Organic. Exciting. Young dreamers. Blessed. Those are some of the words Mannie Serranilla aka Beck Motley used to describe the journey The Airplane Boys have been through from their sound beginnings in April 2009 to a late February night in 2012 at the Dreamhouse studios in downtown Toronto. We’re on the rooftop of the studio as Serranilla and his other half, Jason Drakes aka Bon Voyage are standing on a platform with the Toronto skyline –lit up and all– glowing in the background. It’s cold, but not cold enough to ruin the mood as photographer Cris Ramirez takes some stills of the Toronto hip-hop duo all while the two start to joke about their all-time idol, Mr. West. “Yo, we both want to be Kanye’s sons,” joked Serranilla. They’re obviously huge fans of Ye’s creativity and originality –something that has rubbed off on the duo. Drakes –wearing a black leather jacket himself– describes the APB’s music as chillin’, leather jacket music.
It’s been a long progression for the duo, who both grew up in Malvern, Scarborough. Naming themselves The Airplane Boys because of the relations both their fathers had with airplanes (Serranilla’s father was an airplane engineer and Drake’s father was a pilot), the two have gone a long way in such a short amount of time. They released their debut mixtape “Where’ve You Been” this past May, gone on tour and performed with acts such as Snoop Dogg and J. Cole and several months later, received a call from management that they’re going to be performing at one of music’s biggest stages, Coachella, all while finishing up their second mixtape, The Alignment.
Just looking at the two and from seeing what they wear, their work ethic, their perspectives on life and the industry –you get a sense that their inspirations lay far and beyond just music. It’s a lifestyle and culture they try to evoke into their fans in hopes of inspiring, all through their collective that they call Beau Monde, meaning “Beautiful World.” As we happily freeze ourselves during the quick shoot, one cannot help but notice the overview of the beautiful Toronto nightlife as we watch the city on its grind.
Standing way up on the rooftop, The Airplane Boys are definitely flying high and gearing up for a major year.
This scene is what you might call a Beautiful World.
*This interview with The Airplane Boys was conducted a few weeks before The Alignment was released.*
So you’ve been in the studio all week, working on The Alignment, right?
Mannie: All month. We recorded it in New York, UK and LA when we were on tour and then we came back to mix it.
Where are you guys so far with that project?
Mannie: We’re mixing and mastering it all. We released New Blood the other day (two weeks ago) and might be releasing another song tonight or this week. (They released “Dictate” the night of the interview)
So do you guys have a release date planned?
Mannie: Mid-February. You can expect an announcement next week. We just don’t want to be those guys that say we’re pushing it back. We want to give you guys a solid day.
With The Alignment, what can we expect sonically and in terms of the storytelling?
Jason: It’s a lot more connection. I think one of the mistakes we made before was putting out a lot of music with no real concentrated dose –just a lot of different takes was our addition to the world. With this, you feel the journey and you feel the place-to-place documentation of everything wrapped up in a lot more mid-tempo stuff, but still we have the exciting energy that people know us for.
Mannie: Picture cowboys with the soundtrack, “Drive.” I guess we wouldn’t call it a mistake, but more of an audition. We wanted to do what we wanted to do. Right now, we have a blueprint of how we want to approach things. We have a story, we have colours that we want to dash on. From beginning to end, it’s more adventurous. You’ll know which songs were in the UK, which songs when we were in LA and which songs when we were in New York –and of course, Toronto.
How does The Alignment progress or grow compared to Where’ve You Been?
Jason: Just a lot more honesty. A lot more of us put out on the line. A lot more emotion. A lot of the things we didn’t get to say in Where’ve You Been, we’re getting to say now. You see the growth in us not only as artists, but also as humans and dealing with people on a day-to-day, dealing with business, our friends.
How much of Illangelo are we going to see on the mixtape?
Jason: Yeah, not much at all.
Mannie: Zero per cent almost. I mean we might go into the studio and we might add some spice, but this time we brought our in-house producer, Kenny, who we grew up with since kids. We got Alex on board in the Dreamhouse mixing it again. We have Phil mastering it. We got this producer Spinz. He has some crazy stuff. He’s in LA right now and Arthur, who released a project with Rick Ross. We’re definitely looking to evolve, but we still sit down with Illangelo and share thoughts, talk about women, fashion, outlook on life and we obviously sit down with him and he gives us his taste and critique on our music.
How did you guys initially link up?
Jason: This very place.
Mannie: This is legendary. This is called the Dreamhouse.
Is that what you guys really call it?
Jason: Yeah, that’s the new name for it now.
You guys just shot a music video for New Blood. What can we expect from the video? Give us a little teaser.
Mannie: Classic, organic, beau monde-shot music videos. Cris (points to photographer) knows about that. We shoot very avant-garde, gorilla-style stuff. Aesthetic is still the same, the colours, the fabrics we used, the lighting, we stick to what we know best. Our strength is in low-budget, shoestring videos.
You guys used to shoot with no budget in past videos, right?
Jason: Still do.
Have things changed now that you’ve gotten bigger? Are you guys are gearing towards the bigger productions now?
Jason: Definitely. When the time comes –if it’s a label situation or if we can throw our show money into it. All we’re interested in is investing into the project.
Mannie: If we could have fly-off airplanes, firehouses, CG shit –everything for the art, man.
And with the artwork cover for the New Blood single, can you explain the picture? Like where did the inspiration come from?
Mannie: The pack of wolves is our brotherhood, Beau Monde. The animal can relate to the wolf because of the loyalty that they have for one another. When push comes the shove, they know how to protect each other. When J and I wrote New Blood, the story is about –even the visuals that Warren put together– women or men, from whatever perspective you’re taking it from, that when you fall in love with them, they’re not per say in love with you and who you are, but more so like us –being in this industry, they only like us because we do music. They want something from us and move on to the next when they’re done. You’ll see in the video what we mean by that. The blood sucking the energy and the love out of it. Us guys, we give into that temptation.
With the name of your website, Beau Monde, what does that mean to you guys and why did you name it that?
Jason: Beautiful world is everything to us. It’s what we’re trying to bring to the people. The culture, the art, the fashion, the honesty and everything that we’re about –it’s a brotherhood.
Mannie: What we want out of that is for people to see the world through the eyes of The Airplane Boys. Just to get inspired and try to inspire other people. We try to put a positive vibe to that. We came from the streets. There’s a lot of violence from where we grew up and we were relying to express, whether it be through art, photography, rapping or singing –go for it. Beau Monde is that need and hunger to express. Create your own world, that beautiful world.
Where did you guys grow up?
Jason: Malvern, Scarborough.
So you have the single, the mixtape/album coming up and then Coachella. What does it mean to you to be able to perform alongside the best in music?
Jason: That’s unreal. Last year, we were in the studio looking at Kanye West doing Coachella. We were like, “Imagine if we’re there next year?” We didn’t expect we would get selected after one mixtape. We’ve been blessed with a lot of things at a fast pace as well. We’ve been growing really fast. It’s lovely. We got a good taste of it in the UK, throwing ourselves out there and seeing thousands, but this is the ultimate performance.
How did you guys react when you heard the news?
Mannie: We were ecstatic. We were jumping. I thought it was a prank call when management called us. It’s surreal that after one mixtape, it’s like, “How the hell did we get there?” We’re just kids from Toronto trying to understand ourselves still, but we look at it more as students of the game. We’re more excited to be there watching the acts, to be with our people and watch some of the people we’ve looked up to perform rather than performing itself.
That sort of brings me to my next question. As fans, who are you excited to see perform at Coachella?
Jason: Radiohead, M83 –those guys are amazing. Obviously Snoop and Dre.
Mannie: Uncle Snoop!
Jason: Smoke weed, chill out.
Mannie: Upcoming rappers like Kendrick and A$AP.
Weeknd’s going to be there, too.
Mannie: Yeah! Toronto represent! We always rep Toronto.
You’ve also performed with big names in the past like Snoop and J. Cole. What’s it like being around the both of them?
Mannie: They’re both similar in terms of the way they approach things. They’re very chill and laid back but still have that demeanor and presence of knowing who they are. Snoop gave us advice saying in order to stay relevant, you have to still fuck with the young. You still have to understand what’s going on out there. Some people are preservers and old-timers, so they can’t change to what’s relevant. It’s hard for them to accept the fact. But Snoop, the reason why he’s created this longevity is because he accepted what’s going on today and he’s swimming in it. With Cole, he has a different perspective coming into the game being a new, young blood. He has this excitement when he comes off the stage, it’s like he’s looking to meet the fans and stuff.
Jason: Yeah, it’s really two different perspectives –Snoop being the seasoned and Cole being the upcoming. We can relate to it because we want to be where he’s at. Getting to meet him and the people behind him seeing how they work, it’s a good example for us. We believe in their movement and hear their stories about their upbringing and how they came up as a band of brothers and that’s something we can relate to.
Mannie: Best of both worlds, man. You can go to Cole and say this is where we want to be next year and then with Snoop, five or six years from now, we still want to be doing it. It’s inspirational.
What’s your best memory of Snoop?
Jason: When we first met Snoop, we got to tell him how we really felt about him. We recorded a song years ago called Orange Juice.
Mannie: First song we ever recorded.
Jason: We were like 10, 11-years-old.
Mannie: It’s like, you know when you use a sound recorder and you put the mic to the speaker while the sound recorder is happening to Gin and Juice? It was on something like Napster at the time. (Laughs)
Jason: It was like Windows XP at the time when that shit first dropped.
Mannie: Maybe in 1992. (Laughs)
Jason: You remember the sound recorder? That was our first, real inspiration and we got to tell him that and for him to tell us that advice, like yo, we invest in the youth and keep believing in what we’re doing.
Mannie: With Snoop, it’s like he takes out the puff and (imitates Snoop leaning back and smoking a joint) it’s like, “It’s a beautiful thing.”
How much does he smoke when he’s around you?
Mannie: Yo, it’s ridiculous, man. (laughs)
Jason: He goes through thousands of dollars with weed. Man, it’s crazy.
What about your best memory of J. Cole?
Mannie: I think it was when we were doing soundcheck. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. He was caught crossing the stage while we were doing soundcheck with our band. Our banner was up and he was walking by in conversation and he stopped what he was doing and he looked up at us and me and J were star struck. Me and J were like that (pounds his right hand in a fist onto his chest) and Cole recognized us. We take that as symbolic. As artists, you try to find a deeper meaning into things and looked at that as a sign of respect. Someone who we really look up to is changing the game of hip-hop to this day. We want to add on and for him to give us a fist –even if he gave us a look or a smirk– we would’ve looked at it like, “Yo! J. Cole, he’s awesome!”
How do you feel about the state of hip-hop right now?
Jason: I mean it’s definitely in a great place. You have artists like Kendrick Lamar, bringing positivity and reminding people of their history and then you have A$AP Rocky, bringing that gangster, raw stuff that hip-hop is based off. It’s in a great place and it’s very experimental as well. We just want to add what we have to add and bring that positive energy back as well.
Mannie: It’s very important for our crew to not let the environment take over who we are as individuals. Rather than studying what the hip-hop market is, we look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what do we want to bring to hip-hop. We don’t say, “Does hip-hop already have this?” We just say, “Who are we?” and we just bring that to hip-hop. If it compliments, help, weakens, then so be it, but we’re there for a reason. It’s too early for us to really say what hip-hop is because we’re still students and will always be students, but the fact that it has us entering and it’s growing. We have that sense of diversity to the culture. We’re trying to open it up on so many levels. We’re trying to rap on country beats. Man, we’ll rap on anything.
So then how would you describe The Airplane Boys’ sound right now?
Jason: It’s journey music. It’s really something to drive to. It’s leather jacket music, sunglasses music, it’s a hat and a toothpick, you know what I mean? It’s chilling.
Mannie: We’re first and foremost storytellers. You have to look at the soundscapes of the beat, sort of like weather. Just because you love summer doesn’t mean you’re not going to have a winter coat. We come from Canada where weather changes constantly. I prefer summer, but I have so many winter coats, it’s crazy. Put that into perspective of the genre of music we’re doing and make it like weather. Let’s say we give them a heavy dose of summer, but there’s still that winter and autumn. As long as we bring that colour. We liken our music as nature, as storytellers.
I know you guys love Kanye, but besides Kanye West, who would you love to work with in the future?
Mannie: If we had a Santa wish list, like a hip-hop Santa? (laughs)
Jason: Kanye. (Laughs)
Mannie: Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. No, Andre 3000.
Jason: If Outkast can come back, that would be amazing.
Mannie: Jay-Z, Jamiroquai –always had been a big fan.
Jason: N*E*R*D as a band is amazing.
Any collabo that we’d be surprised to hear? Like Willie Nelson?
Jason: That shit is realistic. (Laughs)
Mannie: Paul McCartney.
Jason: Prince. Definitely Prince.
So what’s going on with the record label situation? Are you guys close to signing a deal?
Jason: We’re more focused on the connection for the people. We’ve been taking meetings and feeling out certain situations but more of so getting people to understand us. It’s easy to have a hit and be gone the next day. You’re not going to build anything unless you have that foundation. That’s the focus right now and we’ll look at the situation later down the line.
It’s 2012 and you’ve gone a long way from your beginnings when you formed in Apr. 2009. How would you describe the journey so far?
Mannie: Organic, exciting, young dreamers, blessed. A lot of this is destiny. You can’t script this. If someone just sat down and asked, “How do I become you guys?” It’s like all we can really say is have thick skin, be patient and follow your heart. As cliché as it sounds, if it’s for you, then it’s for you. We’ve met a lot of people that really catapulted what we’re doing right now and without them, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing from childhood to now. There are a lot of pillars that lifted us to be here. We’re just the posterboys of this movement. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes people that helped us create this dream and vision.
Interview by Michael Nguyen
Photos by Cris Ramirez (@shotbycrisxbs)
Download: The Alignment