Starting in late May, one of my favorite artists Naji (mad talented; mad innovative; mad underappreciated and under-the-radar; featured on WtMM last year) started dripping out singles by a collaboration project Play Nice. No other explanations; just some cover art and coy teaser statements on social media that he was cooking something up with friends during quarantine.
Even more interesting: he shared stems for the tracks and invited anyone to make their own versions. He and his crew were at home, separated, restless, and making music; why not you too?
The first single that originally caught my ear was a catchy, fun, breezy track Sweet, which talks a whole lot of shit about COVID-19: “But, my point is, ya boy was good up until corona:”
Uh, Wait /
What you mean stay at home /
Aw, all I been waiting for is /
Somewhere I've never gone /
Damn, I bought a new cologne
Fast forward and Play Nice has released a full album, Home Buddies, with the original singles plus some crowd-sourced remixes. The result is a remarkably cohesive, beat-driven, fresh-sounding record — collaboratively co-created, composed, written, mixed, and produced remotely in its entirety during quarantine (!!) by Naji, Zilo, Insightful, J.Robb, Bowtye, Tay Iwar, RNDYSVGE, with features by Biako, Benny Abel, and ESTA.
I was hooked after hearing Sweet…and stayed hooked as new singles dropped, each with a unique vibe and seeming to capture a new mood in real-time as the collaborators kicked ideas around while locked down in their various homes. Pick Up Your Phone is butter smooth and sexy modern R&B. Drnk mixes jittery, scratchy lyrics with a woozy hip-hop bass line, making for a slightly disorienting mix. Myself has a laid back, West Coast rap lean.
On a lot of the tracks, words took on new meanings because of the context in which they were released. Lyrics about a relationship falling apart on the hushed, slow-burning Distance — my favorite cut from the record — felt all that more poignant when we were all physically and socially distant from each other.
Distance myself from you body /
Myself from your loving /
Myself from the hurting.
The Play Nice crew celebrated the album release with a group Zoom on their YouTube page introducing the record and walking through the process of creating the various tracks. It was fascinating to hear stories of their remote creative process, details of how they shared tracks and ideas (Google Drive!), new things they each tried and learned, and how unique of a collaboration this project truly was.
They talk like there will be more to come, describing Home Buddies as “Season 1.” May they continue to find creative inspiration and energy from each other in these chaotic times, making more music together that charms and slams.