There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a celebrity musician. Few sane people would deny themselves the opportunity for the fame and fortune that accompanies such recognition if given the chance. But there's something refreshing about artists who don't embody today's TMZ dominated music scene; an intrigue that resonates with fans who are searching for something other than tabloid fodder. Believe it or not, people appreciate the straightforward. They don't always need to be hooked in by an image carefully constructed by a horde of PR industry specialists.
That's one reason why The Palmer Squares are one of the more intriguing up-and-comers in the Hip Hop genre.
Don't pretend like you're ahead of the curve and already familiar with their music. The Palmer Squares are not a household name by any means. But they do have a devoted online following who appreciate that they are just two simple guys who enjoy making (good) music.
"If we have a gimmick or a brand, it's kind of a brand-less average Joe sort of thing," Terminal Knowledge said of his group with partner-in-crime Acumental. "That's what influenced us to get into music originally, that do-it-yourself aspect. There wasn't a lot that was pleasing us on the radio or MTV Jams so we decided to make our own stuff that pleases us."
Terminal Knowledge and Acumental have known one another for roughly 20 years. Their relationship began with elementary school birthday parties, skateboarding sessions and a mutual love for the WWE. As they got into high school, they found their tastes in music coincided as did their verbal styling.
At their core, The Palmer Squares are just two long-time buddies who enjoy rapping. Maybe their growing appeal stems from that simple root.
"We've known each other for a long time and I think that helps whatever is unique about us, whatever it is that people enjoy about us," Acumental said. "It's not like some producer paired up two musicians and said, 'These guys will work well together.'"
"We're besties," Term interjects with a laugh.
It's that friendship that allows them to collaborate so well. They know how to effectively brainstorm together and offer constructive criticism.
Talking with them, it wasn't a surprise to discover that they list George Carlin and Mark Twain as some of their biggest influences. Comb through their lyrics and you'll find that same irreverent sense of humor and sharp wit. But you'll quickly realize that these guys aren't the mainstream's version of what standard rappers are supposed to be. No bling or gangster background. They're just normal guys who spend their free time listening to Hall & Oates and watching "Breaking Bad." But therein lies their appeal; they're outsiders poking fun at the VIPs.
"When you can make a big point in few words, that's impressive," Acumental said of their non-music based inspirations. "Obviously, we're word-smithing. But it's not strictly confined to people who rap as influences. That helps show us the limit of what you can do lyrically, versus what you might be listening to commercially."
These guys are anything but commercial. They surf YouTube for lectures by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to help spur creative thought. Term currently sports long stringy hair that seems to parallel his free-flow of consciousness delivery. Ac happily and helpfully signs his emails with his name followed by "The bearded one." Their songs are saturated with off-beat humor. It all helps to create a vibe that is completely their own.
The duo employ layered rhyme schemes and clever punch lines littered with entertaining pop culture references. They've got the intellect, extensive vocabulary and crafty battle rhymes to hang with most of rap's rising stars. Beyond that, their content reveals a remarkably worldly view for two guys from Chicago still in their mid-twenties. In between the bits of hilarity are poignant deconstructions of important issues like conformity and mass media.
"Bottom line is profit, but the market is oversaturated
And these heartless corporate bastards stay homogenizing genres
And it waters my eyes, cause all I got in this life is music
Now I'm likely gonna lose this s--- to some cogs lined up in unison"
- Terminal Knowledge, "Painting Pictures"
None of that is to say that you have to belong to a specific niche to enjoy The Palmer Squares. They're producing songs that appeal to a wide array of music fans. Whether you're looking for a straightforward party jam or something a little deeper and more pensive, they have made a conscious effort to diversify their own output.
"If we only make the songs that we naturally are good at making then it will kind of get monotonous," Acumental said. "We challenge ourselves to make a 'Frat Boy' song or an ignorant drinking jam by bringing our own style to it. Something different. We want to bounce around."
Flying under the radar, as these two do, has its advantages. It enables them to experiment with their music in order to improve as artists and attract new demographics of fans.
"You realize that you're never going to satisfy all the people all the time...But we're not going to stop doing any one thing. We're comfortable making a mistake, or making a song that sucks in comparison to the s--- that we prefer more, if it means that the smaller handful of folks that didn't like any of our other stuff might get one they are interested in."
"I better clean myself up
Plead for help
When I Stringer Bell 'Ya
Like Idris Elba"
-Acumental, "Spit Take"
The funny thing about these two guys, besides their punch lines, is that they don't even consider themselves professional musicians. In fact, they each still have day jobs to pay the bills. Obviously they'd like to focus full-time on music. But for now, they're just trying to continue making a name for themselves and expand their fan base.
So, no, you're not going to get any jewelry and car raps in their upcoming album (tentatively titled) "Planet of the Shapes" and expected to become available later this year or in early 2016. There won't be any money flaunting or high profile beefs from The Palmer Squares. But what you will get is some of the wittiest lyrics, unique perspectives and relatable vibes in all of music. And that's not too bad for a couple of every day guys who spend their time watching "True Detective" and Ken Burns documentaries.
They may not be the big name in music right now, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth listening to. As George Carlin once said, "The status quo sucks."