Experimental electronic hip hop duo H31R (pronounced heir/air) – composed of New Jersey producer/composer JWords and Brooklyn rapper/vocalist maassai – announce their latest release ‘HeadSpace’ on Ninja Tune imprint Big Dada. The album follows their exceptional debut release, 2020’s ‘ve·loc·i·ty’, which immediately caught the attention from Pitchfork, The Wire, Brooklyn Vegan, Okayplayer, Cabbages, Bandcamp and more. With the announcement, H31R share their first preview of ‘HeadSpace’ with their lead single “Backwards”, accompanied with a music video by Mike Weir.
Speaking on the music video for “Backwards”, H31R says, “Working on the visual for Backwards was a great experience and we're really glad to see our vision come to life after having the concept for so long. We got to both pay homage to creatives we admire and also create something new with it.”
Director Mike Weir adds, “When H31R approached me to do the video I was all giddy cause I loved the idea of making a video like The Pharcyde's ‘Drop’. I think we've made something special and I hope people out there enjoy it.”
‘HeadSpace’ notes a new stage of adulthood for the duo; coming to terms with a new understanding of who they are and exploring how they want to interact with the world. Like its predecessor, ‘HeadSpace’ maneuvers through its 14 tracks with blazing speed. “Glitch In Time” sets the tone for the album with gritty bass, groovy drums and quirky melodies resonating throughout. It contains moments of introspection and self-reflection on songs like “Static” and “Reflection” while the edifying diptych of “Rotation” – an oscillating track capturing the essence of dark and light – and “All Over The Place”, which transcends duality and expands to a multidimensional self, signify markers of growth. Elsewhere is “Backwards” which, despite its name, is a propulsive track that seeks to move forward from things holding someone back, and “Train of Thought”, that examines the mechanisms of thinking, starting off more concrete before gradually becoming abstract by the song’s end.
‘HeadSpace’ also features contributions from the likes of rising Chicago-based rapper and producer Semiratruth on the affirming “Glass Ceiling”, and a playful verse from Detroit-based GRAMMY-nominated producer and rapper Quelle Chris on “Down Down BB”.
H31R blends electronica and hip hop together creating an enigmatic but complementary sonic experience that pushes the fickle boundaries of genre. JWords and maassai both grew up listening to a variety of genres and later using the sounds of their youth to expand on the potential and style of their own music. It wasn’t until the two met while playing a show together in 2017 where they’d quickly become friends. JWords and maassai would come to know each other’s respective styles in production and rhyme while developing on their own projects and later build on a mutual desire to bridge the gap between hip hop and electronic music. They’d start with one-off tracks like “My Name Jack?” which would appear on maassai’s debut EP ‘C0n$truct!0n’. This ad-lib process continued with the heavy-hitting “Toxic Behavior”. With schedules opening up during the pandemic, the extra time allowed the two to hone in on their evolving sound and record their first album.
‘ve·loc·i·ty’, released in 2020, showcased a speed and grit not heard before in underground music. Its singular amalgamation of hip hop and electronic music, further characterised by flecks of jazz, juke, Jersey club and boom bap, noted a direction in music unbound by the confines of genre. The album’s enigmatic sound paired with a collage of self-affirmations caught wind from the likes of Pitchfork, The Wire, Brooklyn Vegan, Okayplayer, Cabbages and Bandcamp, who called ‘ve·loc·i·ty’ “a marvel of momentum”.
Since then, maassai released her critically acclaimed debut solo album ‘With The Shifts’ while JWords would release a steady stream of material, including three volumes of her DancePack series and 2022’s ‘Self-Connection’. The two would collaborate outside of H31R, providing production and verses to Nappy Nina’s 2021 album ‘Double Down’ and 2023’s ‘Mourning Due’. What came out of creating ‘ve·loc·i·ty’ was an understanding that they wanted to make another album. With a synergy established, the creation process for ‘HeadSpace’ would be more in sync than before and H31R would create with more intention than before.