A lot of music gets put in front of me. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's not very good, and, usually, it's somewhere in the middle. Once in a while, I'm shown something so compelling that I enter a fugue state of sharing that music to everyone I know who would be remotely interested in listening to it: It's Nice Outside is one of those albums.
Released last week, the project features Portland, Maine based producer Phoniks and Houston based rapper Anti-Lilly together again since their first project, 2014's Stories from the Brass Section. The album was made over the course of two years and it sounds like it- from start to finish, It's Nice Outside is awash with horns, vocals, and drums that amplify the power behind Anti-Lilly's words and make this album a lo-fi hip hop fan's sonic wet dream. It's undeniably different than the vast majority of 2017's major releases and deserves attention.
Thirty seconds in, It's Nice Outside grabs the listener and commands attention. It's refreshing, sincere, and emotional; even the visuals for the title track (see above) are raw and thought provoking in their simplicity. I had the opportunity to send some questions to Anti-Lilly & Phoniks so they could share their thoughts on the album.
EM: When I first listened to this album, I was immediately hooked in by how genuine everything felt; musically and lyrically. Where did this album start for you? What was going on in your life and what ultimately led to the direction the album took?
Anti-Lilly: Thanks for the feedback bro I'm happy you were able to connect with the album. Honestly, this project is a culmination of my entire life to this point; specifically the last few years. Music is the best way for me to express myself so around this time last year I reached out to Phoniks for some help. I've lost, I've gained, and I just wanted to put everything on the table to help me get through. Life is a roller coaster for everyone so I wanted to make something to let folks know they weren't the only ones going through it.
EM: How did it come together? How was the process of this album different from your previous album?
Anti-Lilly: My music is my life, I'm just being myself over the production. I've grown more patient and mature since we dropped Stories From The Brass Section in 2014. I went through some dark times that I'm still climbing out of that contributed to the tone. I studied my flaws from other projects to improve my overall flow and delivery.We really wanted to take our time with this project, there are a few tracks on here that I've recorded through the years that we hadn't released or only put out as singles.
Phoniks: Last spring Anti hit me with a personal e-mail. He told me "It's been a terrible year for me. Been hella depressed, my best friend and family done fucked me over." He said he hadn't been this low since before we linked up and was in the process of getting his studio back together. His final words were "If you have anything to send my way to help me vent that'll be what's up, if not I understand and it's all love. God bless."
I wanted to help his situation and I looked forward to someone using my beats for therepeutic release. Understanding where he was coming from before we even began working allowed me to cater all the production to fit his mood.
EM: Did the name "It's Nice Outside" come before or after the project was completed?
Anti-Lilly: I've had the title in my head for about 5 years or so, but I wanted to wait for the right project to attach it to. This time around it felt perfect for where I was with my life and after we got through a few songs back and forth we knew it was the title to go with. We didn't even have a backup name haha.
EM: What's important to keep in mind when collaborating with someone at a distance? Did communication ever become an issue for you?
Anti-Lilly: With any relationship, communication is key you know? Phoniks and I have a great working relationship so it's rare for us not to be on the same page. I think our biggest issue was which beat to use haha (both were dope). Phoniks will update the beat maybe 3-4 times to match my vocals and at worst, we would try to to get on the same page on which one we like better. We're both perfectionists, so we have a deep mutual respect for each other.
Phoniks: We stayed in touch, but it wasn't like we were talking every day. I'm always working on a couple projects at once and I appreciate Anti being very patient with me. It took us almost 2 years to finish the album, but I think the length of time was beneficial to the final product. There was times where both of us went through things in the past few years where our focus wasn't really on music, so it's good that we gave each other space at times and then came together when we were ready to create.
EM: What three songs on the album would you want to tell me more about?
Anti-Lilly: "Nobody's Perfect" is me coming to peace with where I am in my life. Its hard to forgive; whether its yourself or others. We're all works in progress like the hook says, but we cant dwell on our mistakes or shortcomings, we gotta appreciate the lesson that comes from living.
Phoniks: "Nobody's Perfect" is one of the best songs on the album to me. That trumpet invokes an emotional response before any words are necessary and the lyrics are very introspective. One of my favorite lines starts off the second verse "I don't hold no hatred for anybody who played me/ I ain't got no feelings for women I made mistakes with/ One of my ex's and old friends just had a baby/ Crazy how life can put people in different places." That quote represents the albums major themes of growth, letting go of grudges and moving forward.
Anti-Lilly: "I Found Me" is me at one of my darkest times, I had finally reached my limit. Folks tend to confuse my kindness for weakness so i'd been burned by family and friends. Instead of me doing something reckless, I was able to get most of it out. This song is a personal milestone for me and gaining more knowledge of self; but bittersweet since I'm more paranoid than ever now.
Phoniks: "Sunshine" was a track we originally recorded last summer that I remixed a couple times over the past year. I'm always more comfortable building a beat when I have the vocals to work with and it's pretty common for me to swap beats a few times before I'm satisfied with the track. Sunshine sets the tone for the whole album with those gloomy rhodes chords and echoing sax samples. Anti brought Mariel in to do her Roy Ayers impression on the hook. From that point on I think people knew what they were getting into.
Anti-Lilly: "Grow" represents everything coming full circle. I'm reflecting on the kid I used to be to the man that I am now while trying to do better everyday. "I'm tryna grow what I aint know" I have many flaws that I'm not afraid to show and you hear that throughout the album. The second verse talks about a fan who reached out to me last year to tell me my music inspired him to keep living, its crazy because if i didn't have a way to express myself I have no idea where I'd be.
Phoniks: "What Would You Do" is an example of the genuineness you mentioned. Anti starts the second verse talking about his mom saying he called her crying. That's not something you hear a rap artist say often, but the listener has been there before. That vulnerability is what makes the album feel relatable and genuine.
EM: Is the tone and mood of this album a direction you're going to explore deeper, or are you looking to start down a different path for whatever comes next?
Anti-Lilly: I really can't say, I'm just going to keep my music as honest as possible. Life gets hard sometimes but it aint always bad you know? No matter the weather you have to make the best of it. It's Nice Outside when you focus on the positive I'm just hoping that I can continue to maintain my balance.