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For those of you who have yet to hear about the Rocky Mountain rap duo, Top Flite Empire is a group out of Denver, made up by members Hypnautic and King Tef. While they’ve enjoyed local fame for some time, they’re working pretty hard to put Colorado on the map. When I first attempted to schedule an interview with them, while they were in the city, they were busy attending various meetings and dinner arrangements with the people at Sway in the Morning, Vibe Magazine, The Source, and XXL, along with preparing to release their upcoming EP, Bad Decisions. Although the EP has been delayed until April 1st, due to still-incoming features, and a decision to rearrange the record to their liking, they’re staying busy by performing shows, including one at Club Nokia, in LA, with Hopsin, on the 18th of March.
When describing their origins in Denver, they make their come-up sound like destiny. As they told me, they were both doing shows in different parts of the city, and were achieving a degree of success on their own. Still, they decided to set up a show together, to see how it would work, and it went perfectly; they were the headliners at a large venue, they sold out the show, and the couple thousand people partying with them that night welcomed them as the new leaders of the Colorado rap scene. It took off from there, and their journey has continued since.
And that continuation is the exact story that they’re trying to tell with their new record. When describing the story behind Bad Decisions, King Tef evokes an image of El Dorado, in the days of the California Gold Rush. He talks about how everyone in that area was obsessively searching for gold in the same way that people in the music industry today obsessively search for “gold” in platinum records. And, just like in the days of old in El Dorado, he talks about how there’s no one true way to attain gold, the literal substance or the gold record, but, in both cases, they’re still attainable. In either case, there were also obstacles in the way, and they were represented by labor and slim odds. Tef says the obstacles, for him and Hypnautic, are the bad decisions they make along the way, whether they have to do with alcohol, women, or partying in general. Obviously, alcohol, female companions, and partying are by no means negative aspects of life, and Tef explains that they don’t display their lifestyle in an entirely negative light. Since a fair amount of people perceive those things positively, they portray this lifestyle as both a way of celebrating life and a hindrance that counters career growth.
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But, how do they go about crafting this message? Both Tef and Hypnautic explained to me how they go about gathering inspiration and forming their words. Tef considers himself to be more introverted, choosing his house and kitchen as his preferred havens of creativity. He gathers inspiration from older music, and likes to take in old R&B and rock concepts, since he feels that they reach more people on a global scale, as opposed to the linear music creation process he’s observed in a lot of artists today. Hypnautic described his creative process thusly: “My life feels like a movie. Every day, I’m out, I’m talking to people, I’m here and there. So, everything that I go through, personally, everything I see, whether I’m having fun, or doing whatever I’m doing, it records in my mind, so I recreate that experience in my lyrics.” He described how he likes making music in situations with other people, but he also said he’s willing to write anywhere and whenever, whether it’s in his house, like Tef, in his car, or randomly in the middle of the night. He sums it up saying, that “everywhere I go is creating inspiration for whatever I’m going to say next. It’s a continuous process.”
Overall, they said, they inspire themselves by doing fun things. Their manager takes them on trips, in places like LA and the like, but also makes a point of taking the two to smaller, more interesting areas, and they even mentioned that they recently hung out in a castle in Colorado, with the mayor of Denver, although they didn’t go into much detail concerning why or how they were in that situation.
While they seem passionate about the record as a whole, they do appear to have their favorites, in terms of tracks. In particular, they’re rather passionate about their latest single, “Loop N Joop.” They produced the record with Dem Jointz, a famed produced that’s worked with Dr. Dre, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, and many more, in California. And if you’re confused about the song name, don’t worry, they offered a back-story. As they told me, while they were hanging out with Dem Jointz, they were talking about their home state of Colorado and their career up to that point, describing, the high energy of their shows and how they wanted to bring a record with a fun, high-energy vibe to the Colorado music scene. During their conversations, they also told Dem Jointz about the party atmosphere of their hometown, and how, although the night life isn’t as intense as larger cities, they still have one of the best party schools in the country in their state (after some research, I can confirm that The University of Colorado at Boulder is definitely in this category), and how they’re known for their house parties. Jointz came up with the phrase because it, as Hypnautic and King Tef said, evokes a feeling that counters against the general depression and “too cool” attitude that pervades the Colorado music scene. Hypnautic also noted that their special “Loop N Joop” drink is clementine flavored Svedka vodka and yellow Red Bull. Use that information however you want (Note: We do not condone or encourage underage drinking).
The video for the song does its job in amplifying the high-energy party vibe they portray with the track. Shot by A+ Films, a company that’s also shot videos for artists from Kendrick Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment, the video is the first of theirs that was shot professionally. They explained to me that, previously, they had shot their own videos and financed their own cameras and equipment due to them having their own directorial vision, along with the the lack of high-profile directors in their area. You can watch the video below:
At one point during our discussion, I voiced a question I had since I found out about the duo and where they were from: What’s it like being a rap duo from an area that’s not known to produce rappers? How were they working to put their city on the hip-hop map?
They explained to me that, despite the fact that there are more hip hop concerts there than most areas of the world, they still had to build that scene themselves. With no hometown examples to look up to, they had to figure out how to do their own shows and videos, but the people love the music so much that they were able to sell out shows. They told me that, in their area, there’s no shortage of talent, and everyone is trying to figure out what to do and how to make it because, although the fan base is rather large, that’s all they have. There’s no history of hip-hop as a base, no major outlets that push the music, no major publications based there that are dedicated to rap music, and no major radio stations looking to give rap artists an outlet to express themselves. According to Hypnautic and King Tef, they’ve had to build the scene themselves, and now they’re trying to create a culture.
But to accomplish that feat, they’ve realized that they can’t stay in their hometown forever. They told me that when they need to, they’d make the official move out of Colorado. And it’s not like they haven’t been leaving already; they already spend months at a time in LA, and they’ve come to terms with the facts that they’ll have to uproot from Colorado, due to the lack of industry and resources. They won’t forget their roots by any means; they’ll always represent Colorado, they’ll always be from Colorado, and they’ll always have a home there, but it takes the strengths of industry players and gatekeepers to create a culture. As Tef explained to me, “To try to create a culture back home, you have to be put into a culture somewhere else…to understand all parts of a culture.” They said that, in Colorado, nobody understands how stars are created. It’s an apparent fact to them that Colorado is more of a consumer state than an industry state, and because of that, they have to leave in order to develop their career to a greater extent.
To the lost, confused college students that are reading this and wondering how they can find their own path in life, Top Flite Empire have some words for you. Hypnautic believes some of the most important pieces of advice he can give to you are: follow your dreams, have fun, and don’t take yourself so seriously. Stay responsible, but have fun and stay inspired by the world around you, and don’t lose your focus.
King Tef ended our conversation on an inspiring note.
“Be you. As long as you’re yourself, more people will be attracted to you, and you’ll be way more happy. You might feel down about being yourself and you might be uncomfortable with it, but [being yourself] is a main ingredient to being successful. People want to see who you really are instead of a carbon copy of another person.”
Their EP, Bad Decisions, comes out April 1st. To find out more about the duo, check out their website, or find their music on Soundcloud.
Ryan Najjar is a student at New York University, and he craves nothing more than cheese and your attention.