NAPPYNAPPA and Pat Cain on how their music feels like holding onto water.
I arrived at DC’s Union Market food hall a little before four on a pleasant spring Saturday. The scene could have been airlifted out of any southern-ish city. Guys and girls in gingham button-downs were bustling around, looking for beer and Korean-fusion tacos, and wearing sunglasses that were too cool for their faces. The rectangular building resembled a huge gray shipping container. Spotify reverberated through the exposed pipes in the ceiling. The rooftop patio was astroturfed. Somehow it smelled like nothing.
I wasn’t there to eat, I was there because Model Home, the out-there Washington rap duo comprised of Pat Cain on electronics and emcee NAPPYNAPPA, wanted to meet on Union Market’s roof for our interview. I found this situation amusing: Model Home’s work is abstract and synth-heavy; they call their releases “experiments in liberated sounds and lifestyle.” They make restless, decaying music that flutters, like a wounded butterfly, on the edge of hip-hop’s sonic possibilities. Meeting these artists atop a giant yuppie saloon with a skyline view of the imperial capital felt like being sandwiched between two cosmos.
The only time an algorithm has ever done anything good for me was in July 2020. I don’t remember exactly how it happened—I think I had just finished listening to MIKE’s War in my Pen on a COVID walk to nowhere—but the Model Home song “Grip” came on. The track was distorted and groovy but also warm; it could have soundtracked a radioactive block party. Atop driving drum machine eighth notes was a vocal pattern that reminded me of Ghostface yelling “BUNG BUNG BUNG” on “Nutmeg.” I could feel Nappa’s free-form verses battling against a current of factory floor funk. I was hooked on impact.
Since forming in 2018, Model Home has put out a plethora of material and cultivated a distinct sound, one that wobbles and is fuzzy but still moves in a linear direction. Emerging from a small but fruitful DC experimental rap world that includes artists like Sir E.U., both halves of the duo bring unique creative perspectives to the fold: Nappa is a prodigious solo MC and Pat has been involved in many forms of experimental music and art. Together in the nation’s capital, they have synthesized a sound that is identifiably hip-hop and unpretentiously avant-garde, earning praise from Pitchfork and their hometown paper of record. This May, the group released endless spool, an album with songs that are less in-your-face than “Grip” or the ones found on 2021’s both feet en th infinite. It features layers of reverberating vocals and uses synthesizers in a more subdued manner. The songs glide, giving listeners space to think about what they’re hearing. On tracks like “du without,” Nappa’s rapping nearly fuses with Pat’s beats into one aural totality.
In a sense, my conversation with Model Home mirrored the free-flowing nature of their music. It was a sunny day and we all kind of just chilled. Questions and answers were casual—when I asked them how they see themselves fitting into hip hop as a genre, “Aquemini” came on the rooftop speakers and the conversation drifted into fragmented thoughts on OutKast and other topics. Pat and Nappa’s creativity shined through their humble demeanors. They spoke genuinely and exuded a mellow, unassuming confidence in the art they’ve made together. I am extremely grateful for that afternoon.
A month later, I saw Model Home perform in my hometown of Toronto at a gig with noise artists Wolf Eyes (with whom they’ve collaborated on a new album) and Twin Mask. Though endless spool is a relatively subdued point in the duo’s discography, their live show was much more frenetic. They played uninterrupted for around forty minutes. Groovy industrial beats mutated into four-on-the-floor house rhythms to dubby interludes to hard-edged electro; new synth patterns would build up and seemingly swallow old ones. Pat was locked in behind his electronics, intensely focused but also jiving to the music, while Nappa, vocals smothered in reverb, rapped loosely by Pat’s side. He sounded more like a co-instrumentalist than a separate wordsmith. Compared to Wolf Eyes’ slow-boiling drones and Twin Mask’s spastic, unpredictable screeching, Model Home’s set bounced. When they played, the audience wasn’t doing the standard noise gig head bop, they were actually dancing. My buddy went to the concert having never heard the group’s music before. About halfway through their performance, I looked over at him and spotted the subtle, cheeky grin of a raver in a trance. He really liked it. Who knows, maybe those DC lobbyists at Union Market would have dug it too.
Andrew Burton: I’d love to hear you guys talk about the DC rap and experimental music scenes, or any other scenes around the country or internationally you feel connected to. You’ve worked with a wide range of artists, is it just about finding like-minded individuals?
Pat Cain: Yeah for sure. We’ve definitely found a lot of people through our collaboration with [the record label] Disciples and meeting people.
NAPPYNAPPA: Individually I feel like we know a great deal of artists.
Pat Cain: Even before we started this project Nappa was involved in underground rap music. I was involved in DIY noise, midwest noise, video art, those kind of things.
How do you think Model Home has evolved since the project’s inception, both in terms of sound and process? Do you think there has been a specific direction you guys have moved toward or has it been more spontaneous?
Pat Cain: I’m always just trying something new. I’ve used similar tools even from the first recordings—certain things have always been a part of the setup—but I got a drum machine and that changed things up quite a bit.
NAPPYNAPPA: Most of the thoughts are spontaneous. It’s like a puzzle: you got all the pieces that we want to work with and when it comes together, that’s the most spontaneous aspect, more so than where we’re coming from with it. I feel like the most interesting part is how we want to create, not necessarily what we’re creating.
Pat Cain: There are certainly a lot of collage elements to it too, trying different styles and trying to do things in different veins.
How exactly did the collaboration start and what has sustained it?
Pat Cain: I mean, we’re friends.
NAPPYNAPPA: Yeah dead ass.
Pat Cain: We just try to stay in each other’s lives.
NAPPYNAPPA: This is my man. If we stopped making music today, this is who I fuck with regardless. I’m fortunate to have met [Pat], he’s shown me a lot and we’ve done a lot together.
Pat Cain: Just trying to keep going, find new things.
Pat I know you’ve worked across multiple artistic genres and Nappa you’ve been rapping for a while, how did your backgrounds lead you to Model Home?
Pat Cain: I work as a repair person with electronics and built and modified some instruments to be a part of this project. I’ve always been a fan of modern art and abstract music/filmmaking since I was a teenager, just trying to bring those things together but then also try to do something that’s fun too because I personally don’t like how heavy some experimental stuff will be or how it has to have a meaning or tell you something. I’m just kind of like, “let’s have fun and see what happens here.”
NAPPYNAPPA: I think we’ve always shared a similar approach to what we’re doing.
Pat Cain: You can be serious about something but it doesn’t have to be serious. Take it seriously, but do what you want with it.
How did endless spool come together and how did the process compare to other recordings you’ve done?
NAPPYNAPPA: I feel like the [creative] space itself was just like the whole thing.
Pat Cain: And the season too. Now I’m listening to it again because it’s coming back out, I’m like, “oh, this is very fall, dusty.”
NAPPYNAPPA: [Pat]’s more constantly working on a lot of technical aspects of the sounds more than me. I’m always following his lead, that’s my boy, I trust him. When I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.
Pat Cain: I think that’s also part of both of our processes too. I just really love to practice and be in the studio, finding stuff. When we come together, it’s the thing of the moment.
NAPPYNAPPA: The magic.
Pat Cain: We both prepare in our both ways to make the moment happen. This one is always just a live thing and live vocal, no hyper-editing or any of that kind of stuff.
The first song “breath of air Pt. 2” has a lot of overlapping vocals and sounds. How did you record it and how did it come out in the end?
NAPPYNAPPA: This is the first album with us using the SP-303 as well as my Vocal DigiTech, the Vocal DigiTech is practically a member! That’s where the layering comes.
Pat Cain: All the vocal layering is also done live. Like “oshuns” is a tape loop and [Nappa] did some live stuff over the tape loop.
For me, making the instrumental part of a track, I’ll work over a couple of hours to kind of get a patch together, a drum pattern, a tape loop, and an idea of how that’s all gonna meld together. Then I’ll just hit record and try to make it five or seven minutes [long]. Nappa will do the vocal and then it’s just finessing it a little bit from there, but it’s pretty raw for the most part—just changing volumes a little bit—no in-the-box effects.
both feet en th infinite from 2021 felt rhythmic—almost danceable—at times. endless spool feels less so.
NAPPYNAPPA: There’s a multitude of artists that are part of [both feet en th infinite], a lot of instrumentalists, a lot of rhythmic characters rather than just us two. We’re not really based on rhythm as much as feeling.
Your music feels like it’s trying to capture the most fleeting of moments.
NAPPYNAPPA: Fleeting feelings is a true inspiration. It’s like holding onto water.
The song “wings on fyre”—that’s such a memorable phrase, it’s almost like a Black Sabbath song title or something. Nappa, do you remember where those words came from?
NAPPYNAPPA: I think that’s just it in itself. It came from a sense of uncertainty, probably.
Pat Cain: [laughing] I always took it as like, “oh yeah, I’ll show up on fire but I’m still here.”
NAPPYNAPPA: I’m a very, like, fake emo person, people make fun of me for shit like that [laughs]. It’s probably from a sense of uncertainty though. Like “wings in fyre, burning under my skin”—I don’t fuckin’ know what will happen next but I’m flying regardless. There’s a sense of Icarus.
Pat Cain: There is a bunch of Icarus stuff on the album with the “feathers” song too.
NAPPYNAPPA: They say Icarus is always mad inspirational.
I’d love to hear you talk more generally about where your lyrics come from. When you’re on the spot and you have the mic, how do you summon them?
NAPPYNAPPA: I be taking my time and I follow [Pat’s] lead to see where it’s going. I sometimes have things in my phone that I’m like, “this is the perfect thing to express on this pattern or pacing.” It’s not formulaic how we create, but I have to formulate a language of how I feel. Same for [Pat], this man is a motherfuckin’ scientist over here. I’m an alchemist, he’s a scientist.
I noticed on the Live At The White Hotel Bandcamp page that your live performance was described as the “purest distillation of the project in full untethered sprawling beauty.” What’s the relationship between Model Home live and on record?
Pat Cain: I create a set of sounds, tools, tapes and drum patterns, but I make a conscious effort not to remember what I did exactly so that every performance can be something fresh and new. I think what Selphic Sid was talking about is how the moment is what we’re really after.
NAPPYNAPPA: You’ve got two different people attacking one moment, not attacking in an aggressive or violent manner to destroy, but to build together in one manner.
Pat Cain: That’s it, I just want to be in a cool live band that’s fun and interesting. That’s coming from an experimental music background too, you do your set and try to make improvised music.