Indianapolis Has A Hip-Hop Supergroup Now
Last summer, in the heat of the pandemic, Indy hip-hop artists Sean “Oreo” Jones, Sirius Blvck (aka Niq Askren), and Sedcairn Archives (aka David Adamson) joined forces to create the group 81355.
Although they had worked together in the past, 81355 (pronounced “bless”) gave them the opportunity to make their first start-to-finish collaboration: This Time I’ll Be of Use. Recorded in just three days, the album is simultaneously electronic and hypnotic, danceable and mystical. It’s a I-don’t-think-I’ve-heard-anything-like-this sound that Archives describes as “something kind of alien” and Blvck calls “haunting.” And then there are the lyrics—no-holds-barred reflections on the pandemic, Black struggles, and capitalism. “We talk about seeing cars on fire in the street, but it wasn’t like we went into the process wanting to touch on those things,” says Jones. “It wasn’t intentional, but we wrote this last July. The country was scorching, and you couldn’t escape everything. It was right in front of you.”
Jones, a gifted lyricist, likes to say he “makes hip-hop for people with unreasonable expectations of what hip-hop can and should be.” This Time I’ll Be of Use is no different. It’s genre-bending and uncategorizable. Is it hip-hop? Definitely. Rap? Yes. But “Anointed” is reminiscent of electronic music, and the beginning of “Thumbs Up” sounds like the default ringtone on an iPhone buried somewhere in your purse. And then there’s the opening track, “Capstone.” Blvck likens it to Jumanji, the book-turned-movie-turned-board game. “It sounds like what could play when someone finds the Jumanji game. Like, you find it and you just hear ‘Capstone’ in the back.”
After 81355 recorded the eight-song album, their manager, Michael Kaufmann, sent out the demos to a few record labels. Before starting his own artist consulting company, Kaufmann managed Asthmatic Kitty Records for a decade and helped develop Sufjan Stevens’s career. He knew how to work with globally recognized artists, so when he distributed the demos, he aimed high—and the label 37d03d (pronounced “people”) took notice. Cofounded by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, 37d03d represents more than 100 artists, including Irish singer Damien Rice. 81355’s unique blend of sounds—and the spelling of their name—appealed. Just a month after the demos went out, Kaufmann texted the group: “Yo, Justin Vernon wants to sign you guys to his label.”
Backed by a well-known label, 81355 has the potential to transcend the modestly sized local hip-hop scene. But as we learned when we sat down with them this spring, Jones, Blvck, and Archives don’t plan on leaving Indianapolis anytime soon.
So, 81355. Why the numbers?
Sedcairn Archives: The name “bless” was something I had been thinking about. I had a son recently, and I was looking for something to describe being grateful for life despite all the stuff that was going on. When I looked up “bless” and saw some other bands had used it, I went with numbers. It was the one name I tossed out, and it kind of stuck around.
What were some of the rejected names?
Oreo Jones: Some of it sounded like emo stuff. Like, early-2000s emo. [laughs]
In addition to collaborating with each other, all three of you have released your own music. What encouraged you to do this album?
Sirius Blvck: Our manager, Michael Kaufmann, presented the opportunity. He put a bug in our ear and said, “You all should just get in a room together and make an album. I think it’d be really cool.” We had always wanted to do a full record together but hadn’t had the opportunity. So when this idea came about, we all jumped at it.
OJ: It definitely helped that we were so familiar with each other. We know each other’s tendencies and sound.
SB: Yeah. I think, musically, we all have our own signature approaches. I think bringing all three of those together sounds so original because it was like a stream of consciousness. The creative process was natural and freeform and effortlessly collaborative.
How did the opportunity to work with 37d03d start?
OJ: We made the demos in late July, and we planned to record just one or two songs. But we ended up in the zone and churned out eight joints right off the bat. In three days. Michael was like, “I’m gonna send these off and see if anything transpires.” It was probably a month or so later when he told us Justin Vernon wanted to sign us to his label. I didn’t believe it. It was sort of crazy.
SB: Yeah, getting that text was really cool. I’ve been a big fan of Justin Vernon for so many years, so it was like an affirmation for me. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of opportunities that have fallen through the cracks or just didn’t pan out. It was great to hear that such an amazing artist listened to our record and actually understood it. Not only understood it, but wanted to support it.
OJ: It’s kind of serendipitous that our name is spelled numerically as well.
SB: Yeah, Kevin—one of the label managers—even said the spelling of our name was one of the things that attracted him.
Do you think Justin Vernon and the other record label managers “get” hip-hop? That’s not the genre they typically produce as musicians.
SB: Yeah, I think they do. Justin collaborated with Kanye on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He has always approached his music with a hip-hop aspect. On his last few records, he has had some hip-hop producers that produce for, you know, Lil Wayne, which is really dope.
Do you think people in Indianapolis understand that getting signed to this record label is a big deal?
OJ: I don’t know. The thing about Indianapolis is there are so many cool artists who are doing amazing things here that people don’t have any clue about. There are artists that are on national platforms and making absolute noise globally. But the average guy sitting down for breakfast at Broad Ripple Bagel Deli probably doesn’t have a clue. I don’t feel like the three of us have ever written any music that tries to get people to recognize us. That’s dope, but that’s not why we do what we do.
What’s the scope of the hip-hop scene here in Indianapolis? What should people know?
SB: In my opinion, Indianapolis has one of the strongest hip-hop scenes in the country. A lot of people say Indianapolis has cliqued up and that people don’t support each other, but I would say it’s the polar opposite. The hip-hop scene is so strong here that it has moved beyond hip-hop. It’s normal to see a punk band and hip-hop group on the same show. That just shows the strength and the camaraderie of the Indianapolis music scene. We have so many talented, off-the-charts artists doing amazing things. We have hip-hop producers who have platinum plaques and songs on Billboard right this second.
OJ: Yeah, people are pushing really hard here. When I first started, they didn’t have any venues that would cater to hip-hop. It was like pulling teeth to even get a show anywhere, you know? Now, you see hip-hop everywhere and venues respect the genre. You can have a hip-hop bill at the Hi-Fi or anywhere else.
What’s pushing Indy’s hip-hop scene forward?
OJ: The internet and our community and Chreece. And I feel like hip-hop is the most powerful genre globally. It has the most cultural influence. It breaks so many different boundaries.
You mention the Chreece hip-hop festival, which hasn’t happened since 2019. What’s the future of that?
OJ: Unfortunately, I don’t know. I’m taking each day at a time. It’s going to happen again. Like, Chreece is going to be moving forward. But I want to respect the city and the artists. We’re still in the midst of the pandemic, and we’re trying to be responsible.
If you could pick anyone to headline Chreece, who would you pick?
OJ: Ooh, I don’t know. I’d say Lil B? Kid Cudi?
SB: Yeah, I say Kid Cudi. Earl Sweatshirt would be amazing. JPEGMafia.
SA: Death Grips.
OJ: Yeah, that’d be crazy. I’ve been listening to a lot of Tierra Whack lately, too.
SB: Ooh. Love Tierra Whack so much. She’s amazing.
OJ: Or Noname. Noname would be great.
Who else do you guys listen to?
SA: I keep playing Delroy Edwards. It’s instrumental stuff from L.A. and I just love the sound. I like RP Boo and a bunch of footwork and juke stuff from Chicago. The footwork stuff took me a minute to get into. It was like a drum pattern that confused me at first. But once it clicked with me, it was something I wanted to hear forever. I mean, I could probably just turn on a drum machine and listen to it play.
OJ: I don’t listen to hip-hop all the time. I feel like real rappers don’t listen to rap a lot, if that makes sense. As an artist, I like to decompress and listen to something completely different.
Any other creative escapes?
SA: Music is really it for me, and it’s hard to find time for it. I have work and other stuff to do. So when I finally get to it, it rushes out and it’s a big relief. It’s one of the things that makes life worth living, you know?
What events or struggles will listeners recognize in your lyrics?
OJ: I remember writing some of this record last summer and hearing choppers out my bedroom window. So that was on my mind. What we wrote mirrors the things we see in our community. When we listened back, it was like, “Oh, yeah, this is painful and hopeful and all those things that go through our mind as Black people.”
So Indianapolis influenced the song writing?
SB: Oh yeah. Everything.
OJ: Indianapolis is always on our mind.
Are you attached to any particular song on the album?
SB: “Hard 2 Find” is one that I feel encompasses all three of us so perfectly. The verses are short and sweet, but they’re powerful. And the hook is just haunting. “Through a Portal” is one of my favorites as well, just because I love that outro so much.
SA: “Capstone” really hit me hard listening to it after we got the mix back. It felt mystical.
Speaking of “Capstone,” in the music video, you guys are being buried alive. What inspired that?
SB: After we recorded the album, we all went back to a hotel and had some beers. I remember being like, “Hey, I have this idea for a video: We dig a grave and then we have other people bury us alive, and then we rap the song.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, sure.” Well, little did I know, they were devising a plan to make sure that this actually happened. We sent our ideas to the director, Matty McMahon, and he kind of ran with it.
The video has a Blair Witch vibe, and it sounds kind of ethereal and haunting. How did you come up with that sound?
SA: I was chasing something kind of alien. I sent Sean and Niq some loops and clips and beats to get things started. We were texting back and forth, little ideas. Eventually, we listened to them together, wrote together, and figured out where things needed to be extended or removed. We were talking that out all the way through to the final recording session.
Do you handle all the arrangements and instrumentation?
SA: We all worked on the arrangements together. Oreo does a lot of instrumentation, but I’ve been handling all the music and beats. On this record, there’s an instrument called the Suzuki Q-Chord. It has a ribbon sensor, so you actually play it by running your finger up and down it. It just has a neat sound.
What challenges have you had to go through, either as a group or as individuals, to get to this point?
OJ: Being a musician is a lot of trial and error. You’re always trying to find your way and be heard. We’ve played shows where there are hundreds of people. And then you go to another state, and you’re playing to a bartender and the door guy. But that uncertainty is what makes it beautiful.
Did those challenges influence the album name?
OJ: I was thinking about how we’ve been doing this for a decade. We’ve been doing this for so long that maybe, after all the hard work, this time it will work out. It’s also about choosing to see things differently, you know? I’m choosing to make the most of things. It’s kind of like an affirmation. We are so fortunate to be able to be part of the conversation and to be artists. That’s where the idea of This Time I’ll Be of Use came from.
Do you have any plans to tour?
OJ: Yeah, we’re definitely hitting the road. I can’t confirm when that’s going to be a thing, but we’re definitely touring.
If 81355 blows up, will you stay in Indy?
OJ: For sure.
SB: Indianapolis is in our bones. We’re not going anywhere. This is the hub. This is where we have a foundation. These are our people. Why reach up when you can reach out?
Random question. Have any of you watched the TV show Dave, which is created by rapper Lil Dicky?
OJ: Oh, that show’s awesome. It’s so good. I feel like it touches on a lot of themes that rappers go through, trying to navigate the craziness of it all. I love the character GaTa and his grasp of mental illness. It’s a great show, and I’m looking forward to Season 2.
All of you have a stage name or persona. Are there moments when you have to differentiate yourself from those?
SB: Personally, I’m a father. I have a 6-year-old daughter who runs the world, and in between that, I get to make music and do dope shit with my friends. Sirius Blvck is different from Niq in the sense that, when I hop on stage, I lock it. But as soon as I hop off stage, that’s me, you know? If I stepped into my regular life with that intensity, I probably wouldn’t get very far.
OJ: When I was younger, I kind of struggled with that. Now, it’s to the point where I turn it on and turn it off. Like Niq said, when I’m Oreo Jones, I’m locked in. But I’m just Sean when it’s me hanging out with my friends and family. I don’t let the ego get all crazy.
Sedcairn Archives, you’ve gone by “Moose” for much of your career. Where did that nickname come from?
SA: Oh, that goes way back.
SB: I want to hear this.
OJ: I don’t even think I know this.
SA: This is going to be embarrassing. It was just this silly goof. I think we were at Bonnaroo. We had a campsite, me and some friends. And there was another group next to us that was throwing Frisbees around. There was a member of that group named “Moose,” and we thought that was really funny. So we were like, “All right, we gotta have a Moose so we can be yelling ‘Moose!’ all the time.” And I was like, “I’ll be Moose.”
Fill in the blank. “Our new album is dope and you should listen to it because _____.”
OJ: It’s something you’ve never heard before. It’s not hard to replicate things in 2021, but I honestly believe the sound on this album is something no one in the city has come across before. You can’t pinpoint any genre on it.
SB: All the influences are woven together so beautifully. We worked our asses off, and I think our album is significant because I was really rapping on that motha’. [laughs]
OJ: Yeah, we were rapping our asses off.Before the record came out, I was kind of struggling internally with who I was as an artist. Like, “What am I going to do next?” This snapped me out of it.