DEA & SAINT are a St. Pete experimental hip-hop quintet that fuses an amalgamation of genres resulting in a unique, complex listening experience. Two years ago, vocalists DEA & SAINT began performing as a duo to self-produced beats. In the interim, they have proliferated their sonic landscape with the addition of guitarist Michael Susack, drummer T_RASH and bassist, DJ and producer Tysonious Mink.
The group has been gaining traction. Last month, they competed in New York City's AFROPUNK Battle of the Bands. We sat down with them in their rehearsal space to gain insight into their collaborative world.
Q: In your early incarnation, there was just the two of you (DEA & SAINT). What was the impetus behind expanding your instrumentation?
DEA: Vibrations and frequencies. When you have live instrumentation, it literally changes the vibe of the room … and the song and the meaning and feeling of it.
What was it about these particular musicians that made you want to collaborate?
DEA: T_RASH is in Set and Setting and he was my dream drummer. I was like: "I wish he would drum for us too," and he said yes.
Saint: We played together at Tampa AM 2014 (an event at The Skate Park of Tampa). We were mp3 rappers at that time — screaming over beats and stuff. Set and Setting was playing. We asked him maybe a month later, and he jumped on. Mike Susack …
Michael Susack: I bugged you guys for a year to play with you.
DEA: Straight up!
DEA: Tyson I met at Starbucks. I was rockin' a Rival hoodie. He was like "You know Rival? I know Rival. You're a rapper? I make beats. You wanna come listen to one?" We went outside and listened to a beat and the very first one that he played, we wrote a song to. He's like, "I play bass. Y'all wanna practice at my house?" It's like he was sent to us to help us out.
T_RASH: Everybody, in our own individual way, was.
How has your sound changed?
SAINT: It's definitely more aggressive. It pushes us, as vocalists, to give more of ourselves.
T_RASH: When Tyson and I jumped on, it was me and him playing (live along) with the album. … It went from that to the newer stuff we're doing as a group, and now, its to the point where we're performing as a band and writing music.
Do you have a unified message? If so, what is it?
DEA: The message is to unify.
T_RASH: Break down the barriers of scenes. We play metal shows, hip-hop shows, straight folk shows … breakdown sets of spoken word, quieter stuff.
SAINT: And then we sneak our own little star-seed wisdom in there — some of us really are into energy and understand how that can translate to different people. So, just implying as much light and love into our words, because words hold weight. We want to be able to impact people in every way. We're not looking for any one kind of person to vibe with our message, it's for everybody.
How would you classify yourselves genre-wise?
SAINT: We typically tell people it's progressive hip-hop infused with hardcore and soul, but that's taking a more extreme direction with the next album, which is focused on trap and doom, so we're calling the album Trap Doom.
Tell us about your experience at the AFROPUNK Battle of the Bands.
DEA: It was intense. It was amazing. We had to go back-to-back weeks. We won the semi-finals and had to go back for the finals.
SAINT: In order to even qualify, we had to make the top six in a voting poll. In a small scene, it's impossible to compete with people in larger scenes, like Brooklyn. So what we had to do, without relying on social media as our primary source of votes, was take it to the streets, like they did back in the day. We set up tables with a laptop and all of our merch and CDs and just talked to people.
Tysonious Mink: There were three New York City finalists and two out of state finalists. We were one of the two.
What did you take away from the experience?
Tysonious Mink: Playing in a venue where we knew no one, we were actually very well received. It was love in the room at AFROPUNK. It was really good vibes. It wasn't even like a battle. All the bands were hugging each other having a good time, hanging out. … Everyone in the room that didn't even know us just accepted us and they rocked and jammed along right up front with us.
DEA: It was all the music we've been paying here for years, and getting that response from people that have never heard it was pretty great.