Words by:
Photography: Dominique Mills

Respectfully, H31R seem like a band who are in touch with their zodiac signs. “Oh, we’re both very into astrology,” laughs JWords, the beat-making half of the electronic hip-hop duo, from her New Jersey apartment.

She’s sitting in front of her music hardware, wires akimbo, while the low winter sun beams through her window. “We’re actually called H31R because we’re both air signs,” adds Maassai, the group’s lyricist. “I’m Aquarius and Maassai is a Gemini,” continues JWords, “and when we first met, we both felt like we were from the same soul tribe. We saw each other perform – I was doing a beats set and Maassai was performing with vocals – and clicked right away.”

Indeed, there is something cosmic about the pair’s relationship. It comes across immediately, both in their ethereal demeanor, and across their genre-busting, mind-expanding second album, HeadSpace. The word “futuristic” is bandied about with impunity when H31R are being discussed, but more often than not, the duo sound like they’re broadcasting from a different era (or galaxy) entirely; one where categorisation is irrelevant, and aliens could have intercepted a Voyager-type space capsule filled with 90s rap records.

“We definitely have similar energies,” admits Maassai. “We both be in our heads a lot, we both be thinking a lot. We individually make music that might not be put in the same category, but we’re coming from a place of groove and wanting to push the boundaries of music. Approaching JWords’ production is always really fun to me, to experiment with how I’m gonna get on it, and how to make it weirder. But also how to make it, like, less weird?!” she giggles.

“Pushing boundaries” is something H31R bring up often during our conversation; a desire to introduce typical hip-hop audiences to new, expansive sounds. Backwards, the lead single from HeadSpace, achieves this with pointed determination: while JWords lays down a semi-industrial beat, Maassai raps about alienation, disillusionment and the heady confusion that comes with growing up slightly left of centre. “The track came together so naturally and effortlessly, like it was meant to be,” beams JWords. “Sometimes I think to myself, like, ‘Damn, we have to outdo this.’ I can’t even remake the beat because I don’t know how I did it. It just happened.”

Musically, H31R revel in their experimentalism, but thematically, they aim to explore thoughts and feelings that most of us can relate to. “Maassai and I have gone through a lot of similar things the past couple of years,” says JWords, soberly. “Even though I’m not writing the lyrics, I resonate with these songs, because it’s what I was experiencing as well.” Maassai agrees, offering up a more universal message: “This album is about growth and coming into our late 20s – figuring out who we want to be and how to navigate our lives. Understanding ourselves in relationship to others; that’s what coming into adulthood is. At the end of the day, how do I actually want to be in this world?”

Sounds like: Melodic hip-hop over glitchy, industrial electronics
Soundtrack for: Flexing and manifesting
File next to: Moor Mother, Noname
Our favourite song: Down Down Bb
Where to find them: @_h31r

HeadSpace is out now via Big Dada