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MT Twins make every bar sting on 'Survivor's Guilt'

There's a reason everybody likes movies and TV shows about kids, beyond the nostalgia we all feel for youth. It's a sense of safety and comfort knowing that, no matter what the writers put their characters through, things will probably work out for them, because they're kids. Kids almost never die in movies. The kids in "Stranger Things" or "Harry Potter" might battle monsters and suffer loss, but things can only ever really get so bad for them. Because they're kids.

MT Twins' early music used to provide that comfort, too. Back when brothers Dexxx and Donno Sanders were students at Marshall High School, they made catchy, hooky pop-rap with very low stakes. Their chops were undeniable -- even from the beginning, they could rap -- but the presentation was light. They rapped and sang about crushes. They danced. It was cute, even. Very young adult.

MT Twins |

But Donno and Dexxx are not kids anymore. They grew up fast, and they grew up hard. On their new album " Survivor's Guilt," their first since 2019's "Voice of the Youth" and after a hiatus they spent focusing on solo projects, they still refer to themselves as kids, but it's always wistfully and in the past tense, and usually in reference to the litany of traumas, disappointments and betrayals that made them into the jaded young men they are now. These songs are filled with violence, addiction, broken friendships, estranged families and internalized traumas -- cautionary tales that pile up so quickly one after the other there's no time to even learn lessons from them.

This is always ripe subject matter for rap music, and MT do it as well as just about anybody. Donno and Dexxx (who now raps under the moniker 3xSimpson) are two of the most vivid verse writers Milwaukee has ever produced, absolutely cutthroat in their specificity and detail. As always, there are bars so unflinchingly personal all over this project that it almost feels like a violation transcribing them here. And especially for anybody who's been following this duo from the beginning, who remembers MT as the wide-eyed and (relatively) innocent kids they used to be, these hardened lyrics carry extra resonance. This is not the happy ending those kids were promised.

Though it's beautifully produced -- filled with effervescent melodies and the kind of lush pianos that Polo G abandoned after he made it big and stopped making music anywhere near this personal -- "Survivor's Guilt" is a difficult listen. MT tell stories that are hard to hear. Somebody loses a hand on the opening song, and it only gets bleaker from there. These songs regularly make me uncomfortable. Occasionally they make me angry. Mostly, though, these songs make me feel sad: for the hardships these two have endured, for the dreams they gave up, for the pain they carry, for the way their music used to offer so much more hope than this.

It was nine years ago that Kendrick Lamar released his breakthrough "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City." That's a great album, obviously, a classic. But I always found its "good kid" framing device to be a cheat, because of course it's easy to make audiences root for the good kid. But what about the bad kids, the ones who don't always do the right thing, the ones who aren't passive players caught up in tragedy but are sometimes active participants? Don't they deserve empathy, too? That's the moral ambiguity that "Survivor's Guilt" traffics in. MT's latest is as compelling and conflicted as it is grim, one of the rare rap albums that sits with you long after it's over.

You can stream "Survivor's Guilt" below via Spotify.