For many artists, establishing consistency is a challenge that can take an entire career. A musical identity costs years and multiple albums to discover, at which point changing tastes or artistic complacency may require yet another revolution, as audiences want to hear familiar and new sounds all at once.
So it’s a pleasant surprise that in hip-hop, where innovation and tradition are locked in constant strife, one group has quietly managed to both deliver the expected goods while further developing their sound. And if you ask them, it wasn’t even that difficult.
“I just take my lyrics where the beat goes,” says Termanology, one half of the Lawrence-born duo 1982, along with producer Statik Selektah, in response to a question about the toughest part of making their sophomore album “2012.” “It really wasn't too much of a challenge. Statik made it easy to the point where I just have to fill in the beats with my rhymes.”
An oversimplified response, perhaps, but Statik and Term’s time-tested chemistry may well be that straightforward. Despite only being 30 years old, the pair, who celebrate the release of “2012” at the Middle East Downstairs on Saturday night, have been permanent fixtures in East Coast hip-hop for the better part of the last decade, racking up innumerable credits often alongside bigger names than themselves. Their collaborations stretch back from well before their self-titled debut album as 1982 two years ago, and they’ve benefited from being able to grow together.
“It’s more of a team thing when we work together,” says Statik, who has produced full-length albums for Saigon, Action Bronson, and most recently fellow Lawrence native Reks, as well as four solo LPs featuring a slew of industry names.
“Term trusts me to do what I need to do with scratches and I trust him to do what he does with the rhymes. With other people I’m more professional. With Term, we get wild in the studio. When you are more comfortable with the person you are collaborating with, you can go further left.”
Yet despite the shared trust between MC and producer, branching out from their signature sound is still a risk in the eyes of fans who have certain expectations of both artists. Compared to their first album, “2012” has tempered the group’s grimy hardcore edge in favor of a more universal sound. Instead of coming packed with street-approved guests like M.O.P. and Styles P, this one features underage suburban rap prodigy Mac Miller and Boyz II Men singer Shawn Stockman on the song “Happy Days” alongside Term reveling in hard-earned career achievements.
And though Statik still has an incredible ear for spotting samples, this time he’s culling different sources for material: see the disco strut of “Everything,” a rework of Randy Brown’s “Use It,” and the upbeat bounce of “Up All Night.”
“I wouldn’t call them commercial records,” Statik contends of the album’s flirtation with mainstream tastes, “they just sound cleaner and upbeat. I got a lot of stuff like that in the stash. Some fans will react a certain way, I realize, but just listen to the drums: That’s boom-bap right there. I think on this album I broke down the barrier of what people expect me to do.”
“Some people never want to see you get the slightest bit commercial,” adds Term, “but a song like ‘Up All Night’ is still really me. I perform, go out and get twisted, party all night. I’m not faking it for a record. I mean, there’s people out there that didn’t like Nas and Biggie, so I just feel blessed considering that we went so far left.”
Even when traversing more familiar territory, Statik and Term still find ways to showcase more subtle stylistic developments; the rapacious flow that colored Term’s prolific underground mixtape output is eased into a slower, more purposed delivery on the single “Too Long,” on which he chronicles growing up among “guns and sirens” over a wistful piano loop and dusty boom-bap drums. Likewise, “Lights Down” finds Term musing on the birth of his second daughter and his kids “to be smart from a thug’s point of view.”
Rather than seeking out artistic evolution, Statik and Term are letting it come naturally, and the results speak for themselves. Production credits on projects by Nas and Eminem lie on the horizon for Statik, while Term sounds excited for an upcoming remix of “Up All Night” featuring a yet-to-be-revealed big name guest. If they continue like this, they’re confident that the future looks even brighter.
“I just think we need to get a lot of money,” says Term of the next step. “A lot of money and a big label behind us. If we had the right push, we're just trying to find that right situation.”
Nineteen-year-old rapper Bigg Dee celebrates the release of his latest mixtape, “#TOTB: This Is Only the Beginning. . .,” anchored by the single “We Go Hard,” on June 12 at the Middle East Upstairs. . . . Local digital imprint Amalgam’s new signing Dutch ReBelle collaborated with labelmate Chuwee on the track “B.Y.O. Weed,” released last week. . . . El-P, currently showering in critical acclaim for his new solo LP "Cancer 4 Cure" and for his production on Killer Mike's "R.A.P. Music," brings Killer Mike and eXquire with him for his tour stop at the Paradise on July 11.Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @_el_caballero.