A little over a month ago, Houston producer SHMX dropped his latest EP, a joint venture with Pennsylvania-based Fantasy Camp, smack dab in the middle of the workday. “Thought I worked today so Raining In My Head by Fantasy Camp & me was gonna drop tonight but I’m off, so I’m uploading it in a few hours,” the SESH producer tweeted non-chalantly, before unceremoniously releasing the project onto the internet—11 tracks and just over 32 minutes, a handful of instrumentals tracks mixed and mastered by the producers, featuring verses by BONES, .CULT, Pepper Boy, abgohard and WICCA PHASE.
Though I knew a little of SHMX—mostly his catalog of dark, velvety beats posted to Soundcloud—I knew nothing of Fantasy Camp, and nothing of “Raining in My Head” itself when it dropped. I made a note to myself to give it a listen later that night. There was no hype. I had very few expectations. Yet by the end of the EP (spent leaning back in chair, paralyzed in rapture, fingers still hovering over the keyboard) I felt irreversibly affected—raw, stripped and vulnerable. Moved. Everyone needs to hear this, I thought. This should be huge. My judgment was based on what I found to be the EP’s triumph over overwhelming odds; it’s incredibly genuine, studied execution of a theme ripe for parody and corniness.
“SHMX and I have very similar music tastes outside of rap and hip-hop,” said Fantasy Camp when I asked him about the pair’s decision to use solely indie, alt, and post rock samples on the EP. “I hadn’t heard anyone using these kind of samples and making hard ass trap shit out of it,” SHMX added. The EP samples (among others) The Smiths, and—of all emotional reveries—Death Cab for Cutie. The extreme risk of fucking up a concept like this up—emo and trap, styles both intense if not slightly overblown—didn’t even strike me until more than an hour after I finished my first listen, an hour I had spent leaning back in my chair in awe. Against all that you would expect, it was all very well done.
This is the power of someone whose art is not a hobby or an interest, but a necessity: there is not one single thing about SHMX that is not genuine. His music is a near-perfect reflection of who is. “I have nothing to do with hype,” SHMX said, “I make music to distract from suicidal thoughts.” A few days ago—only a few weeks after dropping “Raining in My Head”—the SESH producer made a total of two (2) announcements via Twitter and Facebook before uploading (in a similarly unceremonious fashion) a 22-minute solo EP, entitled “A Dying Wish,” to SoundCloud. The tape begins with the 911 recording of a girl wailing into the phone after discovering her brother has shot himself in the head. It is perhaps the most continuous glimpse into the producer’s head that exists to date, and the results are stunning: beats slow, grimy, paranoid, complex, and packed with emotion. Each second feels like it is literally tearing at the fabric of your soul.
Then there’s Fantasy Camp. “I thought we had similar interests and sounds. We were both just doing different shit,” SHMX said of his decision to approach the producer, his favorite at the time, to talk collaboration. Strict aesthetics would make the two an unlikely duo. Fantasy Camp’s catalog is a study in precision and experiment. His beats are neat and tidy just as much as they are thrilling—something like the kiddie roller coaster you secretly love to ride with younger siblings. They pull you in with sentiment, only to plop you back out at the end, bright-cheeked, smiling, and none the worse for wear. Over the course of the interview, I began to see Fantasy Camp as something like a puzzle master, carefully selecting and assembling the pieces of a larger whole that he was able to envision perfectly from the start.
“Raining in My Head” is an 11-track collision of these two worlds: the furious, emotionally-laden insanity of SHMX with the near scientific attention-to-detail of Fantasy Camp. Together, the two balance perfectly. During our interview, SHMX was brash and boastful just as much as he was self-mocking and vulnerable—his words, like his music, spilled out of him like he physically couldn’t hold them back. “We didn’t start thinking about vocalists until we were like 6-7 beats in. I just didn’t honestly feel satisfied with instrumentals to be honest. We made some really good shit that doesn’t need vocals, but it was just extra ammo to add to the arsenal. We wanted to take it up a notch, make it better than it was already gonna be,” the producer said over a span of twenty seconds, before apologizing for his typos, “Fuck, I’m typing at phone speeds here, haha.”
Fantasy Camp, the moniker of Jonah, a high school senior located somewhere in Pennsylvania, added the intentional artistry. While SHMX ran me through the gamut of feelings that “Raining in My Head” would likely elicit, Jonah spoke steadily about the details of the EP: “That song might actually be my favorite,” Fantasy Camp said of “Beautiful Disaster,” the song sampling Death Cab, and which features Harlem rappers Swagtoof. It’s a standout on the EP, equal parts adolescent angst and adulthood realness, affective production and moving lyricism: “Dreams got you down some rough roads, Kansas Boy? Do you really what you want out of this life?” Dank Sinatra raps in the opening of the song, reflecting on the burden that comes with choosing one’s art over everything else. Then comes Left Ginsberg’s verse (potentially the realest on the tape), which features FaceTiming, overdose, EBT, and the heartbreakingly abusive side of co-dependent relationships: “I’m off my meds gun to my head so when I call her it’s like: Excuse me babe? Excuse me babe? Been through some things. They changed me.”
If “End of the Year” lists were decided solely on originality, on affect, on vision, I would—in all seriousness—put “Raining In My Head” at the top. The EP is not only a tremendous effort in production, it’s home to very impressive lyricism. The project flips the emotional value of so many of our favorite guitar riffs on their head; suddenly there’s bass, and that whole hearing-Morrissey-wail-over-a-trap-beat gets to you. “It’s not really something you party to, you know? It’s something that makes you think about who you might have fucked up with,” SHMX said when I asked what kind of experience he hoped listeners would have. Fantasy Camp agreed, “Listen through headphones. Laugh, cry. Call your ex. Like an old Instagram pic. Do what you gotta do.”