Tampa duo They Hate Change may rep their hometown hard, but from Skins to A Certain Ratio, they’re more than a little enamoured with British culture. The rap agitators trace the journey that’s led to their nostalgia-laden debut album.
“Sorry ‘bout that, got tied up a bit! We try to do everything in a timely fashion,” Dre – one half of Tampa rap duo They Hate Change – tells me, despite being only a few minutes late for our chat.
It’s clear from the jump that the pair – whose chaotic bedroom-made rap reflects a record store’s worth of influences – have a philosophy that revolves around respect. They’re DIY-orientated, meticulous and move with a specific set of values (that include being punctual for interviews). There’s little ego to be seen, just polite confidence. That confidence is well-earned; their electric output recently caught the attention of label Jagjaguar (Angel Olsen, Junglepussy, Sharon Van Etten), who will be releasing their debut album on May 13, and they’re supporting post-punk band Shame on tour in North America this year.
Dre met bandmate Vonne around a decade ago when he moved from a small town in upstate New York to Gulf coast city Tampa. The hyper-local scenes of the South inspired Andre to produce his own beats alongside Vonne, and using FL Studio, the two experimented with local and global influences, researching how music cultures around the world evolved in tiny towns. Did they know theirs would become such a long lasting professional and personal friendship?
“My first impression of Dre when we were kids was that he was funny,” Vonne says with a smile. “We were only like 15. The first time we had a real interaction, I definitely saw his humour. That was it, for me.”
“Everyone was hanging out at the apartment complex we used to live in. I noticed Vonne because they were somebody who had the same appreciation for this type of music,” Dre offers. “It was like deep diving into really detailed levels of sound. It wasn’t even that they just liked the same type of artists, it was that they had such a layered understanding of why. We overanalysed the same exact things, music-wise.”
“We had a pretty similar upbringing,” Vonne adds. “We came up in our teen years in the same apartment complex. Family wise, I grew up like an only child because my sibling is much older than me. I don’t necessarily think that was Dre’s experience.”
“I’m the middle child, and I’m more so of an older brother. I would say that Vonne has more of a Southern charm that I do,” Andre says, good-naturedly.
The duo seem to see the best in each other, even years later. “Both of us can turn it on whenever we need to,” Vonne explains. “We can be the Type A type of personality but it takes a lot of energy for us to do that. We can’t do that shit all day: always being on. We definitely have our reclusive moments.”
This comment strikes me as curious, given how explosive their music is. From their mile-a-minute raps and charismatic flow, you’d never know Vonne and Andre have moments of silence in their lives at all. The American production/rap duo have an impressive body of work together, spanning their 2017 EP Meters, 2018 LP Now, and Never Again and 16-track album Cycles, 2019’s Clearwater & Juices Run Clear – plus 2020’s Maneuvers and 666 Central Ave EPs. Track after raw track, they go hard with frenetic beats that dip into the East Coast US hip-hop that Andre was raised on.
Not content to stick to one genre, the pair have garnered a reputation for exploring the hyperlocal bass-music variants like jook (the Gulf Coast’s unique answer to house) and crank (think “Miami bass meets NOLA bounce”) that Vonne grew up on. Drum ‘n’ bass, Chicago footwork, post-punk, prog, grime, krautrock and emo are also on the agenda. Given their love of rare and radical sounds, isn’t They Hate Change an ironic moniker?
“No one really asks us about that,” Vonne laughs. “As people started to hear the music, I think our name clicked. In the early stages of us producing music, we felt like we were doing something that people weren’t willing to hear. They weren’t getting on board with what we were doing because we approached things in an alternate way. We even dressed differently, and that’s the way we stamped it.”
On a high with anticipation for their debut album release, the journey towards dropping the Finally, New LP has been years in the making. Its vision has been formed from an eclectic range of genres an artists, from happy hardcore, street soul, jungle, UK garage and grime to pivotal UK acts like Goldie, Brian Eno, D Double E and Dizzee Rascal. Robin Hannibal, DJ Rashad, Rock Marciano, Yoko Ono, Neneh Cherry, D’Angelo, SWV, Washed Out, Clipse, Harmonia, Bobby Humprey, Z-Money also made it onto the band’s playlists.
“The pattern of influence has been years long, honestly,” Vonne explains. “It started when we learned how to DJ and put together different genres in a live setting. We made our shows like that too. We laid the foundation for this album in 2019. We wrote out exactly what we wanted to do. At that point, we knew we were going to pull from these genres and put them together in this way. We knew how many tracks we wanted. We knew we wanted those collaborators on the album. It was all there.”
“We made sure this is the most honest work that we’ve done,” Andre says, with verve. “We put out three EPs but were itching to make that big full-length album… And we didn’t want to play this ‘new act’ role because we don’t hide from our past at all. We wanted to make sure that we kept waving the flag we flew from the beginning.”
The album delves deep into how the internet breaks down borders and allows for even more incredible homegrown DIY music. Each part of the record was written, produced and recorded in a 150-square-foot bedroom in “the least cool city you can think of,” the duo say. Still, Andre and Vonne are endlessly loyal to their hometown.
“When it comes to Tampa, there’s so much music people are missing out on,” Andre exclaims. “Cool stuff is also happening here! The connection that Vonne has with this city is completely different to me, but there’s that same urge to show what’s here.”
“It was really important for me to say where the ethos of our hometown aesthetic or local vibe came from,” Vonne says. “I saw the local legends being created and I saw what they did in the spotlight. They didn’t abandon the city or their morals. We took that same approach and now we’re here in front of you. That’s super vital.”
Some of these local legends appear on the album, alongside friends from further afield. The rapper Sarge, who features on the band’s single “1000 Horses”, is a childhood friend of Vonne’s who they’ve known since elementary school. “He basically taught me how to rap. A lot of the artists who rap in Tampa now, we all grew up around each other. School, or the scene, the neighbourhood; Sarge is basically the nucleus of all that.”
“It’s always been about observation for us, in terms of learning from our mentors or contemporaries,” Dre cuts in. “There’s an artist named Tom G, who’s like the God of Tampa rap music. Watching him, we learned to live by a code. clipping., who are signed to Sub Pop, are our friends. We got to play a couple of shows with them and we just watched the way that they moved and operated.”
“Their approach to making music really stuck with us, because it laid down the truth that we can try whatever we want,” Vonne grins. “They made a drum track out of gun sounds. They made a synth sound out of recording a fish in a lake.”
Tampa isn’t the only geographical influence that shines through their material, though. The band recently dropped the video for “anti-choker chain anthem” “1000 Horses” featuring SARGE and Faux Leather: an amalgamation of electro, breaks and avante-garde hip-hop. The video references the album cover for English post-punk band A Certain Ratio’s 2002 record, Early – and the sounds of English subcultures, including jungle and hardcore, are all over their work.
“We’re super inspired by the Second Summer of Love, which happened in the UK in the ‘80s,” explains Vonne. “The rise of acid house and unlicensed raves. That same thing happened in Central Florida. Everyone was on house music and breaks at the same time as the UK. We’re inspired by that legacy and the fact that the exact same things can happen in different places.”
“The UK obviously has a specific relationship and partially birthed breakbeats, whether that’s jungle or drum ‘n’ bass or hardcore. We want people in Britain to know that there’s Florida breaks!” they smile. “There’s a real deal connection between Florida and the UK in that sort of way. I know you’re in Ireland and you’re not from England, so I’m sorry if it’s weird to talk about that relationship!” Vonne laughs. (It says a lot about They Hate Change’s fascination with faraway cultures and intricate details that they can even understand the polarised history between Ireland and England.)
Rather than explicitly make political statements, as the current fraught socio-political climate can sometimes encourage rappers to do, They Hate Change keep things about locality. Finally, Now is about nostalgia, the music that inspired them, the places that raised them. It’s a toast to anyone who spent time pulling them up and a classy middle finger to anyone who put them down.
“Take it personal when I say fuck y’all, I really mean it / The ball is in our court, it ain’t no sense in playin’ defense,” Vonne raps in ‘1000 Horses’, for example.
It’s also about staying true to yourself. The band have kept their integrity where they say others would have crumbled. “Certain people in our position would have this pressure to alter what they’re doing to ultimately make it,” Vonne says. “We’re not changing anything. We’re gonna keep doing what we’re doing and show you why it works. You should be scared that we’ve been doing this and you haven’t heard it. That should present a problem to you.”
The album track “Coded Language” explicitly lays down the foundations for that stubborn authenticity, the dedication to rep their locale rather than change for others.
“Not to say that each song title goes with each name, but “Coded Language” to a degree explains a lot of our lyrics,” Andre explains. “Whether we’re speaking sonically or verbally, if you get it, you get it. If you don’t, the music is still cool. Sometimes it mightn’t be for you specifically, but you can still be part of it.”
“We speak in code, even when we’re talking. If we’re out, we speak a certain dialect. People won’t necessarily understand what we’re saying,” Vonne cuts in. “Our music isn’t hard to understand, it’s just wrapped up in years of inside jokes, references and influences. It’s become our own language that you can get in on, if you want to.”
“If you state something too plainly, I think people can manipulate your words,” Dre posits. “If you keep your lyrics a little bit close-knit, they’re harder to twist.”
Ready to break further into the mainstream, They Hate Change have been supporting post-punk band Shame on their February and March tour of North America, and will do so again in August and September.
“We just got this crazy cool email from our manager, Max, that said ‘pack your bags, you’re not going to be home for a while!’” Andre recalls. “The album is going to be out afterwards, so we can rock out to the entire record plus sneak in a couple of other things on the tour. A couple of treats. It’s definitely going to be fun!”
“We haven’t had a chance to book UK tour dates yet, but we’re going to,” Vonne assures me. “We want to come and do everything. We want to go on pirate radio. Actually, we’d just move right into Savile Row!” he jokes.
“For real though, if I was moving to England, I’d live in Manchester. They’ve got a super rich history. I’ve always loved the idea of going there. Growing up, I used to watch Skins a lot, so I’d also go to Bristol.”
It’s challenging to imagine the collaborators ever parting ways, having been a unit for over a decade. Vonne tells me that if they ever did, their material would simply sound “like what we’re doing now, but less good!”
“It would just sound more ambient,” Andre jokes. “We’re friends and have deep, personal relationships outside of music, so it is a bit wild to think about They Hate Change separating for any reason. Even if Vonne disappeared, I would share all of our old, unreleased music and they would be reincarnated through the tracks!”
“I would come back to take all of it off the internet again,” Vonne grins.