to the rap duo’s YouTube page for the entire year to follow. (Fun fact: this song is also the reason I got a B instead of a C in Sociology 101 because I knew how to answer the question: “The Hull House was run by which social pioneer?” “Now we got the Hull House rockin’…C) JANE ADDAMS!)
At 22 and 24 years old, Seth and Matt, aka Terminal Knowledge (Term K, Term, TK) and Acumental (Ac), have gained a dedicated following on YouTube and released their second EP, Square Tactics, in December. They are completely self-made, starting out by recording in the house they share near Palmer Square in Chicago (hence their name), to having hundreds of thousands of views and downloads of their music videos and mixtapes. They performed at this year’s SXSW and show no signs of fading into the Youtube abyss–amidst the sea of other independent internet artists, particularly rappers of their age, The Palmer Squares manages to stay true to their quirky and unique sensibility, and maintain an audience that enjoys their authenticity…myself included.
After getting to talk to them via Skype (they were impressively patient with it’s slow connection ), I got to learn more about these two guys who make intelligent, lyrically-inventive and at times absurdly silly hip hop music.
Here are the Top 9 Reasons To Love The Palmer Squares:
#1: They Deal With School and Nagging Parents Too: The pressures of being a young adult can cause some to drop their dreams and settle for a ‘real job.’ But, despite having jobs, classes, and student loans, The Palmer Squares make their art a priority.
“I’m always trying to write for our stuff, get new beats for our next project. That’s always in the foreground,” said Acumental, who edits and creates many of their videos. Parents may not always consider it to be a priority, however.
“My mom used to give me sh*t when we first started, rightfully so, because one, we sucked badly,” he said. “When she overheard us recording in my room she’d say ‘Uh! What is that?!’”
“My parents didn’t even know for the first two years, and they found out from my brother at the dinner table,” Term K said of his family discovering his rap aspirations. But, Term comes from a family of musicians, his dad being a member of infamous punk band, The Effigies, and his two older brothers are also in bands, so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary for him to want to pursue music. “Having side music projects wasn’t a shock or something my parents were against ever.”
Ac, on the other hand, didn’t have as easy a time gaining parental approval off the bat. “She’d say ‘get your f***ing priorities straight, ya can’t be rappin’!’” All the while he is using a shrill mom-voice with a Chicago accent.
I couldn’t help, but see the similarities with my own mother (make the Chicago accent a Maryland one and replace ‘rappin’ with ‘sleepin’ and you’ve got a typical rant in my home). I said, “She’s like ‘what are you doing? You’re interviewing rappers today? Do you have homework?’”
To which Ac responded, “You’re gonna blow up and be a big journalist and then she’ll take it all back.”
Did I mention I like these guys?
Luckily enough, with success does come support, at least in Acumental’s case. “The better we do as the Palmer Squares, my mom is completely on board, she’s actually too over the top fangirl, she calls herself ‘Momumental’.”
“My mom doesn’t do that,” Term joked. Ac does remind his mom he’s still just figuring things out. “I’m like ‘Mom chill the f*** out, I still need to get my priorities straight! I’m not any different.’” Term added, “I think if we still had 3,000 views on our videos they’d be like ‘get a job’”.
#2: Poetry + Performance = The Palmer Squares If I say “rap” to someone who doesn’t listen to it outside of Flo Rida, the words that may initially come to mind are ‘money’, ‘drugs’, and ‘big booty hoes in the club’ (although Ac said, “I like a rap about money and big booty hoes as much as the next guy, I don’t hate it as much as I used to”, to which Term replied, “I listened to an hour of Daft Punk in my room last night”). But, first and foremost, a *rapper is a writer (*good rapper) and to be a rapper does not always mean your favorite part about being one is the performance aspect. There is a different feeling one gets from rocking a stage to writing a verse, and creative people like Term K and Ac are poets first and performers second.
“It just made sense to rap because we were writing rhymes,” Ac said. “When I finish a verse I get that feeling of completion of something that I put a lot of effort into.”
Term also weighed in, “I think there’s a pay off in both of them, but there’s probably a higher pay off just in the writing and creating process. So far we’ve only rocked a few big audiences, it’s really hit or miss…we’ve had shows where we f***in emptied the room. In the studio, we’re already there with an idea that we like, and executing that idea is quite the pay off. We release it and we get feedback, so it’s similar to a good live show and someone telling you ‘that was sick.’”
One of these good live shows in particular happened in LA last summer when TPS visited fellow hip hop artist, Wax, who originally hails from Maryland and now lives and works in Los Angeles. “That right there is equal to any amazing feeling of completing a song. We’ve only had that a few times,” Term recalled.
#3: They’ll Reminisce a Little Bit, and Then They’ll Spit Some Silly Sh*t…hey that rhymed! Rap can allow for an artist to be very personal, Eminem being a prime example. People who haven’t even listened to his music past radio hits, know his daughter’s name is Hailie, his ex-wife’s name is Kim, and “…My Name Is chickachicka Slim Shady”. Rappers have to either reveal bits of their lives, or keep their lyrics vague, but lyrically and poetically expressive. The Palmer Squares do a little bit of both. “It depends on what I’m writing about and what is inspiring me,” said TK. “I usually keep it more vague when I’m just saying silly sh*t.”
A very personal rap of Term’s is one that he wrote about his dog, Shemp, passing away, and other political messages or opinions come through in songs like “The Plot Thickens” or “Blind Moles”: “Sometimes it’s easier in times like that to draw from within and all you got within you is personal experience.”
What I love about the Palmer Squares is their ability to be culturally aware and thought-provoking in one song, and uninhibitedly idiotic in another: “Sometimes its the vagaries and saying something to turn somebody’s head,” says TK.
#4: They are the PB&J of Rap–1 Sandwich, 2 Flavors There is something about creative collaborations that has always been fascinating to me. I don’t know how much Kanye and Jay – Z really collaborated on Watch the Throne, but groups like Wu Tang or even duos like The Palmer Squares making cohesive pieces of music, as differing artists, must have a method to it. “We have to bounce things off of each other,” Ac said of collaborating with Term. “It’s like ‘I wanna rhyme this but tell me if it’s stupid as hell!’”
“You got two different minds going at two different speeds,” said TK. “Its really hard, in my eyes, for two people to sit down and write verses together. Partner groups where one guy will pick up with the same rhyme scheme as the other left off just amazes me. But when we get in the studio, it’s definitely not the first time we are hearing each other’s verses”
“I think we trust each other,” Ac said. “ We play off an angle, like with “Dis Cap” (a song where Ac rhymed all words with ‘dis’ in them and Term took ‘cap’…definitely recommend you take a listen) and we always run sh*t by each other. I use Term and our group of friends and ask, ‘Is this dumb? Check this out.’ It’s like if a stand-up has a new bit, and I can kind of read the room, and if they’re not feeling it I’m like ‘Arright, never mind, it’s not ready yet, I know it’s lame.’”
#5: If You Can Spit for Over 4 Mins Straight, You Might Forget Where You Live I think their skillful delivery style also sets them apart (and above) their fellow “Youtube rappers”: it is straight to the camera, just them and their lyrics (no dancers and sh*t to distract from what they’re saying), and in one continuous take. Ac recalled how a fan asked them how they memorized their long verses: “I think I’m just getting dumber in every other aspect,” he joked. “Seriously, I was filling out paperwork recently, and I knew State, City, and then it said County
, and I had to think about it. I’ve lived in Cook County my whole life! I think I’m getting dumber in regular life.”
There are less impressive rappers they’ve seen that inspired this tactic of one-take deliveries: “We didn’t like seeing someone reading off their phone, and they weren’t even live! They had recorded it, and they were lip syncing to the track while still reading it.” “And he had a Blackberry, so…” Term added as another jab to this anonymous wack rapper. “We thought that’s what could prove our ability as rappers, to spit longer-than-average bars from memory,” said Ac.
#6: No Ego, AND They Kill Youtube Cyphers Term calls themselves “out of their element” as far as the hip hop world because they don’t even primarily listen to rap themselves. “Our fans are a reflection on us in that way because we’ve always had a diverse appreciation of music,” said Ac. “As far as what we’re ‘saying’ I don’t think we’re the only dudes saying it,” TK elaborated. “We came up out of the underground ‘f*** the mainstream’ mentality, that you can be just as good with your buddy, just kickin’ beats in your room.”
“We used to be like ok lets rhyme all 24 bars and turn on the camera and rap. Now we’re thinking more in a musical sense. I think we’ve proved at this point that we can rap. We’re trying to step out the cypher box that we were in for a while. You want to have variation,” Ac said of how they have evolved from their early days.
Youtube rap cyphers, for those who aren’t hip to them, they are addicting to watch so beware if you have a 12 page Psychology paper due by midnight. A producer will make a beat, a rapper will make their own verse to it, and then call out another rapper of their choice, and it continues down a chain of internet hip hop artists. The Duke Westlake Cypher that the P Squares were in also included names like Watsky, Dumbfoundead, Intuition.
#7: They’ll Make You Laugh, But Their Skills Will Make You Cry Their “TPS Reports”, a series of updates on what the boys have been up to, seeing the friendship side of their partnership in these videos is what caused me like them even more. They have a simple, at times ridiculously goofy sense of humor, and you can’t help but laugh out loud at this unlikely comedy duo. Term is the one with the off hand antics and unconstrained energy, whereas Ac delivers the more thoughtful one-liners and a lot of the time looks at his creative counterpart with disbelief and confusion at whatever silliness has just occurred (check out the “Philly Blunt Cypher ).
Check out the Philly Blunt Cypher
No doubt, when these guys get down to business, they are not to be messed with. Though their clever wit and comedic awareness is evident in their lyrics and the references within them, they are not the goofs that were mocking slam poets in one “TPS Report”, or dancing to Blink 182 in the kitchen with their friends in another, they are confident, concise, rhyme spitting masters that really make you want to sit down and read a dictionary.
#8: …Sooo, Can We Be Friends?! I think it’s an interviewer’s dream to have the people you’re interviewing do 80% of the talking, elaborate on stories, and have answers to questions you didn’t even have to ask! They are fantastic conversationalists, they made me feel relaxed (imagine my nerves…watching two people almost daily for six months can lend itself to a creeper-like complex pre-interview), and an hour and a half of funny anecdotes and sincere discussions later, I felt as though I had really known them all along. What you see is truly what you get with these guys, in a good way.
#9: “Just Do It” -Term K Despite being suburban 20-somethings with jobs and debt, they rap. And they are good at it. And despite calling themselves ‘squares’, they make a difference in the world of hip hop with their ingenious lyrical content and their unshakable ease at just being themselves. They’re level of originality combined with the undeniable talent they exhibit inspires hopeful creatives like myself because they are successful on their own terms, in their own way, and they are having a great time doing it.