I.O.U. (short for “Inside Our Universe”) yearns for something other-worldly, and in defiance to conventional hip-hop they’re out to build dynamic beats their own way. New Jersey natives Isaiah ‘Izee’ McNeill and Andrew ‘Buck’ Buckner emerged to the hip-hop scene in 2010 with Rutgers-themed remixes of popular songs. Sparked by their enthusiastic reception the duo committed fully to their progressive vision, producing more tracks and developing their sound: an amalgam of positive vibes, diverse musical canons and solid beats. That they’re both just 19-years-old is the first of many mind-blowings they’re aiming to impart on the music scene.
Izee and Buck, friends since their elementary days, began making music their junior year of high school, recording their first track during their sophomore year at Rutgers University under the then-named Deuce 1′s. Their first official hit was a remix of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind,” aptly dubbed “Rutgers State of Mind” and resonate enough with the student body to earn it the title of university anthem.
Following this success was “Black and Scarlet,” a Rutgers-themed take on Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” that generated enough positive feedback to inspire the production of their self-released first album, “Breaking Our Mind Barriers” (B.O.M.Bs) in summer 2011.
The foundation of I.O.U.’s musical odyssey is hip hop, within which they layer a planet’s array of acoustic elements and styles. It is, as Izee has dubbed it, a “genre called everything,” one which draws from every corner of music’s roster. Buck and Izee both lend rap talents to their music, with Izee carrying a production role as well. The result is a steady flow hosted by frequently unconventional but generally well-mixed sounds.
“We want to help listeners who like us expand what music can be,” says Izee. “A lot of people listen to just hip-hop or just one style, and we want to show them that yeah, jazz is cool. Classical is cool. All these things, we’re just trying to broaden their horizons.” They’re doing so while expanding their own ideas of music’s potential, citing film scores, music blogs, and international songs as a few of many inspirations. Within their lyrical content is a soft spot for positivity and a desire to break from the heavy topics so prevalent in conventional hip-hop. I.O.U.’s motto is “Today is a great day,” a sentiment reflected in each facet of their music.
It’s clear they’re on to something. Their latest release, the mixtape Lo<3,GREΛT.Humans, is a shining product of this vision, notably expansive as it drifts along a wide range of moods and textures. It opens with a quote from Jerry McGuire, “We live in a cynical world,” and the entire 16-track mixtape is a positivity-fueled effort to overcome this platitude. The rap in each track is well-delivered and serves to adhere the eclectic mix of samples. “Angels,” a tender track that borrows from folky Ed Sheeran is an album highlight, as is “That Bob Marley Song,” a well-produced flow that’s both lively and laid back, an appropriate nod to the sample from Marley.
Listen: “That Bob Marley Song”
At the more curious end is “New Era,” a puzzling but no less pleasing evocation of world music which hosts humming ambient chants beneath a cadence of powerful verses. Throughout the album listeners encounter a variety unknown within the present hip-hop scene, and whether a party hit or a mellow flow each song adds to the global experience.
“Our goal is to make sure we can reach everybody. Create music for the young, the old, the hip, the not hip, the cool and not cool,” says Izee. The wide audience they’re seeking is smitten, apparent in the fan support they’ve received in competitions. In 2011, I.O.U. entered two talent competitions, the winner of each chosen through public voting. They won both – on the same day, coincidentally – earning them a performance at Six Flags Great Adventure in October, and an opening set for international superstars Far*East Movement in September. “After that one we were kind of swarmed after the show, there were a lot of little kids and girls coming up to us for autographs, it was great.”
I.O.U. has big tour plans for the near future, hitting up college campuses and festivals across the country, including Penn State, Montana, New Jersey, and New York. “We’re doing a lot of traveling this spring,” says Izee. “We’re moving in the right direction.” Successful fusion of such diverse styles is an ambitious task for any artist, and that two newcomers already do so this with such fluency hints at their immense artistic potential. Now that Buck and Izee have begun building their ideal universe – one of epic, genre-defiant beats – we’re eager to see where they lead us next.
Written by KB.