In hip-hop the youth can oftentimes get a bad rap (pun intended). As soon as an artist like Soulja Boy arrives on the scene it creates an assumption that young artists aren’t musically viable and have little to offer. The Chicago eight piece outfit Kids These Days prove that assumption to be nothing short of asinine. The group, which recently released their first EP, Hard Times, is made up of trombone player J.P. Floyd, bassist Lane Beckstrom, drummer Greg Landfair Jr., trumpet player Nico Segal, emcee Vic Mensa, vocalist/keyboardist Macie Stewart, guitarist/vocalist Liam Cunningham, and sax player Rajiv Halim (pictured L to R), all of whom range in age from 18 to 19. Their style incorporates elements of hip-hop, jazz, funk, blues and soul, and is really something amazing to hear. RapReviews caught up with Mensa and Beckstrom to find out more about the group, including how they came together, why they released an EP rather than a full length album, and why, no matter how old they get, they don’t plan on changing the name of the group.

Adam Bernard: Kids These Days sounds like it might be a play on words as it’s a statement you hear a lot of old folks say; “kids these days, they don’t know anything.” Why did you decide to name your group this?

Vic Mensa: KTD was originally an acronym for a graffiti crew that myself and the trumpet player, Nico, made when we were little kids. We were in like grade school. Kids These Days was one of the spell outs for it. When we started the band we were looking for a name. It wasn’t really symbolic at the time, but as our music developed and our sound and style grew it came to take on pretty much what you just said, turning that concept that kids these days don’t know shit on its head. People always say kids these days don’t listen to good music, don’t know anything about good music; it was kind of like proving that shit wrong.

AB: Your music has not just elements of genres mixed together, but ENTIRE genres mixed together. Hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul, blues… how do you make sure you don’t step on each other’s toes musically when you’re putting a song together?

VM: We don’t look at it at all from a genre perspective. We write all the songs together and we do a lot of piece work, so there’s a lot of different ideas coming from the seven of us and we all hear different things, hear different lines and melodies, so we just work to make everything come together, to make everything cohesive. We look at each song as a different musical composition and we try to make it as coherent as possible.

Lane Beckstrom: To me, all music is emotional. In most cases, even with artists that I don’t like I can still listen hard and find something that will make me think, or at least feel, something. So it really comes down to whether it feels good or not. So far what I’ve experienced with this band is that if all eight of us are vibin out and it feels great, everything usually falls into place and the song just makes itself.

AB: You crush the idea that younger artists are all flash and no substance. Do you all have extensive musical backgrounds? Were your parents and grandparents playing albums for you when you were in the womb and learnin ya from an early age, or did you pick this up on your own?

LB: I guess you could say I have a musical background but I wouldn’t say it became an “extensive” one until about a few years ago. However, I was always rocking out and listening to whatever my dad would be playing around the house. I think I became interested in music at an early age because of him. He had a drum set in the attic for a while and I remember he took me up there once and got behind them and started playing. I just remember it being the coolest thing I ever heard or saw, so I guess that got me hooked. He bought me an electric bass when I was 12 and that was that.

VM: I come from a hip-hop background. So does Nico. Before Nico was playing jazz and playing trumpet both of us were breakdancing and writing graffiti and he was spinnin, so I think that’s how I got introduced to a lot of older music, like funk and soul, through the records we would buy for their breakbeats for him to spin. Macie’s been playing classical piano since she was like five years old. Everybody else has been playing instruments for a while, but not like Macie, she’s been like a child prodigy type motherfucker her whole life.

AB: Are you, in any way, looking to redefine what a young artist sounds like, or how people view young artists?

VM: I think, more than anything, we’re looking to define what we sound like and how people think of us. Everything else I would kind of just look at as a function of that. Our goal isn’t, per se, at this point, to redefine young music, but really just to define ourselves as a part of it. If we can be a significant part of it and that can, in turn, help to change the tide of something, that would be cool.

AB: Do you think that by showing what someone your age is capable of musically people might start to migrate away from the mindless, or is the mindless always going to find its way to our ears?

LB: There’s always going to be bad music out there, but I think you may be right in saying that people may start to migrate away. If we can start helping to make that happen, then man… that would be awesome.

VM: I feel like music goes in cycles along with everything else, and I do think that there’s a new cycle coming on right now, that’s what it looks like to me. A lot of young people are coming up and making some really unique and genuine music at this point. That’s the shit that’s really starting to come up, the budding shit right now. What’s on the radio and what’s in everyone’s ears is still, at this point, a lot of bullshit, but I definitely do think that things are starting to take a turn in a different direction in a lot of different genres and I feel really blessed to be making music right now and coming up at this point and being a part of this generation that’s about to change shit.

AB: You’re combatting the mindlessness with your recently released EP, Hard Times. Hard Times has five songs, with the title track being nearly six and a half minutes long. Are the hard times really THAT hard?

VM: {*laughs*} That’s funny. That was just because everybody wants a solo and shit and it was kind like reflective of how those songs started off. Those are pretty much the first five songs (we recorded). We had about ten, and we set out to record a full length, but we didn’t have enough money. About halfway (through recording) we kind of ran out of funding. All those songs were originally, no lie, 15 minutes long, because everybody wanted a solo on em. Cutting it down to six minutes, that was after all the chops, that was after we cut everything off. We actually play “Hard Times” differently now. It’s shorter and it’s, I think, a lot better. It’s a lot cooler.

AB: You met through a magnet school in the Chicago area at the age of 15, but how did the connections actually happen? Were you looking to form a band and create this sound, or did you keep making new friends who were talented and looked to find ways to work them into a project you already had established?

LB: As far as how the band started, it really wasn’t anything complicated. Most of the band went to Whitney Young High school but the majority of us also all went to the same Saturday music program at this place called Merit School of Music. Basically, I spoke to my friend Liam about starting a band – he says I told him I wanted it to be a psychedelic funk jam band, but I don’t remember that – and I asked him if he would talk to Nico about starting it with us because I didn’t know him very well at the time. After that different people just started asking different people to join. Nico told Vic to come through because they’ve known each other forever and Liam saw Macie sing in the choir program at Whitney Young and asked her to come. As far as the sound, all we did was just jam and jam and jam in Liam’s basement. It slowly started to take shape and now we’re at the point we’re at now.

VM: Macie was kind of scared to come to the first rehearsal because it was a bunch of dudes that she didn’t know up at Liam’s house, but everything worked out.

AB: She has like a dozen big brothers looking out for her now.

VM: Yeah, she got an ass whopping squad if there’s ever a problem.

AB: Finally, when you get older are you concerned you’re going to have to change the name of the group to Kids THOSE Days?

LB: Well… nah.

VM: Nah, not at all. I think a beautiful thing about it is that having youthfulness represented in the name always gives us room to change. The way I think about it is, honestly, this is not to say that I plan to be, but a lot of adults are still kids in a way, and it’s not even a bad thing. People don’t stop changing until the day they die, so it’s like at the end of the day nobody’s ever fully grown, or fully developed, and is done learning. Nobody knows everything. So to be a kid, I think when we get older that it just represents certain things about us. We’ll keep making our music. I look for us to be the type of band that is continuously growing, like a kid would.