Yung Clova and ST 2 Lettaz are G-Side, the hungry hip-hop duo coming out of Huntsville, Ala. They aim to create a cohesive sound that is unmistakably Southern but also a product of the their unique Huntsville upbringing. As they're quick to point out, Huntsville is not Atlanta or Miami; it's a riding city with its own aesthetic. Though they've earned comparisons to OutKast, G-Side wants you to know: If you try to pin them down, they'll move in the opposite direction.
Complex spoke with G-Side at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Read the rest of our coverage of the festival here.
Complex: Tell me about where you two came up.
ST: Huntsville and Athens, Ala. Athens is like 10 minutes outside of Huntsville. It’s in the same metro area. It’s a really small, country town. Huntsville is known for space, rockets, and engineering. You got a military base, maybe four colleges. It’s a mid-size town.
Athens is the small, country spot outside [Huntsville]. That’s more where we grew up. That’s how we got our name—G-Side—cause it’s the gutter side, and Huntsville didn’t have a dirty side. It’s chill, not really a party city at all. Everything closes at 2 a.m. Police are on your dick all day, everyday. But it’s cool though; we ride past the rocket on the interstate. They rated it one of the best places in America to raise your kids. So, it’s straight. It’s got its ups and downs just like any other city. You know?
You've known each other since you were kids?
ST: We met in the Boys & Girls Club.
Clova: Ever since we were about 10.
ST: Yeah, about 10 or 11, and then rapping since probably like ’99.
Have you been interested in music since then?
ST: I was doing music when I was nine, just trying and practicing. I knew what I wanted to be.
Clova: I wasn’t rapping, but I was playing drums in church.
Are you into production too?
Clova: Yeah, I’m actually in it big time right now.
ST: He’ll probably have some beats on the next album.
But you basically work with one production team?
ST: Yeah, Block Beattaz. That’s kind of the final product—G-Side and the Block Beattaz. Block Beattaz are damn near a part of G-Side. Whenever we get beats from outside producers, 9 times out of 10, Block Beattaz will go in and alter them a little bit, just to make it all cohesive.
Is that something you guys care about—having a cohesive sound on the album?
ST: Yeah, we’re really big on the albums. You don’t see many singles from us. That’s kind of our thing that sets us apart from the others, our albums.
How else do you think your sound is different than other Southern artists?
ST: We listen to those other Southern artists, that Atlanta sound or that Florida sound, and we try to flip it and do damn near the opposite. Like I said, Huntsville is not a party city. Club music is not gonna kill it out there. That’s not what you feel. You don’t go and ball and throw hundreds at bitches all night. It’s a riding city, so we make riding music. We try to keep it gutter with the lyrics and talk about the real shit that we go through, not make anything up or fantasize or try to portray the drug game as something that it’s not. If we even talk about dope, we do it in real way, but we try to even shy away from that.
Clova: I mean, we’re trying to create our own sound. That’s the only way that we’re going to stand out amongst every city that’s around Alabama. You gotta think: Florida is up under us, Atlanta, Tennessee, and Georgia—all that’s around us. We need to make our own sound so we could stand out. We gotta be a little different.
ST: So it’s got that hard edge but then it kind of has that elegance to it, if you listen to the samples. We try to sample more up-to-date shit. The ‘70s samples, they’ve been done over and over and over.
That’s the New York sound right there. It’s the same concept.
Clova: New York sound with them down South 808s; everybody can listen to it.
ST: We try to market heavily overseas.
Have you had much success overseas?
ST: Yeah, we’ve done a couple of tours. We got a lot of love in the whole Scandinavian area, like Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
What’s it like touring over there?
ST: Crazy, especially being two country motherfuckers coming from Athens, Alabama. It’s a whole ‘nother world; it opens your eyes up.
What are your favorite countries or cities to perform in overseas? Which ones really stood out?
ST: Trondheim and Oslo in Norway.
Clova: Sweden went hard, too.
ST: Trondheim is a small city but we were right in the downtown area. It reminded you of some older Southern cities, like some shit you’ll see in Mississippi. Just the architecture and the way that the people were walking around in big dresses. It was a crazy vibe, like the little club we were in ended up packing out. They went apeshit in there. We didn’t even know we had a following there.
Clova: Sweden was kind of crazy. First of all, we performed in an old church, so that threw us off. But it was packed, just jumping.
ST: It’s real crazy, man, ‘cause you’ll do a show in Huntsville and it’ll be a hundred of your friends out there, but then you’ll go overseas and it’s 400-500 motherfuckers—they knowing your shit word for word. It’s crazy.
What do you think makes your work accessible to somebody in Sweden, somebody who didn’t come up in the South?
ST: It was all the Internet. I had an idea. We did an album called Southern Haters, our very first album, and we got a look on a blog. And then Hip-Hop Connection in the U.K., like the oldest hip-hop magazine there, we got a look in there, so I was like, "Damn, what if we took this down South shit and marketed it directly to the people overseas?" I call it the Reverse Beetles Theory. So basically we’re doing the same thing they did in reverse. It’s actually been working. And like I said we take the model that’s already out and go in reverse and do something totally different from what everyone else is doing, and they love it. They eat it up.
What are the next steps? What’s the next move?
ST: Well we got an album coming out 11/11/11 called Island. It’s going to be a real hip-hop album.
Clova: Other than that, it’s straight touring from here.
ST: We’re back overseas in October. Then we’ll probably do some of the festival circuit. I think we had a real good show here.
So tell me a little bit about the album.
ST: First off, we’ll go into The Cohesive. We dropped that at the beginning of the year; that’s what got us here [at Pitchfork]. It’s called The One… Cohesive. It’s a huge Huntsville affair. We brought in every producer in Huntsville, all the best artists, and tried to make the best album we could. And you can listen to it back to front, front to back, and it's cohesive all the way through. The next album is going to be the total opposite of what the last album sounded like. We’re only like 5 or 6 tracks in, but we’re trying to make it something totally different. We’ll probably go back to the Starshipz and Rocketz album, which was the album that got us Internet fame.
Clova: It’ll probably a mixture of all of them. You don’t think so?
ST: Probably so. Yeah, but the essence, the model of it would probably be similar to how Starshipz and Rocketz was structured, and more hip-hop. Because this last album, it had a lot of soul. That’s why we have background singers with us, because there are singers on like every hook. But we didn’t think about it at the time. You just want to make a really dope song, and you do what you feel. This time we’re trying to go the opposite of it but still keep some of the main things that people like from the album.
What’s your process? Do you guys write before you have beats or do you wait ‘til you have beats and then write?
Clova: Kind of everything. Might have a hook, might have a verse, might have a beat. Different concepts.
ST: We have a big 5,500-square-foot studio, with like 8 different studios, 8 different producers, and when we all get to working on one project, they’re feeding you beats: You like this? You like this? You like this? I don’t really write without beats. That lets me know where I want to go with it. Beat selection is probably the most important thing as an artist. That’s what’s going to make your album.
When you’re recording, do you tend to listen to just beats or do you like to listen to the radio or other artists for inspiration.
ST: I tend to go back. If I’m going to listen to anything I’ll go listen to some old Scarface or some shit like that. Or just go out of genre, no hip-hop at all.
Clova: I like listening to the beats.
ST: Sometimes you just live with the beats, you know? And that’s how you’ll come up with something. You won’t get it the first day, and you’ll just ride around to it and just breathe it, ride past the rocket, and see what comes to you.
So riding/driving is a big influence on this?
ST: Yeah, we make riding music because that’s Huntsville culture.
Would it be comparable to Houston then?
ST: We used to get associated with Houston, before we got the OutKast comparison. Everyone said we sounded like Houston, some old Texas shit.
Trunk rattling music?
ST: Exactly. That’s what Huntsville is, [a place where] people bring their cars out.
Clova: It ain’t a lot of clubs and stuff, but everybody got cars. If you want to be seen, it's all abou the car game.
ST: It’s that car culture. People roll on 28s and shit, candy paint. People put their whole lives into their cars.
Is there a strip where everybody gathers on the weekend? What’s the scene like?
ST: Man, used to be. We used to have a huge festival called The Black Arts Festival, but [when] more money moves into the city, a lot of things get shut down. And I guess they tried to reorganize it and do other shit that’s more beneficial to them. But for The Black Arts Festival everyone would gather on the main strip, this placed called Jordan Lane, and you'd see the cars swing in and out. And it kind of got out of control; police couldn’t control it. People were wildin.
Would shit pop off?
ST: Yeah, people would get shot. It was crazy. A partner of mine, he was on the corner, watching people do their thing, and there’s a line of people up and down the sidewalk. It’s a million people. Then some guy just comes up—pow! Shoots a dude in the head and walks off. It’s crazy. So, I understand but at the same time it could have been controlled better. They didn’t have to take it away completely. And it affected the city; people don’t put as much money into their cars anymore. Therefore the detail shops and custom shops can’t stay open,and so there’s far less of those. It’s a long chain of shit.
Clova: It affects a lot of stuff, even the malls. That weekend brought in so much money. You can’t keep up with it. It’s messed up.
ST: Like he said, the malls look bad now. The shit used to be full with all kinds of shit. It’s like a few stores now. So it hurt. It hurt like a motherfucker.
Did the recession hit Huntsville pretty hard? What’s the situation there?
ST: Huntsville faired very well in the recession. Huntsville was one of the least affected places. But it’s still hard for everybody. There’s a ghetto everywhere. All of us really are just trying to goddamn get out here and pay our bills and do what we love to do. So it hit us but not as hard as hit a lot of areas. And the crazy thing is. It’s worse now that we’re over the recession. The economic situation gets worse there now.
Clova: Then we lost a lot of big, plant jobs. The main ones got shipped different places, to Japan and all different shit like that. That hurts too.
ST: It’s a big engineering town. They’re trying to clear out all the old country motherfuckers who don’t do shit and bring in the technicians, NASA, and more colonels on the military bases. That’s pretty much the plan for the city.
I’m sure that’s reflected in your music. It seems like every artist I talk to, in some ways the recession has shown up in what they’re doing. The economic situation and where they came from.
Clova: It’s hard to get $5 out of people.
ST: You can’t even sell a CD anymore man. Where you used to could. We sold 1,500 CDs on the streets of Huntsville, just bullshitting. Now it’s not like that no more. I think now we have a better product then we ever did back then. And you can’t get people to pay their $5 for a CD.
I’m sure that’s where the Internet and selling overseas has to come in.
ST: Yeah. Our plan is to take that success and take the money that we get from other states and other countries and then bring it back and invest it back into our city.
Is that something you plan to do, give back to the city you came from?
ST: Oh, yeah. We got big plans for our city.
What kind of things do you have in mind?
Clova: Me, where I come from it ain’t nothing—no bowling alleys, no Chuck E. Cheese, no Popeye’s, nothing. So, if we make enough money, we can go back and just build a whole ‘nother organization. Really own the whole town, for real.
ST: If you put a Chuck E. Cheese, just think of a city that’s full of motherfuckers. Like what 100,000 people?
Clova: No bars, no clubs, none of that. Athens just went wet. It’s a goldmine.
ST: They just now got the right to sell liquor. It’s just now getting Applebee’s and shit like that. So, for us to build up stuff, especially in the neighborhoods that they wouldn’t develop, that they wouldn’t go and put a Chuck E. Cheese close to here. We’d put it there.
Clova: That’s probably where most of our money is going to come from.
ST: Right, me and Clova met in the Boys & Girls Club.
Is that an organization that was helpful to both of you growing up?
ST: It’s what gave us the state of mind to stay out of the shit. It gave us the common sense to see that there was a life other than having to sit out on the corner selling dope all day. Because if we had sat home, we would have saw our big brothers and our big cousins doing what they do all day. And so we got to be removed from all that for a second. It was a big help. And if I ever donate to any charity ever in life, that’s what it'll be, the Boys & Girls Club.
What are some other interesting things about Huntsville and things that people might not know?
ST: I told you they have that fucking rocket. It’s the home of fucking space and rockets. That’s all we got, is that big ass rocket. It’s probably the tallest thing in the city. We don’t have a skyline or any of that big shit. There’s a huge music base out there. All our albums, we feature probably six or seven artists. There’s probably 20-30 artists. We operate a 5,500 square-foot studio; that would be impossible if you didn't have a scene. 95% of the traffic that comes through the city of Huntsville to do music comes to our facility for recording, mixing, artwork, features, beats, something.
Are we just talking rappers now?
ST: No, not just rappers.
ST: Like punk bands, you know bands like Thomas Function. They’ve toured the whole world. We actually followed their model. They did it before us. They did it maybe a year or two before us, and we got up with one of their members who books a lot of shows for us now. He put us into a lot of punk rock spots that don’t do hip-hop as much. We'll do shows with a punk band opening. It's dope.
What are the venues like in Huntsville? Where do you guys perform when you’re there?
Clova: We don’t do too much.
ST: Huntsville is not a live music city. Hunstville is trying to build a downtown scene, but it’s not like you can walk bar to bar, how you can in big cities here. There’s a $10 cover everywhere. So you go and pay your 10 bucks and then you see the same people every week. Or if you perform in there, the sound system is not quite righ. It’s definitely not a city set up for live performances. But it’s getting better.
So it must be special, then, to tour and play in places where they do the sound right.
ST: Exactly. We didn’t know the sound was fucked up until we got to see other things. I say in one of the lyrics, “Coming out of Alabama, you don’t realize you slow until you’re out of Alabama.” You know?
Has traveling changed your sound in anyway? Have you taken things from other places that you’ve been?
Clova: That’s all we do—write about what we go through. We try to keep it real. It’s simple.
ST: We don’t fabricate; we talk about exactly what we go through. And that's reflected in our lyrics. There are alot of people at home in Huntsville and in Athens that’ll never leave there. They live through us. We show them something else.
Clova: They ain’t gonna believe [that we were] in Sweden so you gotta show them pictures.
ST: Yeah, they don’t even know where Sweden is, most people. They’re like, “Oh, you went to London?” And I’m like, “Yeah, man. I was in London.” [Laughs.]