99 Neighbors - "Television"

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Seven short, cold days into 2019 and I’m already way behind on coverage. There is a lot on the way this week, including a new regular series, but first, well…this is the only place to start.

A year ago, 99 Neighbors didn’t quite exist yet — all the players were in place, but the name was still a work in progress. Their sound has been almost impossibly good since this movement kicked off in 2017 with Sam. & Somba’s The South Cove EP. That was a face-melter of a debut. Jordan Adams of Seven Days called it “astounding,” and that’s a pretty fair assessment.

That was happening right around the same time that Hank Collins got a Daysie Awards nomination for “Best Hip Hop Artist” — that wound up going to Lynguistic Civilians for the 7th consecutive time, but it definitely put him on everyone’s radar. His single “Mimosas” clocking over 80,000 plays on Soundcloud also turned a few heads.

By the time the 99 Neighbors crew came together, Collins — now HANKNATIVE — and Sam. were both just about finished with two strong solo projects. Sam.’s Collision EP dropped a month before Problem Child, and both were among the very best projects of 2018. So 99 Neighbors debut LP arrives, finally, with a lot of hype and lot of promise.

Television is very fucking good. You should listen to it, if only to appreciate the state of the art. I won’t belabor it past that. There are other points to be made here.

Although VTHH definitely has readers who are local fans, most of our readers are local artists. Almost all of them would very much like to be where 99 Neighbors are today. So it’s important to outline precisely why they are not.

First up, this is a crew with serious assets. Sam. and HANKNATIVE are both natural talents, but damn near any rapper alive thinks of themselves as exactly that, so let’s look past them. (But, maybe consider that you could improve in the booth.)

As a producer and engineer, Somba is doing professional work, every session. He really knows his shit, he has a great ear and he puts in billions of hours for his crew. Odds are pretty good you don’t have a Somba.

That counts for a lot. Not having to pay for endless studio time to tinker and experiment; not having to pay for beats; not having to pay for mixing and mastering. That’s a situation anyone in the business would envy, and a big advantage. In the case of 99 Neighbors, the advantage extends even further. Their crew of artists and photographers and musicians is, strategically speaking, a force multiplier.

Especially when you cultivate a culture of honesty. Although it can be difficult at first to create situations where blunt feedback is possible, once you get that going, it becomes a virtuous circle. You set yourself up to win long-term. In contrast, bullshitting your friends about their mediocre music requires constant maintenance. Your call.

Are you really winning? Do you have a process for re-assessing where your career is at — and where you want it to go? How do you measure your success? How do you learn from your failure?

Here’s something else to consider: 99 Neighbors don’t release demos. They don’t leak rough mixes. They cook every meal until it is finished, and so should you. It’s easy for new artists to feel like that kind of transparency is “fan engagement,” but that’s not what your fans want. They want your best work. Only give them that.

Finally, it is obvious that 99 Neighbors not only practice their live show heavy, they also put a lot of thought into their sets. Much like having a fanbase or selling out shows, this is not something you can fake. Artists either do the work or they don’t. Any adult can tell the difference 20 seconds into your first song.

Reality is inherently unfair: while doing the work is no guarantee of success, not doing the work is an effective guarantee of failure. Choose wisely.

Enough of all that, though. Just enjoy the music. 99 Neighbors will be playing at Higher Ground — the big room this time — on Friday, January 11th. If you want tickets, you should get them ASAP.

Cheers to a dope young crew doing it right.

Justin Boland