July 8, 2016 was an important date for me: the release of ScHoolboy Q’s fourth studio album, Blank Face. Consistent with his previous releases, Blank Face is an enticing project engorged with stories of the Hoover Street Crip’s life in the infamous South Central, LA. Packed with ominous bars, chilling stories and head-bumping production, Blank Face was well worth the almost 18-month wait since his third project, Oxymoron.
You know what they say: save the best for last. I guess Q identifies with this sentiment because as soon as Blank Face’s closing track, “Tookie Knows II”, permeated my eardrums, I was hooked. Menacing piano keys invite the listener in and the beat develops into an eerie, mesmerizing framework that ScHoolboy effortlessly spits over. After the track faded into its final seconds, my eyes bulged wider than Pusha T's. I was curious to interview the producers responsible. No, I needed to interview them.
I had never explicitly heard of Nez and Rio, but I was more than familiar with their work. In addition to blessing us with “Tookie Knows II”, the Chicago-born beatsmiths have worked with ScHoolboy Q on multiple tracks—including other Blank Face hits “Torch” and “Str8 Ballin”—along with A$AP Rocky, Tinashe, King Louie and others. Let’s meet the men who provide the pulse for some of today’s hottest tracks.
Like Gucci Mane proclaimed on “Waybach” about his friendship with Zaytoven and Mike Will, Nesbitt Wesonga and Mario Loving AKA Nez and Rio go, you know, way back. The humble and gracious Chicago producers first met in elementary school and grew tighter throughout the years, eventually attending Howard University together—the birthplace of their musical partnership. After college, they experimented in other US musical hotbeds (Atlanta and New York) before eventually settling down in their hometown.
A motif has developed with our Chicago artists: Chicago’s ripe with talent but there isn’t an infrastructure to facilitate career development—especially for producers. But, like I said, the city is ripe with talent. Nez and Rio teamed up with the Chicago music collective, Treated Crew, home to previous ZeusWolf interviewees: Sulaiman, Mic Terror and Boi Jeanius. Recruited by Grammy Award-winning Million Dollar Mano, Nez and Rio appreciate working with likeminded creatives—ones who inspire them and invoke artistry. However, it’s difficult to generate legitimate recognition as producers without prominent placements. They were desperate for that break.
Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) is one of today’s most popular and innovative music groups, known for challenging Hip Hop’s dumbed down listeners through their powerful 16s, riveting stories and incredible songs. But prior to their superstardom, they were indistinguishable from other unknown Rap groups; hungry for any marginal advantage over their deep competition. Lacking national recognition, in 2010 TDE toured local US venues, promoting themselves and searching for ear-catching production. Nez and Rio had just what they needed.
They set up a session at Chicago’s “The Shrine" with Kendrick Lamar to showcase their beats in hopes of creating a relationship and landing placements on his rookie studio album, Section .80. Kendrick’s hypeman was also in attendance—ScHoolboy Q. It’s mind-boggling that Q was someone’s hypeman. That’s like finding out that Heidi Klum was a fat flag spinner in high school… After hearing Nez and Rio’s intriguing catalogue of instrumentals—one marked by experimental sounds, spine-tingling snares and precarious drums—Kendrick left the session impressed, and with 20 of their beats. Unfortunately, none made the final cut for the critically-acclaimed Section .80, but that didn’t phase them—“It’s just an honor to even be considered,” they humbly said. Kendrick’s hypeman turned superstar, ScHoolboy Q, had other plans.
Looking to give his sophomore project, Habits & Contradictions, a distinct flavor, Q also took a handful of Nez and Rio’s beats. Only this time, their instrumentals weren’t like me going out for the 8th grade basketball team and getting cut; Nez and Rio landed two hits on Q’s album: “Druggys Wit Hoes Again” (ft. Ab-Soul) and “NiggaHs.Already.Know.Davers.Flow”. They had finally found their national placements.
Timing is crucial. Even though TDE wasn’t a household name in 2010, Nez and Rio knew they were poised to explode and forging a partnership would pay dividends. They leveraged their Habits & Contradictions placements for a new home in one of music’s major hubs, LA. As soon as they arrived out west, the creative juices started flowing. Click here to view their full production credits, but standouts include: King Louie’s “Michael Jordan”, Tinashe’s “Something to Feel” and A$AP Rocky’s “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodeye 2”. Producing for diverse artists accents Nez and Rio’s varied instrumentals, but I think their work best complements ScHoolboy’s vibe—an ominous aura with a gritty bite. Their palpable chemistry with Q is manifested through hits, like: “Gangsta”, “Fuck LA” and “Californication”. But arguably Nez and Rio’s most impressive work with Q is the 2014 Grammy Award-nominated monster hit, “Man Of The Year”.
I can only imagine what that feels like—a seemingly infinite grind, finally validated by a Grammy nomination. Even though LA served them opportunities, it also served them a cold reality. Nez told us, “We thought it was gonna be lit…but then you find out how percentages work and you don’t get the royalty check for another year” … “NOT LIT!” Rio exclaimed. They worked retail jobs during the time and couldn’t even get off to attend the Grammy’s that they were nominated for. “I’m nominated for a Grammy and I’m selling people their Grammy suits,” Nez said in a baffled tone—oh, the irony. But that fateful day finally arrived: the day that royalty check came and they could quit their jobs.
The future is bright for these two full-time musicians. Since “Man Of The Year”’s nomination, Nez and Rio formed the record label, Slam House. This creative endeavor has proved tremendously informative for them, mainly due to the gained insight. As the label heads, they are treading new waters as executive producers, implementing their vision on their artists’ work. As a result, they’ve deepened their music perspective and can more effectively navigate the murky industry waters. However, I think they still get the most enjoyment from the creative side.
When they aren’t busy molding their artists’ work, Nez and Rio are in the studio developing a new album with an imminent release. While trying to hide some chuckles, the only information they divulged is that it won’t feature any rapping—maybe we’ll hear some Barbara Streisand samples on there? But if you’re craving their signature Rap production, they have a track on Wale’s upcoming album, SHINE, featuring Travis Scott—I can only imagine the energy during those recording sessions.
It’s interesting—I feel like I’ve known Nez and Rio for years through their production; they’ve been through so much with me. Whether it’s “Gangsta” blaring through my ear buds and pushing me to get one more rep, “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodeye 2” energizing countless pregames or “Something to Feel” wing-manning me, Nez and Rio have been there. I’m sure they’ll continue to be.
ZeusWolf Choice Picks:
Man Of The Year
Something to Feel