Phat Nerdz embrace hip-hop as a celebration of individuality
Hip-hop has always reserved space for outsiders. From Wu-Tang Clan and De Le Soul back in the day to Odd Future and Brockhampton more recently, some of the most spirited rap has been made by rag-tag groups of friends and collaborators with their own shared tastes, quirks and senses of humor.
That’s the tradition that Milwaukee’s Phat Nerdz collective carries on. No one style defines the group, whose tracks can range from slick and stylish to raw and scrappy, depending on who’s recording them and what mood they’re in, but the cumulative result is a celebration of individuality.
This year rappers Nile and Mighty Morphin’ Verge released an EP credited to Phat Nerdz, “ Not a Crowd In This Sky,” and it’s a blast. But those five songs represent just a fraction of the collective’s 2020 output, which was scattered across countless solo projects, singles, videos, freestyles from those two and their group mates Mayyh3m, Myndd, 39tharchitect and $pace Cowboii. Some were widely distributed, others were scattered across the internet like hidden Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by some net-surfing rap fan who will inevitably wonder “who are these guys?”
We chatted with Phat Nerdz to answer that very question.
Evan: Could you guys talk a little bit about the origins of the group? How did you guys get together?
Nile: A few of us kind of knew each other growing at high school. I initially met $pace Cowboii and our homie Verge in a neighborhood where he used to stay on the North Side of Milwaukee. We hit it off. I went to school with Verge, and we happened to run into Myndd and Mayyh3m there. We were doing a lot of gigs together in our high school days, and we just figured it made sense that we stuck together. And then last but not least, we met our homie 39tharchitect. He’s the newest member of the group and the youngest member of the group, too. He’s a producer; a lot of us are producers, too.
Evan: What do you think it is that binds you? What do you all share that brings you together as musicians?
Mayyh3m: I just feel like we all share a common goal. We all want to push each other and we all want to push ourselves to become better as people and as artists as well. So I feel like that alone will bind us spiritually so we can work together and have fun and do what we love to do.
Evan: When people think of rap groups, they always think of Wu-Tang, which had this model that allowed its artists to record solo but also come together under a group umbrella. Do you guys think of yourselves that way, and do you discuss what distinguishes you as a group versus your solo careers?
Myndd: We discuss what distinguishes us, but we also still have that brotherhood and we still have that sound as a group -- just seeing that kinetic energy between each other on stage and certain vibes and emotions that we get while working on music. So that creates a certain balance with this.
Evan: What is it that you think sets you guys apart from other rap groups in the city?
$pace Cowboii: I feel like we all have different styles and somehow it just like mashes up and makes for great chemistry with other members on our team. So I just feel like it's the music
Evan: Do you guys feel like you're stronger together? Is it easier promoting like a group project like this, or is it harder sometimes?
Nile: I think it's a toss up, because you know algorithms definitely play a big part of how you go about promotion. I think sometimes if somebody hits the iron while it’s hot, people pay attention. And then it’s up to the person hitting the iron to get the group involved or just kind of keep going until everybody has the chance to get in on it.
Evan: I feel like for a lot of hip-hop acts in the city, the live show isn't really a priority. A lot of the biggest names in the city don’t even really play live. But for you guys, it seems like it's a really big part of what you do.
Nile: I feel like it starts off with really just putting our names and our faces out there. When we were coming together, we were trying to understand what we had to do to stay relevant, because we aren’t putting up the big numbers of like a Lil Chicken or a Munch Lauren or a WebsterX, names like that. So I think the best, most impactful way to reach people is to be present. So we’re all putting out solo music, all trying to understand what works for us. We don’t want to be overlooked by anyone. We probably can put on a show better than people who have bigger names than us in the scene, and that’s something I can completely stand behind.
Evan: Even though you weren't playing shows as usual this year, the group still felt very visible. Between the EP and the solo releases, you were still on the radar this year.
Nile: Yeah, I feel like it's just all about presence. You know, I feel like the MT Twins can do thousands of streams and get a lot of love from the city, and that’s their stride. You know, they get a lot of love from the city, but we can’t be overshadowed by that. There’s more music in the scene than just the slap rap and the street music here. So we can’t be discouraged by that. We do fit into the scene, and we know that we will continue to grow and become assets to the scene.