By Katie Kelly
“I say we’re two sides of the same coin. We’re equally matched. Nobody can stop us, together or separate, and that’s not being cocky, that’s being real,” Big Boi once said when asked who the better rapper is, him or his Outkast partner André 3000.
Music is not unfamiliar with iconic duos, and this is especially true in hip-hop. From Outkast and UGK to 8Ball & MJG and Mobb Deep, some of the genre’s most prolific artists haven’t been solo but paired.
So, what makes a duo, especially these duos, so special? Groups like the above understand something important: that in order to succeed, they must be great by themselves but exceptional together. Where one falters the other leads and vis versa, a seamless Yin and Yang. And it’s this exact idea that sets Memphis hip-hop duo Idi x Teco apart.
The pair have been working together since 10th grade and it shows. “We were both in the poetry club,” Idi tells me one afternoon. He and Teco are seated across from me at an outside table at Crosstown Concourse. “A teacher had us do an assignment, a poetry assignment, and we were the only ones that kind of took it serious. After class I was like ‘man you pretty dope’ and he’s like ‘you pretty dope too’ and we kind of connected over that,” Idi explains.
They quickly discovered they were both fans of the same artists. “I say my biggest influence is Outkast, Lupe Fiasco, Hot Boys,” Idi starts. “Kid Cudi, 2pac, Wu-Tang, it’s a lot of people. Definitely Outkast though,” Teco adds. Before long, making music together became inevitable.
This next level chemistry is only more evident when they hit the stage. If you’ve been lucky enough to see them live, you know what I’m talking about. The pair anticipate each other in a twin-like manner, seamlessly moving from one part of the stage to the other before finding each other back at the center. Once reunited, their energy is unreal.
“Throughout our whole career, I feel like we’ve connected with people the most during shows,” Idi says. “That rush we got after doing that first show…we didn’t know, we were just kids doing what we loved. But the reception that we got and the love we got and how powerful we saw that it could be, it changed us and really made us look at performing very, very seriously.”
Despite this dedication, forging a path in the Memphis hip-hop scene is possibly more challenging today than in the past. While Memphis rappers have recently dominated the charts, they don’t represent all Memphis rappers. Moreover, to assume all Memphis hip-hop sounds the same would be reductive of the ingenuity present in the city.
“You get this perspective from a typical hip-hop artist that Memphis is like this or Memphis is like that, and then you got guys like us saying, ‘hey we’re from Memphis too’”, Teco says. “We kind of bring another perspective to being from Memphis other than street, gangster, all this. Memphis is more than that and I think that’s what we show.”
Idi agrees, though he’s quick to add another important aspect. “The youth, the kids, they look up to us and we know the feeling of that,” He explains. “I feel like staying true to our sound and what we do, while being in a city that wants you to sound like something else just to blow up, for us to make it that way and stay that way could inspire younger artists that they can do the same. They don’t have to be a certain way.”
“There’s gotta be a us, a ‘that side’ of it,” Teco continues. Just like in their music, the two are always in sync. “I think why it’s so difficult paving that way is because we’re some of the first footsteps on that way. It’s going to take some time and we know that. But we have to be true to ourselves and our music. And shit there might be an artist 20 years from now that thanks us for it.” Teco says.
You see this different take on the genre most notably in their lyrics. Their words are thoughtful and purposeful, with not even a breath or adlib without reason. The stories told in their songs are raw in a way doesn’t feel invasive, but instead therapeutic. They tackle issues like mental health, depression, and loss with a compelling honesty.
“I think we do a good job of like being able to determine what can help people. That’s the perspective I try to write from – what am I going through in my life right now, and how can I help someone with what I’m saying.” Teco explains. It’s clear the duo view music as the ultimate source of healing. So, they in turn want to make music that heals, no matter where that takes them. “If I gotta go that deep I’ll go that deep. It might hurt doing it and it might make me feel uncomfortable, but it’s art. It’s not always about being pretty and comfortable.” Teco states.
Don’t mistake this vulnerability for weakness though. The pair possess a quiet confidence that only grows louder with each new release. Their delivery is impressive and their cadence is impeccable, expertly handling a range of production from local producers like Tay the Pro, IMAKEMADEBEATS, and QEMIST, among others.
Alone, Idi and Teco each have the talent and ability to succeed on their own. But together? They’re unstoppable. Big Boi ends his quote with a smile, as he says, “He will kill you and I will destroy you.” It’s clear Idi x Teco could say the same. Watch out.
Idi x Teco will be part of TONE’s Juneteenth festival this year. Catch them live on June 18th.