“We Sound Like Us”: Examining Friendship, Inspiration, Life, and Loss with RSXGLD
Producer 14KT and rapper Ro Spit’s longstanding friendship dates back over a decade, long before they came together to form RSXGLD. Prior to releasing their official self-titled debut in November of 2017, they made their first musical connection in the mid-2000s after the birth of Ro’s daughter. “That was my first daughter, so that was a turning point in my life,” Ro tells me. “I was going through something new, I was going through something a little scary — I had a life that I was accountable for.”
The same day Ro’s daughter came into the world, 14KT was at home listening to records when he caught the line, “She says hello to the world.” It didn’t take long for him to turn the sample into a custom beat for his friend. “I remember him saying whenever she would cry, he would play that record and she would stop crying,” KT told me in an earlier interview.
Ro was deeply moved that his friend gave him such a thoughtful gift, especially after they’d fallen out of touch with each other. “At the time I hadn’t even talked to him in a while,” he says. “That cemented the friendship.”
“We don’t sound like Gang Starr, we don’t sound like Run The Jewels, we don’t sound like PRhyme. We sound like us.”
As admirers of each other’s work and collaborators on earlier solo projects, it was only a matter of time before the two Michigan natives came together in the same vein as recent rapper/producer duos Run The Jewels and PRhyme. And while both KT and Ro are quick to tip their hats to RTJ and PRyhme as influences, sounding completely different than other high-profile duos is a point of pride. “What’s really dope, in any duo group that you name, they all sound different. They all have their own unique sound,” KT explains.
Much like their musical predecessors, KT and Ro have combined their distinct musical qualities to make an inimitable sound all their own. “Because of that chemistry that we have, it came out in a unique way,” KT tells me while explaining the RSXGLD album. “It doesn’t sound like anything that I’ve done before, or anything that he’s done before. We don’t sound like Gang Starr, we don’t sound like Run The Jewels, we don’t sound like PRhyme. We sound like us.”
A key part of achieving a distinct sound came from KT’s evolution as a producer. Well-known for his intricate sample slicing abilities, KT took his sound to the next level on this project. “I added a little bit more instrumentation than what I would normally do. On this record, I played all the basslines, drums, guitar sounds, and all that stuff on Maschine Studio. I played it all on the pads live,” KT explains.
In addition to playing multiple instruments with his Maschine sampler, KT found himself transforming various samples into instruments. “I’ll sample on each pad and I’ll kind of play the samples like they’re instruments. I’ll make chords with the samples and kind of do whatever I want,” he says.
“I had been thinking about my father, ’cause he had passed, and how bad our relationship was. That’s why you heard me talk about him all over this album.”- Ro Spit
KT’s innovative production inspired Ro to pen some of the most personal records of his career. From the very first sample hits of the opening track “4 2 1 7 5”, to the group’s statement on the same song that “This ain’t got nothing to do with us/It’s coming from a higher place”, the listener is well-aware that Ro made a decision to make himself an open book on this album.
Loss is a central theme on several stand out songs. Still processing the death of his father in 2015, Ro paints an incredibly vivid picture of his thought process at the wake on “Coverse”, rapping:
“What’s real in the street come across on stereo/I can tell you bout a story, like to here it? Here we go/Started with my pop, god bless that n**** dead now/Standing at his wake I got my head down/I said wow/How he looked the same that he did at his fed trial/But that was me too/I got my chest out, a fresh smile/Looking like Nas with the crooked teeth.”
Confronting such a difficult topic and deciding to share it with your audience is likely no easy feat, but Ro penned the verse with ease because of the inspiration he felt at RSXGLD recording sessions. “It came from a place but it was very easy to write,” he tells me. “That’s my favorite verse on the album personally, just because how it came about and the honesty behind it.”
Though the process of writing the verse may have come easily, Ro achieved high level of authenticity with his lyrics. “I was like, ‘This is my conversation. This is me speaking to the world about my authentic true feelings,’” he says. “I had been thinking about my father, ’cause he had passed, and how bad our relationship was. That’s why you heard me talk about him all over this album.”
As is often the case when we lose someone close to us, death causes us to examine our complex feelings — both good and bad — towards that person. For Ro, the loss of his father gave him a chance to contemplate the anger and disappointment he felt towards him. “I was thinking, ‘Why did I have a grudge?’” Ro says. “It was because he was in jail when I became the starting point guard on the basketball team. Or he was in jail when I was first chair in drums in junior high school. I was thinking about all of that.”
“I started chopping the record as you hear it now. He went on to kind of write a letter to his father, speaking to his father, on the actual song that his father wrote.” — 14KT
Despite the feelings of resentment, the process of grieving at his father’s wake helped him come to terms with his full range of emotions towards his dad. “I was thinking, ‘I’m looking down, kind of feeling like I’m holding my head in shame,’” he says. “But then I started thinking, ‘He’s in a better place. I think he knows how I really felt whether I showed it or didn’t.’ I started coming to amends with a lot of things.”
Another deeply personal track is “What’s Happening Brutha” featuring former Motown artist and current Four Tops vocalist Ronnie McNeir. On the previous track “Brilliant Cut (Up)”, Ro shares the amazing story of stumbling upon the fact that his father co-wrote a song with McNeir. He also explains the origins of “What’s Happening Brutha” — a saying he and his father used to greet each other on the phone.
Though Ro wasn’t able to find the Ronnie McNeir record his father co-wrote until after his passing, he finally obtained a copy and brought it to KT. “He played the song for me and asked me if I could do something with it,” KT says. “Right then and there I started chopping the record as you hear it now. He went on to kind of write a letter to his father, speaking to his father, on the actual song that his father wrote.”
Once again, Ro used KT’s lush beats to paint a complex picture of his father — pulling no punches with lines like, “We talk more now you’re in the sky then when you were alive/I apologize for my spite it was dumb of me/In summary, only God knows what the summer brings/Lawsuits, lies, an allegations is a couple things.” Despite the brutal honesty, we also hear the love he felt for his dad.
“This is my conversation. This is me speaking to the world about my authentic true feelings.” — Ro Spit
Taking a piece of Detroit music history, breathing new life into it, and getting the original recording artist on the song was something KT will never forget. The fact that the McNeir record he chopped up had such an intimate connection to his friend and co-creator added a storybook-like quality to the entire experience. “Just combining all those different stories into one track, that was probably one of the most amazing things I’ve worked on with music,” he says. “Most profound and most personal — it’s a very personal record.”
The aforementioned tracks are just a small sampling of what RSXGLD has to offer. The album steeped in hard-hitting drums, soulful sample chops, deeply personal lyrics, and dexterous mic control from beginning to end. KT provides the necessary soul to satisfy even the most critical beat heads while Ro Spit drops multiple bars that will having you rewinding tracks for further analyis. RSXGLD successfully channel the full emotional spectrum into their new effort, making them a welcome addition to the impressive rap duo canon.