Even though I spent a pretty significant amount over on Reddit, it will forever remain, in my eyes and in the nicest way possible, a hot mess. There’s a part of my brain that feels like it’s going to fall out of my skull every time I scroll through it; the same feeling I get when I’m watching a reality TV show. I will say, though, that one thing Reddit has been helpful with, is exposing me to some pretty great musicians and artists that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage with otherwise. TWOFACE is one of those artists. Whilst scrolling through Reddit randomly one day (maybe a couple weeks ago at this point), I came across a post with a Soundcloud link for “MORTAL.” My curiosity was piqued, I click clacked away at my laptop over to Soundcloud (despite my irritation at the amount of ADS over there), and I was greeted by the ridiculously amazing outro track for BEST KEPT SECRET (2020). I knew after my first time through the song that I NEEDED to hear the rest of the project. And guess what? It’s all just as good “MORTAL.”
I don’t want this to sound or feel overly complimentary (I have been known to gas folks up a lot lol), but like…BEST KEPT SECRET is one of the best projects I’ve heard in a minute. The whole project just feels and sounds so effortless. There were a bunch of moments on this project that felt almost…otherworldly? And I don’t like using that word to describe Black folks or the things that we make, because there’s this weird subhuman/superhuman dynamic that Black folks are forced to exist in (instead of us just being human) and that has its own implications. But for these purposes, I mean “otherworldly” in the most admiring way possible. As soon as “NO PRESSURE” starts, we’re hit with production that gets as close to haunting as it can without leaning too heavily into music meant for #spookyseason. It feels like your being towered over by a GIANT; everything about it just sounds so commanding and heavy. I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a really big fan of music that sounds like this – here’s a lil’ playlist of similar tracks lol – and “NO PRESSURE” fits right into that vibe. There’s actually a line in the song where TWOFACE says “I done been through hell and back / so this ain’t really nothing for me,” and I think that’s the perfect description of not only this song, but also the project as a whole. It feels like someone who has mastered the art of moving through turbulence.
And that’s the effortlessness that I’m mentioning. While listening to “NO PRESSURE,” I feel like I’m getting swallowed up by the production because it’s so thunderous and grand, but TWOFACE skates right on top of it so easily! It’s super impressive, and that’s the energy that we’re getting from the very first song on the project. “THE DEALER” is also an amazing track, and a solid follow-up to “NO PRESSURE;” it’s wild how much he fits into 2 minutes, and the beat switch is crazy!! “25/8” is my favorite song on this project, though. It’s really that damn sample; when I tell you it gets my lil’ shoulders MOVING (exactly like this lol just throw “25/8” on top, instead of “NBAYOUNGBOAT”). Like, I could listen to the production on this song on repeat for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. It feels like the type of song that you make when you know you’re fire, and you’re just enjoying yourself. Really a “I’m just having fun with this shit” track. “DIO” feels like another one of those moments. (edit: In the days I’ve been working on this write-up, “DIO” has stayed on repeat, and has replaced “25/8” as my favorite song 🙂 ).
“CAMERAS” is also a really good song; it’s one of the more lowkey songs on this project, a bit of a calm after the storm we get on the songs before, as TWOFACE details his dreams and ambitions. “GOOD COMPANY” reminds me a bit of Summertime ’06 (2015) Vince Staples, which I’m here for. “ZEROS” is one that I couldn’t stop thinking would sound great with a Denzel Curry feature. That could just be my love for Denzel and my need to hear him on everything, but I wouldn’t be mad if the stars aligned and the universe decided to grant random wishes and made a “ZEROS (Denzel Curry remix)” happen. Listen to “ZEROS,” listen to something from TABOO (2018), and tell me I’m wrong (spoiler: I’m not)! “AUTOMATIC” and “HIGH DEMAND” continue the project-long streak of great tracks. I love the piano at the beginning of “AUTOMATIC” and the “TWOFACE, call me Hannah Montana” line is one of my favorites from the project lol. “HIGH DEMAND” sounds like BEST KEPT SECRET‘s “victory lap” moment. I don’t rap or make any kind of music – it’s not really my ministry – and it made me feel like I needed to prepare a diss track or something! LOL you ever felt like that??? What a concept!!! To hear someone bar out so well that it makes you wanna have beef with them! Really the whole project sounds like that. Just…EFFORTLESS!!! Though let’s be clear, it’s obvious that a bunch of time and work went into creating BEST KEPT SECRET. About 9 months worth of grinding. In secret!! So “effortless” is the word of the day, but it typically takes a lot of work to make something seem so easy. And it’s apparent that was the case for this project.
I want to spend a little bit of time talking about “MORTAL (OUTRA)” before I leave you with a lil’ Q&A between me and TWOFACE (Quick note before we get there: there are a LOT of Writer’s notes in the Q&A section of this lol I’m sorry. I just had so many things to add!) “MORTAL” is a song that feels different than the rest of the project. Built around a callback to (get your bibles out, folks!) some verses from Isaiah 40, primarily verses 30 & 31, “MORTAL” is a wonderful display of honesty, reflection, and the importance of knowing yourself deeply.
Though youths grow weary and tired, And the vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:30-31,
Here, we’re given a word about strength and endurance (that comes with faith), and TWOFACE builds “MORTAL” around that, as he shares the places in his life where he doesn’t feel his strongest. There’s a really beautiful line on this where he evokes the image of a butterfly going back into a cocoon; moments of anxiety and depression creating moments of insecurity and unhappiness with the ways he exists inside and outside of himself. This is compared to the confidence and contentment that he feels when he’s making music. Music is that space where his anxiety sheds, and he finds himself existing fully. But, as TWOFACE describes, there is a hope (and a yearning) there to feel that way all the time. To feel empowered in spaces that don’t feel as comfortable.
And what a really powerful understanding to have. I don’t think we, as a society, spend enough time thinking (and talking!) about that, generally. A few years ago, I found myself in so many situations where my fight or flight reflexes wanted to kick in; I became very aware of how my body responded to high stress situations (which is 99% of my here on Earth lol). My heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest. My hands feel shaky, my ears get hot, and I begin to completely dissociate from everything around me, as my body sounds off a warning that I am in a space where I am uncomfortable, a space where I feel like I need to leave pieces of myself at the door. Gaining that knowledge didn’t alleviate all of those feelings, in fact the more I understood them, the more I noticed them. But it did give me some insight about myself that I didn’t have before. Those same feelings would pop up HEAVILY within the past year. My first year out of college felt like a constant test of how far my comfort-level – and my willingness to step out of it – could be stretched. A lot of crying and pulling myself out of endless loops of self-doubt, frustration, and questioning of self-worth. A lot of really sitting with myself through honest moments around fear and anxiety. So “MORTAL” hit me hard. It’s the place on this project where TWOFACE feels the most human. Instead of us watching him as he lyrically speeds past us on a track, “MORTAL” feels like a moment where he’s walking with us. A moment of realness and vulnerability that people often shy away from but that he’s hoping to embrace more on subsequent work. And that’s a really great moment to end a project on. It was a song that probably could have been kept off of the project to maintain a specific type of vibe, but I’m happy that it’s there.
So all in all BEST KEPT SECRET really is just a solid and enjoyable project
and one of the only redeemable moments of the year, with a fitting title. One of the reasons why I wanted to start doing First Listens on artists who haven’t necessarily made it to a certain level of fame or recognition (you can find a playlist with some of their songs here, and the write-ups here , this is still a new thing so excuse how few there are 😦 ) is because there are people like TWOFACE who are making great music and deserve to have that greatness documented and acknowledged by other people. Not that validation from others is needed and necessary (though, it kinda is? To a certain extent? I’m making a point, though lol), but I’m always of the mind that if you’re really good at something, you should be recognized for it. Like…pat yourself on the back, but also other people should be giving you your flowers. Plus, there’s something very important and beautiful to me about writing about another person and the things that they make. That’s why thursday email exists ❤ I am only a nigga with a computer at the end of the day lol, but if I can do my part to uplift other people, Imma do it!!!
So go listen to BEST KEPT SECRET. Right NOW. Like…the link is right here!!!!!!
Tamar: Who are you? Where are you from?
TWOFACE: I am a producer and recording artist from South Bend, Indiana. I was born in Gweru, Zimbabwe, and I moved to Indiana early 2008. Been here ever since. (Writer’s note: shout out to the Midwest! People be sleepin’ on the Midwesterners, but they’re lit!)
T: Where – or who – do you draw inspiration from? Both musically and personally.
TF: For the “where” portion, I typically garner inspiration from life events. For instance, while working on the album in July, my computer crashed, and I was unable to recover about three or so projects that I was working on. The frustration I had during this time led me to creating “THE DEALER,” a song that was never even supposed to end up on the album. So for the most part, stressful or otherwise undesirable occurrences in my life lead to most of the music I create. There are a few musicians that I looked towards initially when I began making music. The top two would have to consist of Jay Z and Lil’ Wayne. I love the way Jay Z carries himself on every track that he appears on. His confidence is infectious, and I knew that I wanted that to be felt in my music as well. As for Wayne, his technical ability is something I admire, and it inspires me to come up with different ways to attack a track when it comes to flows.
T: What’s your favorite thing about music? Why do you listen to it?
TF: My favorite thing would have to be how music has the power to either provide comfort or place you in a completely different mindstate than what you were in prior. Listening to uptempo music definitely helps liven my mood a bit if I’m feeling too unsure of myself or if I just need that little boost of energy. I don’t think there’s been a day in the past 4 years where I haven’t listened to music at least once; it’s that ingrained into my life.
T: When did you begin to recognize that making music was something that you’re passionate about?
TF: It’s funny because, initially, I wanted nothing to do with being an artist. I was making beats for two years prior to my debut mixtape Intra (2019) (Writer’s note: Intra is also fire, listen here), and I had no intentions of rapping over my own production. I was content with just producing for others. I hated how my voice sounded and didn’t feel like I could really fit on any beat, even my own. It was only after an impromptu freestyle session over Discord that my friend Romeo told me that I should at least give it a go. I produced and recorded my first song “CL Freestyle,” and ever since then the passion has been steadily growing.
T: What does the creative process look like for you while working on a project/song?
TF: The beat HAS to come first. Kudos to those who are able to just write lyrics and figure out the beat portion later, but to me, the beat is what brings out the song. So, I’ll first find a beat or sample, and depending on how much I’m feeling it, I’ll have the hook for the song created in minutes, or at least the structure of the hook. The longer parts for me are the verses. I’m definitely my biggest critic, so I’ll often spend a bit longer on the verses to ensure the lines tie back into the topic of the song. One of the songs titled “GOOD COMPANY” off of the album was finished this year in February, even though the beat has been completed since August 2019. It took six months and several rewrites, but it was necessary to take that much time to make something that I could be satisfied with in the end.
T: Who is your music for?
TF: Going into this album, I wanted to put a heavy emphasis into creating or picking hard hitting beats and combining that with lyricism. I want my songs, even the “bangers” or whatever you want to call them, to have some kind of meaning. So I’m trying to cater to that audience that enjoys a good beat but also wants the lyrics to not just rhyme for the sake of rhyming.
T: Significance of the title and cover of BEST KEPT SECRET?
TF: For the cover, I wanted to make sure that my face wasn’t seen in order to play into the “best kept secret” theme. And I also wanted it to be dark while still somewhat eye catching, hence the image effects and addition of various colors on the cover. The title refers to the fact that for the past year, I have kept the fact that I was an artist a secret from everyone, with the exception of very close friends and family members. I also named it this because I feel that the music I’m currently making, and will continue to make, is quality (Writer’s note: HIGH quality!). It’s just that nobody really knows about me and what I do, but hopefully that will change as time goes on.
T: What’s your favorite song from BEST KEPT SECRET? What was your favorite song to work on?
TF: In terms of my favorite song, it’s a toss up between “THE DEALER” and “MORTAL” for me. Two vastly different songs, sonically, but I would say the same amount of passion was put into each. But I loved working on “MORTAL” because it’s the first time I’ve shown any type of vulnerability in a song. In the future, I definitely want to make more songs in this vain, because I feel that the essence of rap is the relatability aspect; having people be able to connect to the struggles you go through in your life.
T: Why is “25/8” SO GOOD?????
TF: No idea. I was unsure about that song because I rushed the verses following the hook of the song. I had a mental deadline for the album, so I put something together faster than I was comfortable with and hoped for the best. But I’ve been getting compliments on that song specifically, so I’m glad it worked in my favor this time.
T: Your favorite song/album right now?
TF: My favorite song at the moment is “Gristle” by Blvck Svm. It actually got to the point where I had to stop listening to that song because I was starting to hate it. The beat on the song is amazing, and his delivery complements it well. He’s a talented artist, and I hope he gets bigger than he is at the moment (Writer’s note: lol sorry I’m chatting so much in this, but I just listened to “Gristle,” and I can guarantee it that I will have it on repeat for another 7 business days). My favorite album currently is Painted (2019) by Lucky Daye, specifically the deluxe version. I find myself constantly going back to that project. Songs like “Ready For Love” and “Misunderstood” from the project make it hard to name a different favorite album. I’m very picky with my R&B, but Lucky Daye is definitely someone I’m willing to listen to without hesitation.
T: Has your taste in music changed over the years?
TF: I actually had a conversation about this some days ago. I started off listening to a lot of rock music earlier on in my teens due to the heavy influence of the WWE. Almost all of the wrestlers had theme songs that were rock songs, so I naturally gravitated towards that genre. Then I took a sharp, yet brief, turn into dubstep. I don’t really have an explanation for this one, it just sorta happened, I guess. After that, I gradually got into rap and R&B. I don’t expect any more drastic genre shifts going forward, though.
T: What song were you listening to a lot last summer?
TF: Last summer, had a lot of Juice WRLD, specifically Death Race For Love (2019). I know he’s known for his melodic abilities, but I enjoy his rapping a whole lot more. Off that album, I think I played “The Bees Knees” the most.
speaking of juice wrld..
I bought Legends Never Die (2020) on a whim a couple of weeks ago, after seeing that the Juice WRLD online store was selling limited edition vinyl colored variants of the project. I will admit that my immediate intentions were not exactly pure. I saw “limited” and I thought “oh, this is my chance to … Continue reading First Listen #26: Juice WRLD’s ‘Legends Never Die’
T: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
TF: The desire of wanting to do better than the previous day. It’s insanely easy to have one bad day and fall into a lull of self-pity and laziness. I’ve been there too many time this year, and I’m not happy about that. I’m actively trying to work on that aspect of my life, and hopefully it becomes a staple in my life and not just another quotable. (Writer’s note: that’s a WORD. THAT’S A WORDDDDDD!!!! THAT’S A WORD I NEEDED!!!!)
Featured image art by me 🙂
here’s something else you might like:
“If you’re not living in a way that makes you happy, then why are you living?” Sephyr Patriq, “FITAMOLD” I did a lot of research on house music while I was writing my senior thesis (on Chicago hip hop) for my undergraduate degree last year. Without giving you an entire decades-long backstory on the genre’s … Continue reading First Listen #22: Sephyr Patriq’s ‘Departure 1989’