Bells & Whistles: silenzc wants to break your brain

How the 17-year-old producer crafts his “809s.”

This column was originally published on Nina Protocol on 4/29/24.

silenzc’s comment section. Art by Tyler Farmer.

Mano: If you know where to look, rap artists are doing increasingly maniacal things with 808s—and the masses are increasingly fucking with it. We covered this in our first Nina column, where we talked about the post-rage bass bombs of xaviersobasedNettspend, and a whole slew of rule-breakers, and again in last month’s essay on the firecracker rapper LAZER DIM 700, who is one of the biggest breakout artists of the year so far. Among these FL freaks, Minnesota producer tdf has emerged as a sonic lodestar and go-to guy for rappers like Smokingskulwildkarduno, che, and 1oneam. Scope his latest compilation tape love4you and you’ll get a sense of why. Amidst the tape’s blubbering bass, neon melodies peek out like fog lights in a thick haze.

In the wake of tdf’s scorched-earth aural assault, a whole wave of rising beatmakers has emerged. They live in the depths of YouTube, where they share secrets in small livestreams and tag all their shit as a “tdf-type beat.” They devote every day to getting their 808s even nastier than the master’s.

This is the domain of silenzc, a 17-year-old producer who was born in Florida, raised in Trinidad, and is currently based in Orlando. I found him through a viral tweet last fall where somebody shared a screen recording of a person randomly clicking through the producer’s YouTube page and guffawing at every sound they heard. If tdf’s beats are chaotic, silenzc’s are sonic freak shows. These 808s don’t just soften kidneys, they speak in Parseltongue. As you click through his channel, you have literally no idea how your ears are going to be rewired. All you can do is prepare yourself for some fuck shit.

I’m talking demonic transmissions from hell. Interstellar belches. After coming home from school, he cooks in FL for a while, then uploads whatever he makes to YouTube, where he’s got around 2,000 very devoted subscribers who describe his music better than any critic could. “Why df the hi hat galloping,” reads one on a recent beat that, in an even more fucked-up timeline, could soundtrack the Kentucky Derby. A common fan sentiment, a damn near cliche at this point, but I’m sure some journalist will still use it, is that his 808s have COVID. silenzc typically rewards himself in the evening with a Fortnite bender.

Call it dark magic, but it’s hard science. Over DM, silenzc told me that he crafts his alien sounds by mashing together six or seven VSTs and tuning them in specific ways. (His favorites of late are Guitar Rig 7 and RP Distort 2.) For most of them, he starts with a simple “plain 808,” then runs it through a Hadron Collider of effects to get it to the right level of fried. Beat sauce aside, the secret to striking sonic gold, he said, is to just challenge yourself. “id listen to whatever my previous beat would be, then id try making a beat 2x crazier,” he continued.

silenzc started making beats last summer on his dad’s Mac using the program BandLab, after random 808 patterns started playing in his head—presumably brought on by his addiction to listening to those aforementioned tdf-type beats. “his 808 patterns are the best I’ve ever heard,” he said. Transitioning to FL unlocked something in him. In his first beat on the DAW, “jenga 7,” the 808s sound like they’re trying to squeeze a large man through a wormhole.

Unlike some of his peers in the -type beat trenches, silenzc is not that concerned with scoring placements. He prefers to take ‘em as they come—and despite how batshit insane his beats are, those placements are coming. He does want to work with wildkarduno, Smokingkul, and tdf, of course; down the line, he thinks he can help architect a future era of Carti’s sound. But for now, as he put it, “i do this to see where it goes.”

And now, some good songs to hold you over while this geriatric beef stews.

Baby Fifty – “Stop Barrin On The Men”

Mano: A fun game to play is to just click through a DMV rap videographer’s YouTube page for 20 minutes and let your mind melt. The rattling, almost march-like crank style that’s been developing over there for the last few years has lately veered into underground ADHD wall-of-sound territory. You can hear just as much Dolan Beatz and rage in some of these tracks as you can the clattering sound of go-go, a style that remains a DMV staple. I’m very into the discordant Zelda sample on this Baby Fifty song, which was flipped and crank-ified by TrapMoneyBiggie, a producer who, of course, isn’t from the DMV but rather The Netherlands.

Millan: The versatility of the DMV flow needs to be studied by musicologists. This should not work. How did Baby Fifty hear that beat and then go off like that. Makes no sense.

Tezzus – “KING PHØNK”

Millan: Spastic bars over grating production has become the new norm in Atlanta, with rappers like LAZER DIM 700 and Baby Kia scream-rapping over distorted drums. Tezzus, who has been dropping on and off since 2016, picks from a similar crop of beats and also raps deliriously, but deploys a vocal elasticity closer to Young Thug than a drill sergeant. Tezzus is still raw, but he gives me hope about the future possibilities of the “bass-boosted” sound. It works a lot better when acrobatics are involved.

Mano: I think calling the norm “screaming” is a bit reductive—Kia is screaming, yes, but dxrt3all is doing a Professor Quirrell type two-face and LAZER is just rapping on a cheap mic. Atlanta has always had its bludgeoning firebrands, just as it’s had slinkier, more technical MCs. Tezzus’ performance here shows how expansive the palette of the city has gotten—kids in this new generation are iterating on Thug tics that are now somehow a decade old. Crazy.

Paxslim – “50/50”

Millan: Every so often, an artist with no discernible background shows up with a perfectly manicured image. Welcome, Paxslim. (I think he’s from Switzerland?) At less than 500 subscribers, each of the artist’s videos is top-notch, and each song is mixed precisely. There’s no doubt that a good team is behind him, but his ear for beats is astute, and the rapping is coming along. The back half of “50/50,” where his soft voice floats over a gruesome Warlord-esque beat, is the best he’s sounded yet.

Mano: Yeah, who the hell is this? The influence of Baby Keem must be studied, because I am his biggest hater, yet I will readily listen to kids who clearly take inspo from him.

Poppa – “Back Again”

Mano: And here’s my 1k play song of the month. I don’t know anything about the Calhoun, MS, rapper Poppa besides the fact that this song makes me wanna run through a wall. “Make a play like Ricky Rubio then hit the studio.”

Horse Jumper of Love – “Gates of Heaven”

Millan: A morose guitar riff combines with lyrics that start with the narrator being late for work and end, somehow, with the gates of heaven closing. One thing sure can lead to another. This is one of those songs I can sink into. Real Trainspotting vibes.

Sheff G free. Storm comin’ in NYC.