Spend an afternoon with Villain Park, and you’ll hear them roast each other just as often as they deliver praise.
You’ll also hear the Los Angeles trio argue about who’s the best basketball player—every group member played at Hamilton High School, but emcee Bunge is adamant his 5’6” frame would be in the NBA if music hadn’t taken off first. Bunge will accuse emcee-producer Smoke of having fake dreads, while Smoke clowns DJ Coly Cole’s appearance without his signature du-rag. You’ll learn about the forthcoming eatery inspired by Bunge’s “larger-than-life fingers” that you can see from beyond the universe. “Beyond fingers, that’s the name of his new restaurant coming in 2021,” Cole will quip.
Before they were Villain Park, Cole and Smoke were in a band together. The former on drums and the latter on the keys. They formed natural chemistry, setting the foundation of the rap collective. Once Bunge entered the fold, the “villain mentality” became apparent.
“If you ever look at a villain, they’re watching everything,” says Smoke, age 23. “It’s like Cole says, we’re the watchers of the game. We do our thing in our way; we don’t worry about the next man.”
The group’s colorful personalities pop just as much on their newly-released album The Recipe as they do off wax. Their debut, released August 28, was a long time coming; it’s been four years since the group introduced their brand of high-energy lyricism and inventive wordplay on the cypher-style EP Same Ol Shit.
“We’ve been cooking this album up for three years now," says Cole, age 21. “We thought it was ready at certain points, but would listen back and be like ‘Nah, we got to add this.’ We’ve just been aging this album like wine.”
If some early reviews are any indication, the album was aged to perfection. Between riotous mob chants and news clips decrying violence in the streets of Los Angeles, Smoke and Bunge rap with vindictiveness. Of standout track “Visions,” released several weeks ahead of the album with a sinister visual, a unified mob mentality looms as their faceless figures bounce throughout the frame like pinballs, bombarding viewers with animated rap hands and ominous neon lights. Bunge, also 23, is the first member to take the mic, slicing through the darkness as his machine gun flow hardly skips a single syllable.
“His style is like a sharp blade,” Cole says about his partner’s work on the mic. “It pierces your eardrums to where you’re gonna feel that shit. Your ears are going to bleed out with whatever he just said.”
On “Black Meadow,” featured guest Hugh Augustine reflects on his journey and the sacrifices he’s made to secure his career. Bunge then enters the foray and implores the listener to “let me go where the flowers grow.” It’s impossible not to pay attention. Repeating that line and stretching the final word to infinity, he adds extra weight that elevates it from a simple request to an urgent plea.
“I was writing that hook from a happy state,” Bunge says. “It’s about paradise, where you want to find peace at. But it’s also about developing; you don’t want to be with the dead flowers, you want to be with the rest of them that are surviving and growing. The only way to do that is when you’re in a happy place.”
Smoke’s production matches his aggression on the mic, where he delivers a cavalry of sounds and finds fresh means to make you bob your head. “Thang On Me” pulls from each corner of the hip-hop landscape, giving it universal energy. It translates well, whether you’re listening on a sunny day in LA or a crisp afternoon on the East Coast. “Rare Form” is compelling in a much colder way, with haunting synths and mechanical samples placing you squarely in an abandoned factory and daring you to find your way out.
“I can make a beat in five minutes sometimes, or I can spend almost two days,” Smoke says about his creative process. “It’s all-natural. You don’t want to put too much on it and make it crowded; I like to leave space for the artists. I think of them as an extra percussion, lyricism, and flow add to it.”
Add it all up, and you have the world’s newest “street Bible,” as are the words of Coly Cole. The group’s belief in the ever-relevant nature of their content is a big reason why they never felt the need to rush the project. “Scriptures can go for any time, you can relate to it at any moment regardless of what you’re going through,” Cole says.
You can hear the evolution of Villain Park. They’ve grown out of their teenage years and have more experiences to draw from. Their self-confidence is perhaps their most significant attribute. It’s apparent in all their music as well as how they describe themselves outside of it.
When I ask the group what it would take for them to say they’ve “made it” as artists, Coly Cole emphatically tells me: “Respect.”
“You might see someone at school wearing a Metallica shirt, knowing damn well they don’t know no damn Metallica,” Cole concludes. “It’s like that. We want little girls to have a Villain Park shirt on in 20 years, even if they don’t know what our faces look like.”