After a five year hiatus, Queens rap collective World’s Fair is back with their latest album New Lows. We’ve seen collectives — most infamously the Wu-Tang Clan — have large gaps in between album releases because of the difficulties of getting so many artists on one page, but that wasn’t quite the case for the cadre of Remy Banks, Nasty Nigel, Lansky Jones (who also form the Children of the Night trio, independently), Prince SAMO, Cody B. Ware, Jeff Donna, and Maachew Bentley.
Perhaps New Lows’ 7/20 release date was symbolic for the squad, as they took three spins at creating a sophomore album before deciding on the thirteen tracks that comprise the finished product.
As we spoke on a Brooklyn rooftop on a balmy July night, Nasty Nigel lamented that their first sessions after returning from a 2014 European tour began to feel like “clocking into work” because the talented rhymers, many of whom grew up together in Queens, created solid tracks that nonetheless, as Prince SAMO admitted, “never made an impression on us.”
Undeterred by their perceived inability to craft an acceptable follow-up to 2013’s heralded Bastards Of The Party, they regrouped at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Studios in the summer of 2015, then took their sessions to the respective recording studios The Beagle and Tea Room during the fall of that year. Each time, the prospective album they developed failed to meet the high bar they had set for release. A large collective like World’s Fair has the luxury of piecing together a plethora of verses into solid tracks at the drop of a dime, but it can be difficult to get everyone on a cohesive accord as each member tends to their individual or intra-collective musical endeavors.
During one particular session at The Beagle, the crew — many of whom had all been experiencing their own personal lows — agreed that it was time to shake up their creative process. Bentley recalls that they were paid nicely for a festival “that they had no business doing,” and used the money to get out of their bustling home city and record in the serene seclusion of LaGrange, New York. The small town (Pop: 15,000) was formerly called Freedom, and the crew tapped into that legacy for a week-and-a-half session of creative liberation. Members of World’s Fair have a footing in seemingly every New York underground music scene, from hip-hop to Cody B. Ware’s black metal work — and it’s all on display on the sonic smorgasbord that is New Lows.
Through the vision of gifted producers Black Noi$e and NOLIFE — and an iPhone projector randomly playing everything from Chicago Juke to Calcio Fiorento games — they were able to cull from myriad influences and find their groove for the project, recording most of the album in their LaGrange cabin.
The progressive record, like so much great art before it, is a result of overcoming hardship and leaning on each other in a time of need. It’s also a testament to what a group of New York artists can create with time, isolation, and an abundance of alcohol. You can hear the rest of our conversation, conducted before the album launch, in their words below:
How are you all feeling about the new album?
Nasty Nigel: It’s super exciting to have an album coming out because we get to say who we are. When it came to our other songs, they were viral [before ‘viral’ was a thing]. It was like ‘oh, kids from Queens, this is what your sound is.’ So anything that didn’t sound like kids from Queens didn’t really stick with people. So now, because we took time off and no one is expecting anything from us, we can drop whatever the f*ck we want.
Cody B Ware: It’s exciting for us because we get to leave another piece of us. This album as a testament to not conforming. We chose the route of taking our time to make a record that really doesn’t sound like anything. And we’re in the age of mass consumption. For us, it was all about figuring out how we wanted to be represented, so I’m very proud of this record.
You said one of the benefits of dropping five years after the first album was getting to regroup and re-calibrate the sound. Sonically, what exactly do you think is different from Bastards Of The Party?
Lansky Jones: With the first album it was more so about the best songs that we had that made sense in a tracklist. This time we were in isolation mode. We were just working in a house upstate. We worked with two producers, and they worked pretty much on every song. We might write something and record it, and we’d wake up and the beat sounded totally different. We were able to literally create our own sound.
We have the elements of punk, the elements of hip-hop, the elements of drum and bass, the elements of the UK, garage, and jungle… we had all those things that are tangible for you to hear on this record.
So you went to a house upstate?
Remy Banks: We went to LaGrange, New York, upstate. We were in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Isolated from everything we were used to. We stayed in this house. Literally, it was just nothing but crickets, dens and us wildin’ out in these woods, and I feel like us being out there gave us all the freedom in the world to create what we wanted to create. There wasn’t nothing else to do but work.
Prince SAMO: It was a very experimental energy in the household. There were no wrong answers. If this sounds stupid, at least lay it down, and if it works out it works, and if it doesn’t, then f*ck it. Songs were made at six in the morning, songs made at two in the afternoon.
Lansky: We never had the opportunity to do that [before].
So you said you guys recorded three albums. You mean three albums’ worth of tracks or –?
Lansky Jones: No. Three full-on different albums.
Nasty Nigel: We went upstate because we did try to make this album and we recorded a bunch [in studios all over New York]. We weren’t making anything that had its own sound. [But] we have different tastes. Why can’t that be our thing? We shouldn’t rap just because we can rap. Anyone can rap. That already covers like 90% of what an artist as a rapper is. We needed to make something that [could help us] transcend and become artists. We weren’t hitting that with the songs that we did with three albums. And we would make these albums and [the mood amongst the group would be] ‘this isn’t really it, let’s go on to the next one.’ So that was three different versions of New Lows and the fourth one is the one that everyone’s hearing now.
Lansky Jones: We were at The Beagle Studio in Greenpoint, and we were kind of at a crossroads, like do we want to make the best music that’s contemporary now or do we wanna do a whole new sound and take a chance? And everybody kinda agreed on like alright, let’s just swing for the fences and make something entirely different.
Prince SAMO: We don’t make music just to make music. We want do something that’s gonna be impactful. The other day, my pops was like ‘what do ya’ll wanna do? What’s ya’ll’s plan?’ And honestly, I was like ‘we wanna make our impact, make our money, have fun and look good doing it.’ And I really feel like that’s really what it comes down to.
I feel that. So when were you all recording in LaGrange?
Nasty Nigel: We went in August 2016. We were there for a week and a half. Yeah, just really nothing else to it. It was really hot. Everyone was shirtless. No AC in the crib. It was a brand new house.
What was the impetus for the album title? What story is being told there?
Nasty Nigel: Three years after releasing [Bastards Of The Party], we all found ourselves three years older and with three years, a lot can happen. Some of us were in positions where we didn’t have a place to live. Prince had a child. He had to be the father he never had. Cody got promotion upon promotion and he has a fire job. Remy’s dealing with a larger scale of fandom that we didn’t experience, so Remy’s on the road doing his sh*t. So, everyone ended up in a weird place where they didn’t think they would end up after releasing the album.
Not to say that we thought that we struck gold [with Bastards], but we just hoped that we could continue to be artists, make music, make the money we’re making on the road, but that wasn’t the case and that’s completely okay. That’s the hustle, that’s f*cking New York.[But] we all reached a point where we were like, ‘f*ck what are we gonna do?’ You can hear that in the music. This is what we went through, this is what we’re going through, this is what we wanna be, and this is where we’re at.
Lansky Jones: And during the process of the album, speaking on a personal level, I was dealing with heartbreak for the first time. And it made me look at things from a different perspective for the first time. I was at a new low because I never felt a way where somebody changed you for the better but at the same time, it was over for that part of my life. It changed my writing, it made me more of an open person, like I wear myself on my sleeve a little more. That’s how I kinda hit my new low because I was dealing with that shit — but it made me evolve.
So from August 2016 to now, what made you all decide now was the time to drop the album?
Prince SAMO: We finally worked all the kinks out and ironed out everything. And it was finally the time to be like ‘yo, its done. At this point, if we change anything more, we’re just nitpicking at it.’
What do you feel like what are your biggest evolutions as artists from the first album to now? What do you think that you brought to the table that was more developed than in 2013?
Prince SAMO: I feel like us as MCs, you start out writing your own sh*t, being the star of your storyline, in a sense. And when you’re part of a group or collective that’s this big especially, you get to a point where you start to write from the perspective [where] you understand your place in the group. It becomes a situation where I was in Asia and Remy hit me like, ‘yo this beat has your name written all over it.’ [and] you get on it. Or when we heard “Elvis’ Flowers“ for the first time, it was like, nobody else needs to be on it, this is it.
We learned how to play as a team better. I feel like a fault of ours on the first project was like n—-s was trying to out-rap each other in a sense. You know, it’s still hip-hop, so we’re still competitive to each other. But on this project it’s more so, ‘we making songs.’ We’re going to make songs that make people feel something. We’re going to make people embrace this emotion that we have right now. I think that’s the biggest progression that World’s Fair has had. It’s not about who’s on how many songs or who did what. Cody’s on like 95% of the album. Nigel too, and why? Because they were necessary on 95% of the album.
Lansky Jones: It’s like by any means necessary we’re gonna make this sh*t happen and make this sh*t work.
Can you talk about “Elvis’ Flowers (on my grave)?”
Nasty Nigel: That was the first song on the whole album.
Remy Banks: I feel like that set the tone of where we wanted to take this album as far as sonically. We were like ‘yo, this is what we’ve been doing, traveling, listening to all this type of music.’ That’s wild how Nigel just flipped the flow on this drum and bass beat like that. Let’s tie in all our musical influences and make this sh*t unique.
Jeff Donna: So with that, that’s why we also decided to go upstate as well because now we had a sound that we wanted to work with, a producer we wanted to work with, and then we added NOLIFE in the picture. That was the perfect opportunity for all of us to be in the same room and create that sound from scratch, and that’s why we’re so proud of that album and why we went up there.
Lansky Jones: Nigel must have written this verse for “Elvis’ Flowers” in seven minutes. I was struggling to write my verse and sh*t. And then it took me a long time to write it. Even until almost the end of the album, I was like ‘f*ck it. I don’t even know how to come off on this.’ Then I finally I said that line ‘pills and trouble.’ We were looking for a hook and whatever. I’d been brainstorming on it for a few hours. And then I said ‘pills and trouble’ in my first rendition of the verse and they just chopped and screwed that sh*t. And it worked.
Are ya’ll familiar with Brooklyn rapper Latasha? I was reading an interview with her and she was talking about how as a New York artist and a New York native, she deals with the dilemma of “wanting things to progress while also things to still have a legacy.” Do you all deal with that? How do you reckon with that dilemma as New York natives and artists, trying to push things forward but also maintain the legacy of New York City?
Remy Banks: I guess you can say we, the thing is, we grew up in that era when New York defined a certain sound of hip-hop, and that’s what we grew up on. But at that same time, us growing up, we listened to all different types of music. So us traveling as well, we’ve listened or become fans of all these different types of genres of music. So it’s about solidifying the fact that yes we are New York and yes we do have this background, but we’re not afraid to push that sh*t forward and push the boundaries to new heights? Don’t be afraid to push new sonics.
Prince SAMO: I feel like being a New Yorker, part of being a New Yorker and a New York artist is consistently progressing. So yeah, things are changing, and yes we want to change things, but legacy is all what you make it. Hip-hop is still fairly young. So you could get someone like Jay-Z who’s made a different legacy at this point, that didn’t exist before him. That 4:44, that kinda sh*t didn’t exist before Jay-Z. So you know what it means? He made a new legacy by changing, by progressing.
It’s like, when you look at punk rock back in the day and you look at the New York hardcore scene, them n—-s changed sh*t by being different.
What do ya’ll think are going to be your favorite songs to perform and why?
Remy Banks: We could perform the whole album front to back. But that’s just personal.
Prince SAMO: I do agree with Remy, but I feel like my favorite song to perform, I’m not even on it. My favorite song to perform will honestly be “Elvis’ Flowers,” man. That sh*t is just gonna go. It’s amazing. And I think that’s going to be our favorite song.
Maachew Bentley: Agreed.
Jeff Donna: I think “Read 9:07 PM” would go off crazy, personally. I just really love that beat, it’s just so heavy. I’m not on that either.
Cody B. Ware: I like “New Lows.”
Any parting thoughts?
Cody B. Ware: This album was like a great jazz album. Going into this record it was like we were at the place of having experience and wanting to do something that was progressive and kind of against the grain, and take the music to a place where it’s ingrained in the underground. I feel like jazz has always been ingrained in the underground. You know it’s never gotten too mainstream. I feel like jazz is punk, and we’re doing something with New Lows that felt similar to both things. In our spirit and the energy and really doing what was natural to us.
I really love the work we made, and I think all of the people we met in our life from every scene: The New York hardcores, the hardcore scene in general, the hip-hop scene, the f*ckin electronics. We get respect from all those people and real respect. We got f*ckin Franz from Turnstile on the album. We got real elements of hardcore on our record because we’re in it.
I felt like we took risks that come natural to us, and this is who we are. We couldn’t do it any other way. And we’re not fishing for something. We’re just trying to express ourselves in what’s natural to us.
Prince SAMO: I don’t want it to be like ‘look at the risks they tried to take,’ Nah… this is just naturally the sh*t we make.
New Lows is out now via Fool’s Gold Records. Get it here.