The internet has its fair share of rapper success stories. In the mid-00’s, Soulja Boy basically bombarded unsuspecting Limewire users with his infamous “Crank Dat” track by sharing files named after popular songs at the time (such as Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” or 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop”) that were secretly his.
Toward the latter half of the 00’s, Tyler the Creator found his solo success through Tumblr and distinct imagery, hyping the popularity through reblogs and social media shares. Oakland rapper Lil B created a massive pool of music he uploaded via various MySpace pages, and eventually YouTube, earning himself a cult following by making stream-of-conscious, often bizarre songs that ultimately shaped his charismatic persona, and earned him his own task force.
On the flip side of the coin of success stands two nerds who have uploaded music onto the internet purely for catharsis: Kill Bill and Rav. Far from Soulja Boy, but from the same internet era, the duo initially met by way of Newgrounds.com, a flash game website that also featured a popular community forum in which both rappers would upload their music for other users to hear and critique.
The beauty (and danger) of being a teenager on the internet means there are no filters when talking with strangers, and on paper, the two shouldn’t have met. Bill was born in Charleston, South Carolina, while Rav was raised in the USSR until age six, where he began moving around the globe. The two had similar aspirations for making music, but their early musical escapades differed in color.
Developing an Early Love for Music
“I got into music through Michael Jackson, into poetry thanks to Pushkin, and then my whole world was flipped on its head the day I discovered A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders,” Rav told Leafly. “The kids in my school wanted to grow up to be doctors and lawyers, but I wanted to be Q-Tip. I started writing lyrics when I was 8 and recording freestyles on cassette tapes when I was 11.”
“When I was like 12, I played guitar and wanted to be in a rock band but didn’t know anyone else who played any instruments,” Bill explained. “I ended up copping this Xbox game called MTV Music Generator 3 that let you sample off of CDs and gradually got more into making beats and rap stuff. I got that Lil Jon album, Crunk Juice, and my life spiraled into wanting to be a rapper from that point on.”
The two were working on their earliest music separately but sharing their raps on Newgrounds’ message boards. They formed a bond with Scuare, another rapper who used Newgrounds as a swingboard, and would later join them in creating a small independent imprint, Exordium Music. The label became a way Rav and Bill could release music that was tonally similar, and without major forces or budgets behind them.
Other artists EXO would enlist included: video game developer (and drum worker for the beloved Cartoon Network series Steven Universe) and rapper Rekcahdam, weirdo beatsmith and horrorcore artist datacat, Ashido Brown—who Rav met through the infinite talent pool that is SoundCloud—and Airøspace, who both Bill and Rav consider an underground legend cut from the same internet-era cloth.
“We all inspire and motivate each other,” Rav explained about Exordium, who recently just shifted to a multi-media brand named EXOCIETY. “We didn’t really like each other that much at first over some pretty petty stuff,” Bill revealed about his earliest years knowing Rav, “but he got dragged into a Skype call that I was in and we realized pretty quickly that we could make each other laugh and we started talking more regularly after that. Fast forward a few years, and dude is staying at my apartment while we worked on my first record together. Kinda crazy how that worked out.”
Today, Rav and Bill continue to work on music, respectively, and in the same way they’ve always approached it. “Honestly for me, not much has changed other than the fact that there are more people listening now,” Bill revealed to Leafly. “I still get the same satisfaction out of recording and producing music that I did when I first started doing it. It’s super therapeutic to sit down and write about your problems and escape from everything for a while.”
Building a Cult Following in Lo-fi Hip-hop
That sense of escapism is how the two artists gathered a cult following over the last decade of their careers. Rav’s debut solo LP, Beneath the Toxic Jungle, released in 2015 and stands as a solid bedroom rap record that details a recounting of an anxious headspace and the tail-end of a four year long battle with depression.
As if the pastel illustrated album cover weren’t a warning enough, anime is theme-laced throughout the entire project, while instrumentals blur between lush and jazzy-tinged productions, and warm vinyl cracklings sitting beneath nostalgic vocal samples. Kill Bill’s solo debut, Ramona, dished out love songs written to women reminiscent of manic pixie girl trope Ramona Flowers of Scott Pilgrim fame, pumped with melodic hooks, smoothed out instrumentals and surprisingly sweet bars.
Of course, the two have worked on countless songs before releasing proper albums. Rav first made waves in 2012 with his EP Hyperkinesis, which gained some attention from publications such as The Needle Drop and Chemistry Magazine. Bill and other EXO colleagues have collaborated within, through countless samplers, albums, loosie tracks, and feature on each other’s albums and EPs. The breadcrumbs of music left by Rav, Kill Bill, datacat, Rekcahdam, Airospace, and Scuare can be found scattered about SoundCloud, YouTube, and Bandcamp, either uploaded by each artist themselves, EXO’s account page, or by hungry, eager fans.
In today’s internet age, the duo, and perhaps by way of crossover, some of EXO, could easily be lumped into the coffee shop/study vibes of the lo-fi hip-hop scene. Their anime album covers and constant use of crackly, nostalgic samples remind of similar aesthetics and trendy music scenes. Their nerdy sensibilities and obsession with retro gaming stylings might be familiar, but the comparisons don’t seem to bother the two.
“I understand that a lot of these pop culture and anime references have become hip in subgenres of internet-based music now, but I also think that trying to fit into a scene by pretending to be something you’re not is kind of silly,” Bill says. “I understand it, though. But it’s just not how we operate, and I think most people can tell we are dweebs without trying to be.” Bill pauses. “Wait…”
“I think people will always seek out relatable authenticity, and we just so happen to be at the forefront of the new tide,” Rav assures me.
In addition to pumping out raps like there’s no tomorrow and running EXOCIETY, both Rav and Bill have been producing a podcast called “WeDon’tSuck.” The show began around the same time the two rappers were invited to LA as guests on the SuperMegaCast, which seemed to boost their fame even further.
From Podcasts to Cannabis Inspiration
“We actually dabbled with podcasting years before we started doing it consistently, and we even had the same intro and all back then, too,” Rav told Leafly. “It’s just another fun, creative outlet for us. What’s wild is that now it’s almost like we have two separate audiences. Sure, there’s lots of crossover, but some people legitimately refer to us as YouTubers, which is definitely something that’s going to take us time to get used to.”
Of course, the two rappers wouldn’t be able to deal with their stressors without the aid of cannabis, which is supplemental to their music, podcasting, and personal lives. “Honestly, my favorite strain is Gelato,” Bill tells Leafly. “Like, it smells so good I almost feel bad about smoking it. But lately I’ve just been fucking with concentrates. I have this Grape Ape cartridge that helps me sleep. I feel like at the right time it definitely puts me in a zone that helps with creativity, too.”
“On some real shit, I constantly have trouble with paying attention,” says Rav. “Weed helps me hyper-focus on what matters most in the moment. This is especially helpful when writing music, as it allows me to let go of concerns rooted in tired self-analysis. I try to apply myself in similar ways when writing sober now too, but this approach is definitely something that I came to during a stoned moment of clarity. Mango Kush, Blue Dream, and GSC are among my favorite strains.”
Thanks to recent success, the rappers have been able to ease up on their full-time jobs to provide more attention and focus to creative endeavors. EXOCIETY is EXO’s next logical evolution, as the label shifts from being a net-label to something of a media powerhouse. In addition to music and podcasting, EXOCIETY is promising a next phase of creative projects and, finally, a way for EXO to get back what they’ve been putting in for over a decade.
“We’d curated a fairly substantial audience of dedicated listeners over the years, and finally got to a point where we thought it made sense to start operating in a more legit way,” Rav says of EXOCIETY. “Up until now, we’ve been more of a net-label/collective of artists, and although at core we are still a brotherhood of hand-picked rappers, we’re now forming a company through which we intend to handle merchandising. We’ve got vinyl, apparel, and more in the works now, and can’t wait to really kick this shit off.”
As the duo’s fan base grows steadier by the week, and the onslaught of memes, Discord users and YouTube views continues to rise—Rav and Bill have an exciting 2019 ahead of them.