Toward the end of 2010 an R&B singer asked Jeremiah Chrome, then known in Chicago's underground electronic-music scene for his Italo-disco revival group Clique Talk, about making some beats. An unabashed R&B fan, Chrome said yes, then drafted Brandon Boom—even more of an R&B fan—to help. A week later they met with the singer to play him what they'd done so far—and thus ended their producer-client relationship. The R&B singer had actually wanted Italo-disco beats. "I'd done Clique Talk for years," Chrome says, "so I was a little over doing that." The duo decided to keep making music sans the vocalist, and they dubbed themselves The-Drum—a nod to R&B heavyweight Terius "The-Dream" Nash.
"Where we are in the history of R&B and hip-hop is, I think, a weird time," says Boom. "Right now it's like, Where is it going? What's going to happen with it?"
"We're just trying to make sense of everything we've listened to," he continues. The-Drum's music, he explains, "uses hip-hop and R&B as a starting point, and it tries to go into other areas. We're just as influenced by The-Dream as we are by the Art of Noise or Jean Michel Jarre." In July they released the EP Sense Net on the digital label of NYC streetwear company Mishka, and its lead single, "/SYS," is a good example of what Boom's talking about—it begins with the kind of sparse, smoothly syncopated beat that Nash and production partner Christopher "Tricky" Stewart have practically trademarked, but soon spaces out with washes of psychedelic synths.
What's missing from the mix is any of the self-consciousness or kid-glove aesthetic distance you might expect from artsy white kids tackling R&B. "Fuck irony," Chrome says. "I like Three 6 Mafia the same way I like Throbbing Gristle."
If it's a weird time for pop music, then it's a good time for musicians interested in exploiting weirdness. The-Drum has benefited from friendships with fellow Chicago-born duos Supreme Cuts and Sich Mang, who add psychedelic twists to, respectively, hip-hop and footwork beats—and both of whom have found success among tastemaking listeners who keep up on the acts cosigned by trendy streetwear labels.
So far Chrome and Boom have taken a lackadaisical approach to getting signed. They've only released about 10 percent of what they've recorded, much of it on SoundCloud. They're shopping around a finished full-length album and their second split single with Sich Mang, but this year alone they've recorded maybe three EPs of material and 60 or 70 beats that they don't yet have any outlet for.
Ironically, given the way they got started, what The-Drum really want to do is produce tracks for R&B singers—local sensation Jeremih is at the top of their wish list. They've got the chops to pull it off, but they might have to step up their business game to make it happen. "We're doing all of this stuff on our own," says Chrome, "which is awkward, because people are used to this manager talking to this manager to set shit up. So it makes us seem kind of unprofessional when we're like, 'Hey guys! We've got songs and beats!'"