Sean Anonymous and DJ Name have been down for nearly a decade.
The two started their association as members of the Minneapolis hip-hop collaborative Wide Eyes, with DJ Name coming on as a producer in 2008. But over the years, Name has gone from Anonymous’s affiliate to his house DJ and preferred tourmate.
The two have produced a slew of singles together -- including the Lizzo feature “Cold Shoulder” and 2014’s “Staring at the Sun” -- spending plenty of late nights chopping it up over life, work, and hip-hop. Though he helped ex-Wide Eyes DJ Dimitry Killstorm put together his Anonymous collab Better Days, Name has never rightfully been the Abilities to Anonymous's Eyedea.
“I think we just needed a little time,” Anonymous says. “Us making this whole project was a natural progression. We weren’t trying to rush things.”
Released on September 30, 2:44 a.m. finds Anonymous and Name finally ready to lay their partnership to wax. Over five songs and a scant 15 minutes, the two flow freely off each other -- operating without any hesitation -- in a way that feels cathartic after eight years together.
“This just kinda felt right,” DJ Name says ahead of the EP's release party Saturday at Icehouse. “The beats that I was going all seemed to go together, and he was writing really quickly. It just felt right to put all of this together and to put it out quick.”
2:44 a.m. was conceived and created in the span of five months. Knowing that longtime fans had been waiting for a teamup between the two since the beginning, Name didn’t want to draw out the wait any longer, so they dropped the EP with little fanfare or buildup.
“We just wanted to get it done and put it out for free for all the people who’ve been rocking with us since Wide Eyes," he says, "and give them something kinda unexpected."
Though its narrative takes some teasing, 2:44 a.m. is, at its heart, the story of Name and Anonymous’s time as roving creative cohorts, tracing their too-familiar journey through the clubs, after-parties, and hangovers they’ve navigated while they were, as Name puts it, “driving around the country doing ridiculous shit and not sleeping.”
“Clock In” (feat. Sims)
Picking up seamlessly where “Staring at the Sun” left off, “Clock In” is a thesis from Anonymous. Over wild booms and slaps by Name, he eschews the 9-5 lifestyle, reasserting his singular obsession with making rap his profession and dismissing anyone who tell him to give it up for a cubicle or a time card.
“I think about this stuff quite a bit. I think about how my life as a musician might be different than anybody else I run into on the street,” Anonymous says. “I was thinking, ‘If I had a child or a mortgage right now or if I was trying to pay off a new car, I wouldn’t get by.’ I just realized that I don’t think I need that. It can’t be for me.”
Though the song decries the "stock" lifestyle of dayjob, kids, and mortgages, Anonymous recognizes the value in those pursuits. He loves his family and his friends’ kids, but the singularity of his mission means that he can’t be tied down by car payments or daycare pickups.
“No kings and no bosses / No clink and no coffin,” he raps defiantly at the outset, tipping his hat to fellow dream-chaser and Doomtree sloganeer Sims, who features on the second verse.
“Sims don’t give a fuck,” Anonymous says. “He’s a perfect feature for that song.”
Sims’s presence on the track ups the exuberance of the song. He provides a powerpack of a verse, making a song that’s mired in the existential juggling of family and passion feel more like a celebration than it really is.
And that’s the overall mission of 2:44 a.m. The EP is named after an hour when, on some nights, you drink yourself blind in revelry, and on others, you sit an ponder the Big Questions of life. Every song that Name and Anonymous put together feels like a party, but there’s an underlying philosophy that creeps out the same way as those fatalist thoughts on the nights when you just can’t sleep.
After their statement of purpose, Name and Anonymous hit the road with their reluctant tour song “Take Out.”
The song starts with an inventory of Anonymous’s tour preps. With Name’s chorus of modulated moans in the background, the whole process seems kind of rote. He’s got the gas tank filled and the beats backed. The minutiae is sorted. Seatbelts fastened, they’re on the way to another full calendar of shows and motels. But at the same time, it’s what sustains Anonymous as an artist.
“I love being on the road for weeks at a time,” he says. “Towards the end, maybe I’ll get burned out, but once I’m back in Minneapolis for a month, I’ll start to get the itch. I fiend for that. Truthfully, I need it or I start to get sad. ”
With a marching band snare and driving horns, Name embodies the adrenaline and determination of the first days of tour, the romanticism of the grind exploding in the most energetic chorus on the EP.
After the chorus, the song quickly morphs from a road warrior’s anthem to a punctate registry of the duo’s favorite food stops on tour. Anonymous nails down a hyper-fast tangent about pizza, burritos, sushi, and deli sandwich spots he hits up when he’s in the van.
“It’s a road song, but what do you do on the road? You rap and you eat,” Anonymous says, adding that he’d sooner rap for eats than money. “I didn’t plan on going on the food thing for so long, but it just came out so fun.”
Though it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and loose, there’s also a very figurative idea of hunger in the song. It’s a fitting transition from “Clock In,” where Anonymous lays out his philosophy, to the next song where he’s out on the road actually living it. Never confuse it for a moment. Though it’s fun to road trip to Austin, Texas, and grab tacos at Torchy's, “Take Out” is where the passion becomes work.
“The life does wear on you,” Name says. “It’s a lot of stress. It’s a lot of up and down. We don’t have a record label, so we just gotta get out there and do this shit.”
“Take Out” ends with the travelers wrapping up a gig and asking the audience for the deets on after-parties. That’s right where “2:44 a.m.” begins, with Name and Anonymous faded in a stranger’s house and suddenly confronting a partygoer who’s got some stodgy opinions about the current state of hip-hop.
Behind the boards, Name acts as an editor of sorts, splicing the scene in “Take Out” directly into the one in “2:44 a.m.” By riding the two beats together, he creates a seamless jump from the venue to the party, where a bottle passes around and Anonymous picks up the narrative.
“I basically sampled ‘Take Out’ to make ‘2:44,’” Name says. “It’s the same BPM, the same key, all that. That’s something I wanted to try out on a project for a long time, and it seemed to work out.”
After hearing someone else in the bottle circle proclaim that hip-hop is long past its heyday, Anonymous, emboldened by the liquor, jumps in.
“When you say that rap music was way better before it got weird,” he raps, “That’s like saying this party was better before we got here.”
“It’s a conversation with one of those older hip-hop purist types,” Anonymous explains. “At first, it’s a little bit heated, but by the end, you come to a realization.”
Anonymous hold up his end of the argument, pointing out how, time and time again, the younger generation has proven evolutionary to the genre, and eventually the two come to a point of respect with the line “It’s like the passion’s the same, just the packaging changed / The other side isn’t green where the grass ain’t fed / He’s like, ‘You’re right little homie, rap ain’t dead.’”
“Cups” (feat. Finding Novyon)
With the mood-killing argument in the bag, Anonymous hits the dancefloor and meets another, less contentious partygoer played by hot local rapper Finding Novyon.
Novyon was in the studio working with DJ Name on another project when he showed him the demo for “Cups.” Name knew Novy, an uninhibited and punchy emcee, would be a good fit for the song’s carefree, radio-ready vibe. Novyon sat down right there and wrote a verse, peppering in references to both WWF and Pokémon -- two topics well outside Sean Anonymous’ normal milieu.
“Some people acted like having Novy on a track was so weird for me to do,” Anonymous says. “They were like, ‘That’s kind of a weird fit, don’t you think?’ I’m like, ‘No.’ He’s a friend of mine, and we both rap. I like what he says. People wanna draw lines between stuff, and I just don’t think I need it.”
With Name’s club-ready production and a distinctly looser feel, 2:44 a.m. is somewhat new territory for Anonymous. Though there’s that constant under layer of introspection, each song still feels like it could be played at a throwdown and enjoyed on the surface level. Having Novyon guest on the tracklist was a perfect way for Anonymous to surprise his fans all the while keeping true to the 10-plus years he’s been at work as a rapper.
“I wanted to make a drinkin’ song that you could party too that wasn’t completely glamorizing,” Anonymous says. “People wanna act like you can make party music or you can make super-soulful music, but you can’t combine those two, and I think that’s bullshit.”
As such, “Cups” is the de facto single of the record. With dirty South hi-hats and big, churchy piano, Name makes a track that nearly distracts from Anonymous’s lyrics. It makes you dance yourself into a daze while Anonymous transparently runs down the futility of trying to kill problems with alcohol.
“If he’s having one, then he’s having fun, but he ain’t killing off his demons,” he raps. “He’s got a way to solve a grievance / It involves a bottle on the weekends.”
“A big goal that I had in mind when I was writing this project was to have something where you can go to a club or a dance night or a live show and party your ass off," Anonymous says. "But on your way back from the show, when you pop that CD into your car, you realize that there’s more to it than getting fucked up and throwing up some money at the bar.”
“In a Minute”
Instead of winding down, 2:44 a.m. ends on a whirlwind. Instead of revealing a greater truth that’s been obscured below the hype and bombast, the closing track, “In a Minute,” blows by as a high-BPM sprint of clicks and escalating keys that name calls “ridiculous.”
Anonymous starts the song with a spree of random boasts. He can ride his bike in a hurricane without hands; he can make grilled cheese. But that transitions immediately into a memory about when he was 15, and the cops busted him and his friends for drinking. It’s the kind of free-form word association Anonymous hasn’t exhibited in his career.
But that’s the nature of 2:44 a.m. Since it was put together hastily and in the comfort of a lengthy partnership, the EP has a naturally looser feel. If Anonymous sounds unlike he ever has before, it’s because he’s didn’t spend hours torturing himself over 12-syllable rhyme scheme and big-picture philosophies like on past albums.
“I did a lot on this project that I’ve never done before,” Anonymous says. “There are a lot of cadences that I hadn’t tried. I feel pretty versatile at this point.”
“I really just wanted to rap my ass off,” he adds. “On an EP filled with strong concepts, this one is the loosest. The only concept is the recurring line of ‘in a minute.’”
The thread that ties it to the rest of the EP is the theme of time. “In a Minute” is, at once, a vehicle for Anonymous to assert his skill, but it’s also a meditation on how, in life, things disappear quickly.
“That’s real life sometimes,” he says. “A lot of serendipitous stuff came on this album. I didn’t write these songs in order, but it still made a story.”
Name and Anonymous chalk it up to fate, but there’s probably more concrete forces at work. There’s nothing mystical about two musicians who relate on an elemental level coming together and producing something that rings of serendipity.
That’s just what time will do.
Sean Anonymous and DJ Name
With: Haphduzn, Dwynell Roland, DJ Fundo
When: 11 p.m. Sat., Oct. 8
Tickets: $8-$10; more info here