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Words – Joshua Weaver

In today’s convoluted hip-hop world of Ableton loops and ‘90s samples, it’s not often you come across someone trying to strip down rap music. But, for two Maryland Institute College of Art grads, that’s exactly their mission. Now, don’t get it twisted, 24-year-old Ronin Wood and 23-year-old Matthew Thompson love a good banger. But, as Thompson puts it, “What does Waka Flocka sound like with no beat?”

Ripping away the bass, hi-hat and snare exposes fundamental elements of hip-hop that, today, seems to lie more in the minutia of the genre than its essence – its rhyme and lyric. With a janky VHS camcorder, a barely working editing VCR and a simple desire to shoot a music video for friend and Virginia-based rapper Zaiah Burke, Thompson and Wood started their website Time Spent.

“Really any idea that is presented, I’m like – how can I apply that to hip hop? That’s just my basic go to,” Wood said during a recent chat with the duo at Gallow Green in Chelsea.  For the past two years, Wood and Thompson scoured about for fresh talent, featuring promising rap acts like RAPDRAGONS and Abdu Ali out of the studio, off the stage, and packaged in the nostalgic graininess of analog videotape.

The site and its philosophy are pretty simple, no hooks, tracks or beats, and no footage splicing, just the rap artist and his rhyme. Time Spent gets up-and-coming rappers to share their skill, not emulate; and create instead of duplicating – that’s why Thompson and Wood have rappers perform original verses for the camera rather than prerecorded pieces or simple freestyles.

“I hate the aesthetic of [rap videos]. Visually connecting what they’re saying and what they’re doing; there’s just not a lot there. I wanted to be really hypercritical,” Thompson said.

“So, we started putting together some rules – no adding a beat, no cutting the camera. There’s nothing there to really help the artist at all; it’s a very, very raw presentation”.

But, it’s not only the rappers who step up to bat. Thompson, the pair’s filmmaker is equipped only with a clunky analog camcorder ­– no lighting crews or boom operators (most of the time).

“If we shot this on an HD camera, we wouldn’t be honest to the rappers,” Wood said. “We’re asking the rappers to not have a chorus, to not have a hook, to not have music accompaniment, we’re limiting them. People on each side need to have a challenge.”

From shoot to site, the process involves a somewhat cumbersome series of steps, involving transferring footage from tape decks to iMacs back to tapes, punching a VCR with a screwdriver (allegedly, while listening to dubstep), plugging in typography and more, all in real time.

The analog process gives each of Time Spent’s videos unique flaws and blemishes that, coupled with the unadulterated rhyme of the rappers, construct a truly raw aesthetic.

“There’s no video control at all. It’s really enjoyable to come across some of the flaws of the camera,” Thompson said. “Sometimes we’ll pan the camera across and it’ll expose to the background and the person rapping will become just a complete silhouette Allowing those mistakes to happen only adds to the purpose of using [analog].”

Wood and Thompson recently ditched Baltimore for the Big Apple. And, from Time Spent’s first gallery show at Bushwick’s Wayfarer Gallery in July to shooting New York’s veritable rap empress Mykki Blanco, it’s gone from 10 to 60 mph in the past couple of months for the Time Spent crew.

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“Moving to New York, everything was just skyrocketing, like meeting Abdu [Ali], getting [Fat] Tony. And, then we got a live event in a gallery,” Thompson said. “The [owner] sat down and watched every single one of our videos and was like, ‘this is poetry, this is beautiful.’”

“We [were] showing these videos in a gallery, which showed our opinion of them, which is that they’re art, they’re performance,” Wood said.

And, while Wood and Thompson hold firm on Time Spent’s philosophy, sometimes a little leniency is in order, especially when it’s Mykki rocking “David Blaine Bitches” for the Time Spent camera outside a Lower East Side McDonald’s. Unlike Time Spent’s previous lot of rappers, there were lights and a boom op on duty for Blanco. But, still, the aesthetic stuck.

“Mykki, being the diva that she is, was super into the idea; but, [she] wanted to make it her own, so she had a chorus,” Thompson said.

“Mykki challenged our format. Mykki brought us something that we never had before, which was, ‘I want a music video, but I don’t want any music and I want to remind people that I’m a sick-ass MC,’” Wood said.

 Check out more on Time Spent at their WEBSITE

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