Shaun Duncan ‘17 can generally be found doing one of two things: longboarding across campus with his headphones on, and making music in his room for hours (also with headphones on).
He’s been intrigued by music production ever since he was 16 and started screwing with his dad’s Roland keyboard to sequence basic beats. When he got to Grinnell, he began DJing parties and experimenting with producing and mixing full songs, and he’s kept up his work for a few years now.
As of now, Shaun produces and raps under the alias Phyzikal, and leads a Grinnell-based, primarily hip hop-focused group called SYNdicate. He describes it as “loose musical collective” of friends that “vibe with [him] on a musical level.” Though it is primarily made up of rappers and a few budding producers, Shaun hopes that SYNdicate will eventually expand into a full team of “visual artists, producers, rappers, singers, poets, anything art that can be put into a collective vision in a special and eclectic way.”
SYNdciate currently features such Grinnell talents as TiY (Ty Battle ‘17), YoungSage (Sydney Quartey ‘17), Ace Leanin’ (Devin Ace ‘16), SINergy (Stephen Duncan ‘17), and Raghav Kalra ‘19. Their debut mixtape, About:Blank, just dropped on Wednesday: it delivers a hard-hitting but concise 8-track showcase of SYNdicate’s skills, with all of them trading bars and dropping hooks over a diverse selection of Phyzikal-produced beats.
About:Blank really shines in its posse cuts: the chemistry between SYNdicate members is undeniable, especially when backed by fitting production, like in the opening joint, “Genesis.” Young Sage, with his guttural voice and unexpectedly smooth delivery, contributes a hard, high-energy, first verse, letting TiY follow up with a more lyrically playful, light-on-his-feet second verse, and leaving the final slot for the mixtape’s sole SINergy feature, which includes the standout lines: “all these bottles, I feel like I’m Rick/Keep a bottle on me, hothead like I’m Morty.” All three of these rappers, despite their different sounds, flow together almost seamlessly on a surprisingly sparse beat featuring an absolutely amazing Rick and Morty sample, light, snappy snares, oscillating bass, and a simple, repeating synth that gives off the vibe of a new-wave jam with just a hint of old school influence, an atmosphere that I feel is carried throughout the tape’s sound.
Though the project’s group tracks tend to be the most fun, the solo songs really show off Phyzikal’s outstanding production. One of the songs,“Saint,” is built on these really pretty, floaty-sounding, guitar chords and some simple, boom-bappy drums, and just sounds amazing behind TiY’s relaxed, lyrically flexible rapping. Phyzikal really goes in on his own solo song,“Blessing,” spitting fast, hard bars that perfectly accommodate the beat’s trappy snares and aggressive synths. About:Blank’s production proves that Duncan knows the capabilities and personal styles of SYNdicate members very well, as each artist seems particularly well suited to their beats.
Out of all the rappers on About:Blank, TiY’s vocal performances stood out to me the most. He seems like the most skilled MC, in terms of both flow and lyrics, dropping ridiculous bars like “always was slept on, that’s why I get drowsy/hittin mary something like Ronda Rousey” and “David Ortiz, write home runs in my stanzas.” TiY flexes on every single track he is featured on (six out of eight), his delivery quickly switching up and adapting from song to song. He reminds me at times of A$AP Rocky, in that he raps almost effortlessly and pivots from laid-back flows, on “Genesis” and “Saint,” to a faster, more aggressive flow, especially evident on “Stupid Bars.” Though his group-mates deliver a lot of great lines throughout the mixtape, TiY is a standout, and takes the spotlight in my opinion.
As a whole, About: Blank is a solid, fun project and a very promising debut from SYNdicate. The chemistry and talent is all there; I expect a ton of good shit from them from this point on. I’ll give Shaun the last word word about SYNdicate’s future:
“If we expand, we’re just gonna still be us, but we’re gonna evolve. If you look at 2012 Flatbush Zombies and 2016 Flatbush Zombies, you see that change. They’re still FBZ, but their means, funds, agency, and drive expanded so they could better represent who they are to their fans. That’s the sort of progression I want. But I want people to be able to listen to About:Blank, and then, say SẎNdicate like 4 mixtapes later, and still get that same feel and vibe we wanna convey. Don’t wanna keep us boxed in though. I think we can change our sound and have it still represent us musically in a positive way.”
Keep your eyes and ears open for more SYNdicate and Phyzikal in the coming months. Gummusic’s got you covered. :)))))