Photos by Keeley Parenteau
Defined as “nature personified as a creative and controlling force,” no term better describes the rap duo of Klevah and TRUTH, than Mother Nature.
The Chicago rap pairing has been manifesting their realities through their creativity for years and continued to do so with the release of their full-length album, SZNZ , with local record label Closed Sessions.
Since arriving in Chicago, Mother Nature has gone about growing deep roots in the city that go beyond the music scene. True students of hip-hop that believe in and preach the power of the genre, they’ve established themselves as progressive idealists that do the work. That’s all reflected in their music.
Klevah and TRUTH are a presence whenever they enter a room. It’s a sort of aura that comes with self-assuredness propelled by a deep understanding of craft and self. What sets them apart isn’t gaudy budgets, oversized PR teams, or a viral trend, but more so the focus and attention they bring to everything they do.
TRUTH grew up in Chicago, Klevah a few hours south in Champaign, and the pair met while attending the University of Illinois. After outgrowing the small college town with their music, they headed north to Chicago and tossed themselves into the music scene there.
“Its been a journey just how like in Champaign we were doing our music thing individually and then together for a couple of years and then we hit that ceiling there and had to come here,” said Klevah. “we just have to seize the plan, we're trying to grow a beautiful garden out of our music here.”
Education through new mediums is a big part of the Mother Nature manifesto. Once settled, they immediately went about connecting with different people involved in after-school programs, alternative education, and things of the like. In the process, they grew their Miseducation of Hip-Hop program that they take to schools across the area, teaching the power of understanding the tenets of the craft and how they relate to growing into a fully actualized person.
“I think in the time that we've been here the thing I’m most happy with is just how we've built community. We managed to not only link with a lot of other artists, producers, and stuff but also with a lot of healers, a lot of educators,” said Klevah. “I feel like all the black girls from the inner city really rock with us so that was really our intention: we want to build an army, a gang of thinkers, people who not only want to T up and celebrate the music, but are also good receptors for the messages that we have to give.”
Rather than aiming for clout and fame, they create their music for expression and understanding that also happens to be chock-full of top-shelf bars. SZNZ, created before and throughout quarantine and fully produced by fellow CS-signee Boathouse is an exploration into Mother Nature’s world and a perfect introduction to anyone hearing them for the first time.
One thing that’s pretty concrete is that Mother Nature can rap. As faded and dragged as the idea of “real hip-hop” has become, these two represent the sensical evolution of that chapter of the genre.
The pair see themselves as both artists and thought leaders and use both sides of themselves to feed the other.
“Even prior to us making music together as Mother Nature we were already pretty grounded in being revolutionaries in our own sense,” said TRUTH. “So the music came later which makes us really unique and makes our duo unique to other hip-hop duos is that we’re really really grounded in the work and our purpose as individuals and those things just happen to be very very aligned. So as soon as we started making music together we had hella content, hella messaging. Being able to explore our femininity through hip-hop has been a whole other thing.”
Nothing is a gimmick here. Cleverly sprinkling truths through their rhymes underlines not just their stage names but their overall approach to life. The music they write and create is conscious without being overbearing, like that quirky friend who's into crystals without having to tell you about them or show off the collection; it's understood. Instead, their music finds a way to sew itself through the layers of their work. It may be dense, but it's not all serious.
“When you listen to a Mother Nature record you hearing TRUTH and Klevah. So it's like our testimonies, our backstories, and God and spirit and all of those types of things,” said TRUTH. “It’s so much more than just “I got this and I got that and I’m better than you” - it's not about that. We’ll tell you that we’re better MCs you know don't get me wrong but at the end of the day its really us being about the power of this and how because of hip-hop we gained the confidence we needed, so how can we now give that back to our listeners, our fanbase.”
The project is the culmination of a commitment that began just over a year and a half ago when the pair joined Closed Sessions, an independent label they were formally introduced to by singer and poet Jamila Woods. The imprint has made a name locally and beyond by teaming up with artists that often have built a career and following, helping them to propel themselves to the next level. Having spent their time post-Champaign planting and watering seeds of fans and followers with talented mixtapes and singles, a full-length was the obvious next step, and with fellow labelmate Boathouse handling production, it all made sense.
“We really just wanted to reintroduce Chicago and the world to Mother Nature, we wanted to be an alternative to what we were hearing daily that didn't serve the collective conscious. We really wanted to put it all out there from our pen game to our messaging, the sonics, the look - just giving everyone a full array of what we are and Boathouse was the perfect partner to do that with,” said TRUTH.
Running 15-tracks, SZNZ brings listeners into the world that TRUTH and Klevah have created and live in. A full range of their abilities is on display, tackling different rhyme schemes and vibes in a way that leaves few questions unanswered. “GOOFIEZ” featuring Valee is a downtempo beat that the pair breath life into while discussing, well, goofies. “SOURCE CODE” is more of a thinker dealing with relationships and the kind of self-conscious feelings that come from not being able to easily see one another.
Mother Nature has been planting its seeds across scenes, cities, and states. As the seasons change, they’re only beginning to see the manifestation of that process as the flowers are only beginning to emerge.
“We kind of have a full team now which is something we’ve always needed and dreamed of but it was always vague and now it's like these things are really coming into form so I’m super grateful man it's been a great season,” said Klevah. “I just feel like the reason things are happening the way they are now is because there's something missing in the industry and we have the antidote for that.”