Tireek and Lonely Leonard treated their fans to a new album, “Crookland,” in March, and the ASU students are using the collection as a platform to address racial inequality.
“Not only is this a big step for us artistically, it’s also our proclamation that we are Black artists who make Black art,” Lonely Leonard says.
Tireek and Lonely Leonard describe “Crookland” as a “roller coaster,” a departure from popular rap, in terms of sound and lyricism. The music represents life, with a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns.
“We just wanted to make music that we wanted to hear and that we don’t hear much of anymore,” Tireek says.
“We draw from diverse places because we’re pretty diverse people,” Lonely Leonard adds. “We incorporated vibrations from hip-hop and trap, but a big influence on the album has been electronic music.”
The two are ASU film students, but they wanted to pursue music so they could pay homage to their hometowns. Tireek grew up in Brooklyn, while Lonely Leonard hails from Bloomfield, New Jersey.
“We try to pay homage to where we’re from by bringing back something old,” Lonely Leonard says.
They accomplished this by incorporating elements of early-1920s jazz with modern hip-hop and R&B lyricism into their music.
“I feel like a lot of artists on the East Coast are really starting to expand and explore new sounds and just really get crazy with their artistry,” Tireek says.
Though “Crookland” explores a variety of sounds, there is an overarching theme of abuse at the hands of authority figures and the East Coast’s unforgiving nature.
“Brutality, discrimination and racial bias are all very big themes in the album, along with other experiences, like poverty and growing up in a low-income community and the effects that it can have on the youth who just want to survive,” Tireek says.
“A lot of people look at young Black men and label them as thugs or criminals and don’t see them as anything more. A lot of people don’t realize that some of these guys do what they have to do out of the need to survive. So, it’s not necessarily that they want to be doing these things, but it’s like they have to.”
The duo addresses the stigma around incarceration and the struggles of growing up in an impoverished community.
“The narrative around people who are incarcerated is often spun in a way that’s negative when a lot of times it’s not,” Tireek says. “We’re not villains. We’re not crooks. We’re not inherently bad. We just wanted to shine some light on that.”
“On My Block” is one song that conveys this message best. The track describes how Tireek’s relationship with the police deteriorated after he witnessed police brutality.
“Growing Pains” describes the troubles Lonely Leonard had growing up on the East Coast.
Police are not the only authority figures the duo addresses on the album. The song “Brenda,” which features Comrade Tokyo, shines light on how Tireek witnessed women who were mistreated and disrespected by men who supposedly loved them.
As for the aesthetics, Tireek and Lonely Leonard wanted to create artwork that would express the album’s content as visually as possible.
“The ‘Crookland’ creative direction was done by my personal graphic designer, Shifty, and we gave him a framework to work with because we wanted the album aesthetically to be yellow to reference the opening song on the record,” Lonely Leonard says.
As for the album cover, that was created by Tireek.
“It really expresses how you see these terrible stories in the media, and it’s a compilation of that media,” Lonely Leonard says.
The merchandise created to promote the album continues the duo’s philanthropic mission, with part of the sales going to the NAACP’s criminal justice program.
“Pretty much everything I do has some kind of charitable element,” Lonely Leonard says. “It’s coming up on the year anniversary of the Black Lives Matter protests, and we knew that we really wanted to continue the effort of advancing people of color in this country.
“We thought that donating a portion of our proceeds would really cement the message in people’s minds of what our album is about.”
Tireek adds, “It was really just an effort to give back to the community. We can rap about all these things, but this is our way of fixing the situation. We just wanted to help in the best way that we could and show that we’re out here, we’re fighting, we care, and Black lives matter always.”
Although there is a lot to explore on this album, there is one thing that Tireek and Lonely Leonard hope fans will learn about the album.
“This album is bigger than music, bigger than us, and when you sit down and listen to the album, just realize that you’re going into a sonic experience that you can visualize when you listen,” Tireek says.
“We aren’t where we want to be yet, in terms of our artistry or our careers, but we’re still having such a big impact on people.”