words by Eamon Whalen
photography by Katrina Jayne
There is a piece of paper taped to the door of Hurt Everybody’s studio in Chicago’s Music Garage that reads, Do not knock on our door (unless we told you to come). Work in here only! We don’t wanna hang out! Upon entry, their sacred space looks and feels like an extra-large college dorm room. On one of two patchy couches, sits the group’s in-house producer, Mulatto Beats—who has a pronounced burnt-orange head of hair that you could spot from afar. He’s busy with a game of NBA 2K15 that’s going down to the wire. Qari, one of the group’s two rappers, stands behind him looking inquisitively at a Macbook Pro that has seen better days. “Do you know how to fix this?” He asks. “Someone left it here months ago.”
Past the trashcan overflowing with vending machine and blunt wrappers, past the coffee table scattered with Qari’s books (which include Sacred Geometry, Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe and Dear White America by Tim Wise) facing dual computer monitors is Supa Bwe (pronounced Soopah Boy). Supa, a rapper, producer and the trio’s de-facto leader, is working intently on one of several feature verses he’s promised to finish that day. He toys with different effects on Pro-Tools, playing his verse back and making repeat trips into the vocal booth to lay down ad-libs and overdubs. After Supa’s line “I feel like Kobe, Wayne, Mike and Drake,” blasts through the speakers, Qari repeats the line to himself. “That’s real,” he says in grinning encouragement of his bandmate. Even though it’s a feature verse, the song feels like much of what one can expect from Hurt Everybody: high energy, self-assuredness and irreverence.
As an idea, Hurt Everybody dates back to when Supa was a solo artist in 2013, frustrated at his lack of progress and sour at most of his “bogus” musical peers who doubted his potential. “Everyone was just shitting on me all day long,” he explains. Mulatto and Qari, both five-plus years Supa’s junior, at 20 and 19, were members of teenage collective, Supreme Regime. Supa had recorded them in another studio, and much to his chagrin, they weren’t interested in collaborating with him. Worse yet, they were underutilizing Qari, who Supa thought to be the group’s best rapper. After their first collaboration together Supa convinced Qari to join him. Soon after, Supa recruited Mulatto, and what were originally Supa Bwe solo shows at South by Southwest in March 2014 quickly became Hurt Everybody’s national introduction.
“The whole premise was fuck all of our rivals, fuck everyone who doubted us. It’s conquest basically.” Supa explains of their name whilst firing up a round of Call Of Duty. At this point the few hangers-on have exited the studio leaving just the trio and their manager Wisam. “No one is going to support us but us, like a band of brothers,” seconds Qari, who wears a rough beard and a Carhartt beanie, an ensemble that Supa jokes makes him look like he “steals TVs.” During their formation, the three realized that not only did they share aesthetic values, but each of them was at a point of desperation. Mulatto had just dropped out of Northern Illinois University with a pile of debt, Qari had a child on the way, and Supa was at a crossroads as he entered his mid-twenties, feeling like it was now or never for his music career.
From there the three hunkered down in this very room and hit a creative groove immediately. “Qari and I had been making music since we were 15 and Supa just went well with my sound immediately,” recalls Mulatto, whose beats usually favor a laidback blend of ambient instrumentation and obscure samples, but have since taken a turn towards a more bruising, burn-the-roof down sound. “That was the one style I grabbed when I joined Hurt, to turn my production up a little bit,” he explains. There’s a remarkable restraint to Mulatto’s production. He provides enough structure to make a song whole, while adding his own subtle tics and giving ample space for Supa and Qari to operate.
“Lyricism isn’t really my thing,” says Supa—a claim Mulatto and Qari refute—a trait he attributes to his “severe ADHD and dyslexia.” His lyrics are equal parts self-loathing and self-empowering and he sports a sharp, high-pitched voice that lends itself well to cathartic chants and infectiously playful, if not off-tune, singing. He played in Metal bands as a teenager, and admits he writes songs like a rock singer rather than a rapper— referring to his style as “Hip Hop Punk Blues.”
“That’s why I chose Qari, he’s a wordsmith. I know he’s going to be one of the best rappers to ever be,” a compliment that prompts Qari to jokingly put his hand over his heart and smile sheepishly like a proud younger brother.
Indeed, while Supa raps with a Mount Everest-sized chip on his shoulder, Qari is more earnest, imaginative and precise. Taken together, they complement rather than collide. “Me and Supa do have completely different…” Qari begins to explain before Supa finishes his sentence. “I’m a bazooka and he’s a sniper rifle. We’re meant for different things, I’m going to blow some shit and he’s going to take some shit out,” says Supa as he blows another virtual head off, still in the midst of his Call Of Duty session. “I tell people, Supa got the Supa analogies,” remarks Wisam with a laugh.
If their music sounds adversarial, it’s because it is. But who are their opponents? They’ll answer: Doubters, Hypebeasts and most of all, the American white power structure. The cover art for their second full-length project 2K47, released this past July 4th, features the three illustrated as Afro-Futurist Ninjas in a post-apocalyptic wasteland — the year 2047 — surrounded by dead policemen. Supa stands on top of a busted police cruiser, holding a burning American flag. The cover is part of a series of illustrations by Abel Gray that the group is working to make into an accompanying comic strip to 2K47. From their description it sounds like Hayao Miyazaki story reimagined by Octavia Butler and Frantz Fanon, complete with an authoritarian one-world government, time travel, guerilla warfare and an all-important internal, everlasting light. “As young Black men, even the way we approach our imagination is different, because we’ve been mis-educated,” says Qari. “We’re thrown into savage lands,” adds Mulatto as he nods out the window to Chicago’s urban sprawl. “But at the same time we’ve been blessed to be around people that showed us a different way.”
One of those people happened to be Kanye West.“I want to give that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about Black people’ moment to kids who’ve never seen it,” says Supa referring to Kanye’s famous post-Hurricane Katrina statement. “That affected me deeply. It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t the problem, that these motherfuckers are the problem,” continues Supa, as Qari vigorously snaps his fingers in support. “That’s why we have dead cops and a burning flag because it’s fuck America, truly, fuck America.”
It should come as no surprise then, that the Hurt Everybody song that’s made the most impact nationally is the racially focused “Treat Me Caucasian,” featuring their comrade Mick Jenkins. It was released in the summer of 2014 just before the country entered the era of Ferguson. The song shuns millennial color-blindness for a searing critique of White supremacy and the visceral experience of anti-Black violence. “I’m trying to explain to younger white people, males especially, that this is what your uncles and fathers and grandfathers are doing, you need to cut that shit out,” says Supa. In the midst of our interview, the body-cam footage of what is essentially the execution of Black man Sam DuBose by a White University of Cincinnati cop surfaces on the internet. “I want the boiling point to hit, I want it to be nationwide,” says Supa in reaction.
With a growing platform, the three hope to continue to emphasize authenticity and imagination. In Supa’s words, to continue to “help people know what’s real and what’s assimilated bullshit.” Qari piggybacks on the statement saying, “this is so cliché, but the fans have to feel that shit in their heart.” By all accounts, the fans are. Still under two years since their formation, the group has attained 7 million total plays on their Soundcloud, an increasing amount of out-of-town shows and a notable co-sign from hometown hero, Twista. And there’s no end in sight as the three hope to outwork, outthink and out-imagine their competitors. To hurt everybody, in a good way. That is, as long as they have a place to create, and as long as they have each other. “The reason I like working with [Qari and Mulatto] is that when I was their age, nobody was helping me out. They can’t just be wandering, it’s too crazy outside,” says Supa referring to Chicago’s notoriously long, hot summers. To which Qari responds, “This room is a blessing, it really is.”