'Lovesick Animal Online' and the return of Nazeem & Spencer Joles as Blood $moke Body


Blood $moke Body - Nazeem and Spencer Joles
Blood $moke Body are Nazeem and Spencer Joles (Braden Doucette)

When their 2017 project, Years of Obscurity, came out, Nazeem and Spencer Joles were in a dark place. Full of youthful angst and anger, and high on life and the influence of heavy drugs, they knew things had to change. To use their words, they were on a path towards an early death, so they took a break … a three-year break, to be exact.

During that time, they reflected on their past and the path that they were walking down. This break turned out to be precisely what they needed to steer them back on the right path. Instead of bottling things up as many young men do, they reflected and worked on inhabiting positive habits. They used that vulnerability to create their new album, Lovesick Animal Online, and released it as Blood $moke Body.

I sat down with Nazeem and Spencer Joles for a journey down memory lane. We discussed their latest album and their journey towards sobriety.

How did the two of you initially meet?

Nazeem: We met at Anthony Middle School [in southwest Minneapolis] and just started doing freestyle jokes. In high school, he started out at Washburn and I was at Southwest, but then he transferred and we had Spanish class and that's when it all started.

Spencer: We rapped under the stairwell during lunch, having cyphers.

Nazeem: We just had violent raps working on things that would make every scream.

How'd you evolve from high school raps to becoming a duo?

Spencer: It happened very naturally. I did two semesters at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I remember making beats at the time, and I made one that was cool. It was this song called "January 1st." I sent it to Nazeem, and he wrote some sick couple verses to it and people liked it when he put it out.

I was like, "Screw this, I'm dropping out." Instantly we started making songs, and Nazeem was doing shows, and soon we had songs that became the first mixtape and then we were always performing together.

It has been three years since you've dropped Years of Obscurity; what made you take a three-year break?

Nazeem: We were living in our recording studio. In that time, we were transforming to living as normal people. So, we got a house. We were still making music, but we were still picking ourselves up by the bootstraps.

Spencer: Wasn't a complete break from music, we were still doing a bunch of shows after dropping the mixtape. We were getting really intoxicated for that mixtape, so that's why we took a little bit of a break.

What did dialing back and rehab look like for you, after having been so accustomed to consuming heavy drugs?

Spencer: We started dialing back in the beginning of [our mixtape] Years of Obscurity. Nazeem went completely sober. I didn't have the strength to go all the way. We just quit doing hard drugs.

Nazeem: We went out every single night, and so we stopped doing that. We were living in our studio, so recording every day, watching lots of movies and playing video games.

Spencer: It was transitioning into more sustainable tendencies. There was a spiritual meditation where you take away music and you wonder what existence means and get closer to an understanding of what this is. I think maturing comes with meditation and finding things that you have to give up that will be good for you in the long run.

Nazeem: Old Spencer and Nazeem were on a path to an early death. Every time we make music, it's different than the last time. There will be times where they could get the same feeling, but it's changing … We were hungry in Years of Obscurity.

Spencer: Sometimes it can be uncomfortable. We're a lot less likely to die right now. Just from that physical change, there was some residual and mental change that informed us differently, and musically, things changed.

Blood Smoke Body
Blood $moke Body are Nazeem and Spencer Joles (Liban Mahamoud)

Right now, the world is in disarray with COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, what motivated you to think that now was the best time to release your new album, Lovesick Animal Online?

Spencer: There wasn't complete perfect timing … I was looking on Instagram and there was a post that the album was coming in October and it was in 2018. We had renamed the album like 20 times. We had thought of releasing it before corona.

Nazeem: The album is very reflective, as you listen-by-yourself type of project, so the timing is probably really good. It's definitely a good time.

What was the creative process behind the sound and vibe of the album? It's a little dialed back in tempo and absurdity than Years of Obscurity.

Spencer: It had been pretty recent after Years of Obscurity, in our studio, there's a locked room where you work on stuff and it has a TV. Nazeem was playing Joni Mitchell and we said we've got to do something with this kind of vibe, but rap more. We were listening to Alabama Shakes around that time. We were just influenced by extra things. We still kept influences from Lil Wayne and stuff.

Nazeem: It felt like fall when we were making a lot of this stuff too. We were writing less and saying this stuff first. We had a real relaxed recording process.

Spencer: Metaphorically and lyrically breaking down what we wanted.

How would you describe how the both of you work as a duo?

Nazeem: "Black Velvet" on the album, [Spencer] had the beat, and I remember throughout the week I had certain stories I wanted to write about. I had the ideas that I wanted to say. So, we got together and talked about past experiences.

Spencer: Sometimes I have a beat or sometimes I'll just start a beat, and Nazeem will think about some stuff and see how we can grow from that. We sometimes carve something with the hook. We might sometimes just go do free expression or whatever word comes to mind, and then how do we balance what we want to say and melodies.

Talk to me about growing into yourself and how that influenced the mood and lyricism of Lovesick Animal Online.

Nazeem: In the past, I would rap good or say crazy stuff. With this album, I wanted to be more relatable and less abstract.

Spencer: For me, a lot of times I would write as a character, and this album was more about how I really felt. It's weird listening to it now, because this was about a year ago, and I'm even more different now. It's hard to be reflective on yourself about real situations. I remember the first songs we made, it was in my mom's basement, and then we'd just write. The instrumentation and language of the music-making process has improved.

What are your favorite songs off the album and why?

Nazeem: "Black Velvet." It's the most recent one we did and got to tell funny stories. I like "These Days," with lots of singing and lots of emotions.

Spencer: "Sabotage," because Nazeem's verse is so cool and honest on that. I remember making that song, and I was at a sh*tty point, and I was like, "I need to make a song about this." Also, "Black Velvet" is the most recent one and I'm less sick of it.

Nazeem: I love songs after I just make it. I still love it, but the more you listen you start to hate it.

Spencer: I mix the songs, so it feels like a burden, you learn to appreciate songs as time goes by.

How have your fans and peers been responding to your return?

Spencer: Positive. They appreciate the vulnerability that the album made them feel better as a person. Making positive impact is a treat. Anytime someone has something genuine to say, it's super cool. There's been lots of people that reached out and said some sweet things. I had some concerns that this might be too weird for people, so it's been great.

Nazeem: I've had people crying off the album, it's been great.

Was it your goal to make us feel sentimental and nostalgic?

Nazeem: That's what we wanted to do, having music that takes you back. As listeners to music, that's what we like.

Spencer: Lots has changed in the world, in the cities, but even in a matter of years. It's starkly different. The feeling of nostalgia gets closer and closer the older you get. I don't know if it's getting older or the changes around us, like technology, that makes things feel further away. There are some things that are cooler now and other things that are kind of sad.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Hip-Hop in the Twin Cities?

Nazeem: Hip-Hop in the Twin Cities has come very far, but it will go even further. I think that it needs us in a sense, since we have a lot to provide. I'm happy to see other artists making strange music. Musically, we can provide inspiration and new ideas, new flows, melodies, just put it on a level that nobody thought it could be. That's what I want to see.

Spencer: The album was surprisingly indicative of that for us, figuring out how to push the boundary of feeling the need to inhabit a certain personality that is kind of adjacent to what we expect from a rapper or "cool" artist musician, but still be vulnerable. I think that's really cool.

In terms of the scene, it's almost a perfect place. Minneapolis and St. Paul are getting more of a spotlight, but it's still an underdog. You'll see a lot of experimental stuff and taking risks and mostly just having fun. There's lots of people having fun.

Nazeem: We got to make music for kids to listen to, shape their lives and whatnot.

Any local and national artists y'all would love to collab with?

Nazeem: Kanye and Solange would be cool. I got a cousin that goes by Bookie that's cold. I would like to make some songs with him. Ghostface comes to mind. We're pretty open, we'll collab with anyone.

Spencer: Totally. A Stevie Wonder collab would be cool … It's fun to see someone's style that differs from yours and see what that looks like. We like collabing with Student 1. We would like to collab Dua and Astrolab. Joni Mitchel would be dope.

COVID-19 has limited the possibility to have a concert or proper album-release project, so what comes next for the album?

Spencer: More music videos for sure. It's harder to get people together, it requires us to have to adapt in terms of creative stuff for video stuff. We want to be really good. I feel like there's lots to do. We have so many songs that are close to being done, so I'm ready to release a couple music videos from the album and then have lots of new stuff.

Nazeem: I'm just excited for new stuff from here on out.

Spencer: Would've been nice to have a tour, but [Covid-19] gives us time to get smarter and wiser on how we want to do that and progress.

Major love to Spencer Joles and Nazeem for making time to talk to me about their rehab and the release of their latest album. You can stream Lovesick Animal Online on Soundcloud and all streaming platforms.

Jeffrey Bissoy is a former assistant producer at MPR News. Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, raised in The Twin Cities and now based in Mexico City, Jeffrey has grown a passion for representation and identity, Hip-Hop, and the impact of sports on society. He's also the host of the podcast — The Come-Up — which stays current with the NBA when the season is on.

External Links

Blood $moke Body - Soundcloud

Blood $moke Body - Twitter

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  • Blood $moke Body - Nazeem and Spencer Joles
    Nazeem and Spencer Joles of Blood $moke Body (Liban Mahamoud)