The Tribe and Big Cats unveil latest album, Space

Household names: TruthBeTold and Big Cats
Jason Ho

TruthBeTold hops from the top of a tank with the same casual cool that pervades his music. He says driving it around just made his testicles grow. The video shoot for "D.M.T. Flow," the first track off his group the Tribe and Big Cats' latest full-length, Space, has brought him to Kasota, Minnesota, where his job for the day is to rap atop bunkers and military vehicles.

"I have this ongoing streak of getting injured on set, so all I could think was don't kill myself or anyone else," says the rapper. "You really don't know how badass you are until you drive a tank, though. Real talk!"

Waving a black flag sporting the group's acronym, TTxBC, tied to a stick, Lizzo of the Chalice is right behind him in several shots, sporting flip-flops and a rap stance that the location probably doesn't see often. The "Drive a Tank" company has seen its share of Discovery Channel specials and company parties, but a rap video shoot on the field is something new for everybody involved.

TTxBC have built a backlog of videos already, many with directors Isaac Gale and David Jensen. There's the slow-motion sequence of five people throwing streamers in the middle of the woods for "We Gone"; a basement party featuring some wood-chopping for "Breaking Down the Walls"; and waking up surrounded by beautiful women, cereal, weed, and guns for "Dopeness." The last is the lead video from Space.

For "D.M.T. Flow," footage of cars getting crushed by tanks will add a visual bump of adrenaline to the smooth beat and confident bars. "Every time we work with them, they come up with something super dope and super weird that somehow fits our style," says producer Big Cats.

That style he's talking about is bred from a seemingly nonstop work schedule. TruthBeTold professes to writing new material all the time, and Big Cats is no different. After Space sees its release, he'll be preparing for the release of the next full-length Guante and Big Cats album, as well as an instrumental solo project, two years in the making, which is dedicated to his late mother. The continuous creation seems to tighten tracks and broaden the ideas present.

"I made about 40 beats over the course of two or three weeks, and TruthBeTold picked about 20 of those and wrote to them," Big Cats says. "All in all, it took us a little over a month to write and record. [The last album] Make Good was centered around us collaborating with other artists, whereas Space was just me and Truth, no guest spots, no outside production."

Space reveals several moments of growth and expansion of style that are subtle at first listen, thanks largely to TruthBeTold's understated rap style. "Cheap Designer Heels" features slight forays into fast-rap and amped-up vocal intensity that add new layers to the already slick spitting. It's progressive movement without hitting you over the head with the contrast. Meanwhile, producer Big Cats manages to move in multiple directions at once while staying solidly true to his signature sound. The beats are a blend of airy synths, live instrumentation, and sampled funk, without the muddiness that may imply. Big Cats creates a tight and textured soundscape that stays consistently sleek.

Drug talk and accentuated curse words are taking more of a front seat than on previous albums, which somehow sinks perfectly into the more downplayed backdrops of saxophones and somber piano loops. "I wrote songs like 'P.I.L.L.S' with no intentions of it being about drugs," TruthBeTold explains. "It has a druggy undertone, but it was initially supposed to be a song to inspire people to say, 'Fuck you, I'm gonna live my life how I want.'" There are allusions to the political atmosphere throughout, calling out banks — and an ineffective president specifically on "Make Your Mama Proud" — but one of Truth's strengths is sewing these moments together with a cooler-than-thou shine and a middle finger.

The energy he brings to this video shoot is ever-present, but not as overly aggressive as one might expect for someone behind the wheel of a war machine. This isn't Master P's gold-plated tank, and the feel of the song is not exactly a punch in the face, but the tempered power behind Truth's generally laid-back raps finds its way out in performing. Space features his hardest raps yet. His writing process sidesteps many of the pitfalls of aligning oneself with any particular sound, especially the outdated dichotomy of mainstream versus underground.

This is still organically grown hip hop in a way that can only really stem from Minneapolis, but the approach is unique and forward-thinking enough to stand out as something different. "It's kinda nice to see some change up in the city," Truth raps in "The Crew," and indeed TTxBC's work represents a new shape of things to come.

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