Every time we do a round-up of new artists you need to know or a playlist of the best new music, at least one fan reminds us that we forgot to include PNTHN. The eight-man rap collective formed in March of 2017, and they've already built up a die-hard following, toured with Vince Staples and Freddie Gibbs, performed their first festival at III Points, and dropped two EPs that resulted in a combined million-plus streams.
PNTHN is becoming harder and harder to ignore, and they're doing it all themselves. "Right now the best thing to do is have total control of everything PNTHN," tony tone explains. "Having someone interfere with that ever wouldn't allow us to stay true to ourselves."
When the chance presented itself to book PNTHN for our No Ceilings showcase, the timing felt perfect. With PNTHN, it seems fitting that the real introduction comes in the form of a live show. "These type of IRL connections last way longer than the internet could ever provide," says Kenny Casanova. "It’s important to us to have real fans that will stick with us throughout our career because we’re shooting for longevity. The internet has shown time and time again how fickle a following can be."
Before PNTHN takes the stage at Pigeons & Planes' No Ceilings show at SXSW this Friday, we connected with the crew for a brief introduction. Get to know PNTHN below, via an interview conducted entirely through email and presented below, unedited. Catch the guys in Austin at No Ceilings on Friday night at the Empire Garage.
Kenny Casanova (Rapper/Graphic Designer)
tony tone (Rapper/Photographer)
Por Vida (Producer)
If you're talking to someone who's never listened to the music, how would you introduce what PNTHN is?
Romby: PNTHN is a culmination of all of our influences. From our childhood to now. PNTHN’s music is a way that we combine the music, cartoons, film, art, and culture that contributed to the artists we are today.
Kenny Casanova: This music transcends age, hip-hop old heads fuck wit us (crazy) and the youth fuck wit us and if you don’t fuck wit us, that’s mad odd.
Yd: I would put em on Communion, Megatron, & Supafantastic den let em explore on dey own aftawards. Da music speaks fo itself.
tony tone: PNTHN is the godly force that could give Stevie Wonder vision. It is the sound of angelic harps infused with 808s and Texas sauce that could melt the polar ice caps but still cold enough to end global warming.
twohorizonra: A boneless refreshment of something you felt you lost long ago.
Can you break down the name PNTHN?
Kenny Casanova: The House of Gods/the greatest cult in the world. Name is Pantheon without vowels. The meaning behind being a House of Gods starts with our DIY aspect and reaches to a level only our psyches could comprehend; it essentially means we have power over our mood, our fate, our whole life, the realities we face are of our own creation.
dc4prez: Basically a group of gods coming together like Exodius because each person plays an important role in who PNTHN is. We don’t need no leader or no breakout star n***a. We all keep the gears turning.
H - house of gods bitch
For the past years, most of the popular new artists we see blow up do it online first and build up to the real life presence. For you guys, the IRL connection with fans seems to be as important, if not more important than online buzz. Can you speak on that? Is that intentional or just how things played out?
Kenny Casanova: These type of IRL connections last way longer than the internet could ever provide. It’s important to us to have real fans that will stick with us throughout our career because we’re shooting for longevity. The internet has shown time and time again how fickle a following can be so we believe that a direct connection with fans will disintegrate that possibility. With quality comes authenticity, so we’d like to bring it face to face with those who support us.
"It’s easy to fake an online presence these days but we really value those genuine, real-life connections with people that actually care about what we’re doing" - Otto
dc4prez: That’s both intention and just how things played out, in my opinion. A lot of these n****s for real come out of nowhere and go viral real quick so they don’t get the chance to really build up a fan base. The difference is that we not sitting down tryna figure out how to go viral everyday. We just making the music we like and if it happens to go viral then bet, that’s fye. I appreciate the fans that’s been fucking with us this last year. These is real supporters like n****s that’s gon stick around for hella years to come because they simply fucked with our art before anything.
Yd: It’s intentional. We’ve been doing DIY shows fo da neighborhood for a while now and it’s cus of dat as too y people r spreading the word.
tony tone: We got love for the South we wanna make sure the South got our back before the world does.
Otto: It’s easy to fake an online presence/following these days but we really value those genuine, real-life connections with people that actually care about what we’re doing and want to see us succeed.
Por Vida: I believe if you can take over your local scene you can take over any scene. Making great music is one thing but being able to transfer that into a great live performance is its own challenge, and if you master that early on in your career it’ll mean longevity. It was halfway intentional, we had built enough of a loyal fan base in Texas to help boost us for whenever the online attention eventually came. It’s really nice to be able to pack shows and see your influence in the area instead of just being an online band.
What did you guys learn from touring with artists like Freddie Gibbs and Vince Staples? Was it what you expected, or were there things you didn't even know or think about going into it?
twohorizonra: The tour for me was both a test and an experience that I’ll never forget. It really let me catch a glimpse of the life to come and was further affirmation of where we’re at in our journey. Things fell into line quickly and felt natural after the first few shows.
tony tone: The hardest part is playing your music to an audience that has no expectation for your music & is ready to see you get off stage so their favorite artist can perform. The challenge is learning how to win them over and each show taught us a new way to do that. Knowing our favorite artists fuck with our music just reminds me that we're on the right path.
dc4prez: I had the most fun i done had in years on both them tours but man look... We still broke so tryna get 12 n****s across these cities is a hassle. We had to take multiple cars and everybody move at a different pace so some n****s was showing up early for soundcheck and then some n****s was pulling up right when we go on. We gon have to get the money up so we can move as one next time.
Romby: I learned how to shift into performance gear a lot quicker. I learned one of the things that makes us unique performers is that we won’t settle for a couple of heads bobbing in the crowd. I need to feel energy from the audience, and the only way to get that response is if I lead by example.
Kenny Casanova: We’ve found that we can curate our sets for certain cities and crowds. We don’t necessarily have to perform the same show. One thing Vince told us at the end of our run with him, ‘This isn’t an opportunity when you’re supposed to be here.’ One of the most important things I was reminded of on tour was that there is always room for improvement.
Yd: Opening for Vince & Freddie G was a learning experience for us all from stage movements, to visual effects & crowd engagement.
You say one of the most important principles of PNTHN is self-sufficiency. As a DIY collective navigating the music industry in 2019, what's the most difficult thing to do yourself? Where do you run into walls?
tony tone: All of us are really good at a lot of different things but each one of us has our strong specialties. Mixing that all together shows how we undefeated. It's not always easy to agree on everything but we make it work at the end of the day.
dc4prez: In the DIY scene I feel like it’s easy to oversaturate yourself in your area but I’m glad we saw that quick and made changes. You don’t wanna be stuck in Central Texas forever doing shows because no one really knows you anywhere else. We got on that mindset of tryna be global! Also you want a demand for your performances. If you been doing hella shows in the same area people gon be like, “N***a we just saw you yesterday at so and so, I’m not finna see you again.” Then you can’t make no money.
Kenny Casanova: Often the business side of PNTHN is difficult as well as the technicalities of the music. We don’t have endless resources and nobody is an expert at what they do. We are on a journey to become our best selves so we choose our ways over a quick fix so we can continue to be self sufficient in the long run.
Does self-sufficiency mean independence? Are you open to working with major labels and big brands, or is the goal to keep your distance?
tony tone: Right now the best thing to do is have total control of everything PNTHN. Having someone interfere with that ever wouldn't allow us to stay true to ourselves. When the time, money, and infrastructure is right we'll be open to all possibilities.
"A lot of us weren’t initially given the opportunity to have people do things for us, so we’re used to having to fend for ourselves." - twohorizonra
Por Vida: At this stage in our career I think it’s important to wade in the waters as independent artists. There will be a point where we can benefit from the help of majors and other resources, but it is far too early on to be signing away something we are still learning how to do and perfect.
twohorizonra: I feel like it’s not necessarily always about independence. We are open to work with the right people, but we also retain self sufficiency in order to have full creative control over our entire sound and aesthetic. A lot of us weren’t initially given the opportunity to have people do things for us, so we’re used to having to fend for ourselves. It’s very important in PNTHN for everyone to know how to do things themselves so we can have as much control over how we create as possible.
dc4prez: We keeping our mothafuckin distance, we good over here. It would be nice to not worry about having a day job anymore but I know my worth and I know we’ll get there on our own.
Kenny Casanova: The term does not limit us from working with others. We are not particularly interested in major labels who are looking to buy in/have their name or say on what PNTHN does but are not opposed to working in tandem to build PNTHN in the same fashion as these smaller labels have been built up, like Awful Records.
I first heard of you guys as a group, but did you all have solo things going on before PNTHN?
Romby: We are all individual artists. I look at PNTHN as an open-ended project that I collaborate on with my friends, who also happen to be multi-faceted artists.
Kenny Casanova: Everybody has solo work or is working on solo work. Even duo projects are in the works. Most of the solo shit prior to PNHTN’s existence is lost in the catacombs and will never see the light of day.
dc4prez: I started rapping with PNTHN about 2 years ago and before then I hadn’t rapped since like middle school. It was solo but also in a collective but I’m not finna get into that because it was trash. But I had started writing again in my sophomore year of college and I showed twohorizon some shit I wrote one time and he basically told me I should try recording again so I did, and now we here.
Yd: I was making trash music that me n the rest of PNTHN enjoyed then later started buildin beats. I was in college tryna get thru it while being in the military reserves too. Shit was weird yo.
tony tone: Everyone was writing, recording, producing, or doing something musical before PNTHN and will continue to do that no matter what. Sometimes we all work on solo stuff but it's always PNTHN over everything.
Do any of you remember the very first conversations about forming a rap group and how that idea came to life?
twohorizonra: I’ve been having these type of conversations since the day I started making music, people come and go as you hold faith in your vision. But as long as you hold that faith, everything will align. The law of attraction is powerful.
Kenny Casanova: Initially it was the foundation, the talks of a rap group came together before we could even record music. It was just us in our dorms writing to instrumentals and rapping the back to each other. PNTHN kind of came together organically over time, there was never a fully conceived plan for the group.
Was there ever a "leader" within the group, or does everyone step up and take lead at different times?
Romby: There’s no real leader in PNTHN, we not backup singers. Everyone takes lead in certain aspects of the group’s content. Someone make take lead on design for a cover. A couple of people make take lead on a show we’re throwing. But no one heads it all.
Kenny Casanova: No leaders, hence the phrase, “House of Gods.” When it comes to ideas, those who conceptualized it normally take the initiative on the project. Most of the time, the energy flows perfectly to where everybody plays equal parts.
twohorizonra: Everyone has their own role. When we say house of god’s it’s some Mount Olympus shit. Each member presides over their own “element” that they bring to the table.
Can we talk about an album? Is that coming up this year and if so, how do you approach that differently from the way you've been making music so far?
dc4prez: The word album lowkey intimidate me, right now we just making shit.
Kenny Casanova: We pullin a Frank Ocean actually. We are working on an album. We don’t want to give out too many details but we do want to let the streets know that in this next project, we’re liable to switch from something so hard and sinister to something smooth... and sinister.
tony tone: We in the midst of working on music that's gonna resurrect Prince from the grave. Don't worry, the big project coming. We just keep growing and improving every day.
Is music a full-time job for each of you now? Do you guys still have side hustles outside of music or are you at a point where you can put all of your time into PNTHN?
twohorizonra: If a n***a got a big body benz that needs parking imma have to park it until I got that same big body benz and earn the right to ask the same. You feel me?
Romby: Shit, music is my side hustle. Not even really, it’s more like an unpaid internship.
"each person plays an important role in who PNTHN is. We don’t need no leader or no breakout star n***a. We all keep the gears turning." - dc4prez
Por Vida: I wish, still livin that 9-5 life at a gas station. It’s a double life you see, one week I’m touring the South with Vince Staples, next day I’m selling people Gatorade and hot dogs getting bitched at by old white people.
Kenny Casanova: Unfortunately, many of us are working full time. Music ain’t payin rent yet but we’re looking to see change really soon. If we could do music and other arts full time, we would forever.
dc4prez: Every single one of us got day jobs still so buy features, buy beats, buy merch, and book us!
Yd: Nah, still have side hustles for now like Maxo said “5200 diff ways” but I’m just tryna find the right few. eventually music and other business ventures will have my time. Workin for other n****s is slavery wit a bunch of extra steps.
tony tone: Not yet we some lowkey broke boys. I do photography on the side to make bread but I want rap to be my profession and photography to be a side hobby forever.
What's one thing you want to accomplish before the end of 2019?
Kenny Casanova: I want to get all of PNTHN in a financial position where we feel comfortable enough to quit our jobs and move to a city we can continue to grow in.
dc4prez: I wanna do OUR own tour and see OUR own fans in each of these places. It don’t even gotta be on some big or multiple dates shit, I just wanna be able to leave a mark on each place.
tony tone: US tour, performances outside the states, more festivals, pay my rent from rap music, Kenny Beats studio sessions.
twohorizonra: I wanna become King of the Pirates and inspire a new generation while changing the way the older generation thinks.
Romby: I'm tryna destroy the rap industry with my bare hands.