Ouch. That’s the first thought I had after pressing play on New York rapper Duncecap’s latest EP, miserable then. The harried and oppressive soundscapes shocked me, considering Dunce is best known for his cheeky rhymes and concepts. From the first frizzled note, it was clear miserable then was a new, wounded, and wrung out direction for Duncecap. Produced by the venerable Elucid—of Nostrum Grocers and Armand Hammer—miserable then captures the “loss and rage and reflection” of a broken relationship. If you’ve ever experienced heartbreak, the harrowing and berserk intensity of it, then you’ve experienced the sound stage of miserable then.
Together, Elucid and Duncecap are an intuitive pair. Elucid’s chunky and brooding production matches Duncecap’s lyrical squalor. Every bout of overthinking has a crunky drum or enveloping chord to call home. The chaos, self-hatred, and vocal filtering of opener “Waste of Money” juxtaposes nicely against simmering closer “Who Knows?” In five tracks, miserable then works out one of many knots of a complicated breakup, without claiming to have worked out them all. “Better now, I’m good,” Dunce says to close the EP.
In their own words, New York rapper and director Duncecap, and rapper-producer Elucid, speak on their time working together to bring miserable then to life.
I think my first time working with Elucid was directing and shooting the “Jealous God” video. We had played shows together by this point, but this was our first time working together. For such a beautifully dissonant song, we had a nice time walking around, grabbing cool shots, and bullshitting. It was a relaxed shoot, a lot to do with Elucid’s flexibility and trust with what I was doing. We got to know each other better, and it’s a fond memory.
Speaking of “definitely,” while I was working on rapping is for idiots, I reached out to Elucid for a conceptual track with Quelle Chris. I was a little worried about my idea because I cheekily start my verse, but, again, Elucid was trusting with what vision I had. And obviously, he killed his verse, too.
When we were filming the video for that track, Elucid was cool with me coming into his home and essentially documenting his evening while he rapped the verse. Fast forward to this fresh new EP, miserable then, produced by Elucid. I don’t remember the context of getting the beats from him, but it seems likely we talked about it and then lo and behold, I got five original Elucid beats.
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At this time, I was going through the breakup of a five-year relationship. It was nice to instinctively feel I [could] express myself candidly. I never worried if Elucid was going to specifically not-fuck with anything I did. Building trust over the years put me at ease to write whatever felt good at the time. Luckily, the mood of his production perfectly matched what I was going through.
I remember sending the demos—or maybe it was the first roughs—to Elucid and was a little worried if I went about the beats in the right way. After all, I was going through some shit and wrote to some music I've never stylistically made. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t put a lot of time into how to approach each song. I was thinking quite a bit at the time.
The moral of the story: I’m an anxious guy, and I’m appreciative of Elucid as a person because of the kindness and trust he’s shown me. I respect him a bunch, and I’m happy with the outcome of what we came up with together.
I knew Dunce from the Karma Kids shows. I first met Lt Headtrip, another member of Karma Kids, on shrooms at some bonfire in Austin, Texas, during SXSW. I started sharing bills with that crew, and that was the origin of our connection.
I started peeping how Dunce was making videos for those dudes. When I released Save Yourself in 2016, I reached out to him to shoot the “Jealous God” video. We walked around Broadway Junction, taking pictures and talking about the band Swans. I liked the guy. He’s been to my house, been around my kid.
Fast forward a couple of years: He floated the idea of me producing miserable then. I was down. I had new confidence in my production having produced on the Nostrum Grocers project and both Armand Hammer albums, Rome and Paraffin. Dunce would come over, and I’d play a bunch of different sounds I made, watching his response to certain sounds.
Dunce talked about the ending of a relationship and wanting to explore new terrain in his writing and vocal performance. It probably took me a while to send him beats, but everything I sent him was made on the same day. I reflected on my previous romantic heartbreak and tried to put together sounds that reminded me of loss and rage and reflection. Hearing what he did on “To Love Your Enemy is to Love Yourself” made me see the whole record with a sharper focus. I love that song. I immediately started carving arrangements and freaking his vocals with my drops and tweaks.
I’m honored that Dunce was able to dig in and express his vulnerability over my beats.