They Hate Change aren’t gonna be Bedroom Rap All-Stars for long. Despite the way they introduce themselves on their breakthrough tape, 666 Central Ave., and despite the assurances they gave during our interview, they’re about to be too damn big to be recording in a small bedroom. It’s inevitable. They’ve been in Tampa Bay’s underground rap scene for a number of years, but it was 666, released last year around this time, that introduced them to a much wider audience. Their blend of crank and jook music, which takes its DNA from Miami bass, became a nice springboard for them to experiment within a number of rap sub-genres. It was an invigorating sound, both familiar and unlike anything else in rap.
The duo of Vonne and Andre first started building their sound by playing any show they could get. DIY shows, house shows, shows with punk bands, shows with anyone who could have them. They learned to make music that anyone could have fun to, and slowly, they started building their studio sound around this ethos. Granted, this is still definitively capital-r Rap music, but there’s an inventiveness and laissez-faire attitude to genre that is thrilling. They gained an even greater knowledge of the shared strands of music through DJ’ing, actively analyzing what worked and why.
All this studying led up to 666, which was successful enough to gain the attention of indie stalwart Jagjaguwar. To celebrate the announcement, they released “Faux Leather,” a track that, in their words, is a summation of everything they’ve done so far. They’re right.
The label isn’t known for fostering rap talent, and when I asked if the duo was concerned, they both laughed me off. They were stoked. They got Small Black to sign some vinyl for them. They would help facilitate Jagjaguwar’s dive into an eclectic rap scene of which they would be the centerpiece. They didn’t say this, exactly, but it’s easy to imagine them introducing indie rock fans to their fascinating style of rap. Regardless, next time we talk, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rang in from a lush studio, and not a Tampa bedroom. Though one thing everyone needs to know about They Hate Change is that they run shit exactly as they want to. It’s the key to their success: a strict adherence to the vision. That shit is 20/20. – Will Schube
For someone who may not be familiar, can you talk about what the Tampa rap scene is like these days and what it was like growing up in it?
Vonne: When I was growing up, basically around the time when I met Dre–14, 15–I was in a group that was basically modeled after Rich Kids from Atlanta, you know them? I would say the scene was that, but there was also this genre locally called crank music, also known as jook music, but not like Chicago jook music. That was a genre derived from Miami bass, it’s sort of club oriented, but based around breaks, which is Herman Kelly’s drummer’s beat.
That’s the main break, so you put that break with anything and now you have a crank song basically, with some Miami bass sorta vocal chops and shit in there. So that was the scene that I grew up in. It was this teen night scene, basically just adult clubs but all 18 and under type shit. A real kind of gully scene I’d say. That was really what it was like, me and my group bouncing around at teen night circuits. But then, that sort of died around 2010, right when people were making that move from MySpace to other platforms, that whole scene died, because I think it was really being propped up by MySpace in a huge way. That was how everyone operated in terms of songs, putting songs out, booking shows, all that stuff was through there.
So when MySpace went away, that scene went away. From there the Tampa scene went to, sort of like what people now are calling blog rap. That’s kind of what it became and it was a lot of kids that were trying to shy away from the classic Tampa sound and where like “I wanna show n***as that Tampa is more than jook music and shit!” That was what the scene turned into, and that’s basically the scene where They Hate Change entered.
When me and Dre started getting out into the scene, that was the state of the scene at the time. From there that scene got a little bit more experimental as we started to put our hat in the ring, things like that. From there you had sort of a separation of scenes, you know the Tampa Bay area is three kind of cities, it’s Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater. There are some others but those are the main three, and the scene was really based in Tampa and St. Pete. Tampa was really more of the hip hop side of things and St. Pete was more of the indie rock and other kind of weirder music. So during our time in the scene we kind of toed the line between those two scenes. We were the artists who would bounce between both, you know?
What do you think it was about Central Ave that elevated your status in the rap world more than any other record?
Andre: That was us getting near the final form of what we’ve been trying to do and aim the listeners towards, so I think it was a peak moment for us.
Vonne: Creatively, we hit a certain point where we really figured out the thing we’d been trying to do. We’d had those albums before but then in 2019 we put out three EPs and those all were kind of building this sound we were working towards, and then Central Ave is where we really hit it, where we really figured it out. But I think also that and a combination of other, little outside influences.
How soon after that record came out did Jagjaguwar start calling?
Andre: It was really during when COVID was hittin, it was really blurry, everything’s a blur as far as the exact dates.
So how did that conversation start?
Vonne: That conversation started from our manager, Max. He knew them in some sort of way and started sending them records, and they really liked them. But there wasn’t really crazy movement or whatever, it was just, “yeah we loved them this is great!” There was a certain point where they got a little hot on us, and we asked Max why it was, and he was like “they thought that y’all were like in a long deal with godmode, who put out Central Avenue. They didn’t know y’all were available.” So once they figured out we were available, they decided to take a chance on us.
Was there any hesitation from y’all to sign with a label that isn’t known for rap music?
Vonne: Nope. [Chuckles]
Andre: Nope! I can give a short answer…nope! Even when we are doing our live shows, eight times out of ten we’re probably the only rap act there. But it doesn’t necessarily matter to us, it’s just more so an opportunity for us to continue doing what we’ve been doing.
Vonne: That’s the stuff we listen to too. We listen to stuff from the label that they might have been surprised to know. Like when we first started talking to them we knew the catalog.
Has anything changed with the way you guys go about creating music? Has anything changed since you signed with the label or are you still doing things the exact same way you’ve done it?
Vonne: Bedroom rap all-stars.
I was gonna ask if you guys were able to remain bedroom rap all-stars while signing to a massive indie label but it seems like you guys are still able to do that.
Vonne: Yeah, for sure.
Andre: Yup. Bedroom rap all-stars.
Vonne: That was such an important thing for us. In talking to them, like Dre said earlier, we really wanted to make sure that we could keep doing what we’ve been trying to do. Because we feel like we’re onto something and we feel like we’ve got something and maybe it just hasn’t had the right push. So let’s just keep doing what we’re doing, and maybe we’ll add some little tweaks here and there to up the production or whatever the case may be. We can use the resources at hand to make this thing a little bit better, but overall we remain the bedroom rap all-stars.
Y’all are getting ready to tour in the fall with Shame. What’s your approach towards touring with a punk band that’s not in the same lane as you are?
Vonne: I imagine it is gonna be exactly the same as how all of our shows were locally. The thing about They Hate Change is we come out of that DIY background.
Vonne: Obviously we played in the Tampa hip hop scene of course, that’s where we got our performance chops. But when we couldn’t really play the hip hop shows, or when people weren’t fuckin with us or whatever, we were definitely in the DIY spaces. We’re talking house shows and warehouses and backyards and garages and wherever, and all of those were just bands. Bands and noise groups. So those are the crowds we’re used to rocking. Those are the lineups that we’re used to playing on. Even when we did a small DIY tour at the beginning of 2020, there were no rappers. We went down to Miami and played with Palomino Blonde. We played with a band called Even Less Friends up in Fort Myers. This is like fifth wave emo stuff or whatever, but that’s the type of shit we play on a lineup with. I think we can play any venue, any lineup, with any artist.
Andre: It’s not even from a confidence standpoint. Our production has afforded us that luxury there. All praise to the music.
Is it just natural that you guys like a bunch of different shit? Is it conscious or is it just kinda how you guys roll always?
Vonne: We do fuck with a lot of different shit for sure. We definitely listen to a lot of different shit. I think that that manifested itself in us trying a lot of different things, but at first we would kind of relegate it to side projects. We would experiment around with house music but we would just put it out under a different name. Or we’d experiment with jungle and put that out under a different name. Whatever genre, whether it was noise or what have you, we would experiment with all that stuff because we liked all of it, we listened to all of it, so we wanted to try our hand at it, but we would always put it to the side. We wouldn’t put it out as They Hate Change.
But, our experience in the scene DJ’ing, that kind of made us go, ‘Shit, we could really put all that stuff together in one live set, and we started doing that.’ And once we started killing shows by putting all of our genre experiments together in a live set, we realized we could make the recorded music sound like this. We can have this thing where we have this fluid genre we’re working in that bounces between all these different places.
How did “Faux Leather” come about and why was that song chosen to come with the announcement of the new label and the tour?
Andre: We might have two different takes, but I kind of see it as a glimpse as to what’s to come, almost like a sampler, if you will, for future They Hate Change releases. It’s also just a friendly reminder to a lot of listeners and newcomers as well that we’ve been here and we’re swinging for the fences so we got to continue that momentum as well.
Vonne: You hear the codes for everything we’ve been doing in that song. So it’s this bridge from what came before and, like Dre said, what’s yet to come.
I was wondering if you could just reflect on the past year. Do you let yourselves take a step back and look at how far you’ve come or do you not let yourselves be tempted by counting your chips too early?
Vonne: Probably two different takes on this too. For me, that step back moment happens when we finished actually signing this deal. We got together and we celebrated, popping bottles and shit like that, having fun. That’s the moment where we reflect like damn, we came a long way. Each time we do something we kind of reflect on it right then I would say, but when the music making is going on we don’t really have time to look at stuff like that. As soon as something happens, like after this interview, me and Dre are gonna be in the chat probably going crazy like damn that was wild, but that’s probably the extent of it.
How close are you guys with the new record? Do you have an idea of what you want to make with the record or are you still in the beginning stages?
Vonne: We know what we want to do for sure. We’ve known what we’ve wanted to do since like 2016.
Andre: Central Avenue was the first time we had recorded stuff that we had never performed live before, which was pretty interesting. Usually that process would be reversed. As far as future releases, we’re definitely in tune and still gathering more information along the way.
Vonne: The overall picture is definitely there. Like Dre said, we would work out songs that we wanted to record, all that stuff would be worked out live first. So for those 2019 EPs, most of those songs had existed for years, and they were just in the live sets, just being performed live until we felt like, ‘Okay this is a joint now, we can really record it.’ The sound is something we’ve been working towards for a long time. Now that we’ve got it, we’ve got to give you that fullest version of it, that fully realized version.