Interview

w/Yoni Wolf of Yoni & Geti

                                                                                                                                                                                              (www.musicletter.it)
Lisa Sanchez

​Once in a while, it seems like some collaborations are simply meant to be. That’s how I feel when I listen to Testarossa, the latest mash up album between Chicago rappers Yoni Wolf of Why? and Dave Cohn, stage name Serengeti, also known as Yoni & Geti for short.

The duo got together around 2010 when Yoni recorded Serengeti’s album Friends and Family and the pair just clicked. “It came about from us meeting and liking each other and liking each other’s music in the normal way collaborations come about. It happened very organically.” said Yoni, who spoke with me about the duo’s upcoming show at Grog Shop, their process writing Testarossa, and the state of modern rap in general.

Testarossa, which is only the second album Yoni & Geti have recorded as a duo, was released May 6th to praise from Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Noisey, a reception Yoni apparently didn’t expect. The rapper said, “Goodness! I had no idea what to think about it. There’s no band history or anything like that to know how anyone is going to react. You always expect that things will go silently into the night, but this time I feel like there’s been a lot of great feedback from the press. I’m on Twitter....and I get a lot of people saying “Hey, I love this album” the fans, the people who are actually listening who know my previous work or Dave’s previous work. What more can you ask for?”

Yoni & Geti’s new album is unlike any recent hip hop release I’ve heard. The duo tell the star-crossed love story of Davy and Maddy who fall on emotional hard times when Maddy gets pregnant and Davy takes off to follow his rock and roll dreams. The pair wrote the story over a period of months while they were touring together for separate projects.

Although Testarossa has a definite narrative thread, Yoni said the group wasn’t trying to drive the story home. Yoni explained, "We wrote a story and made a soundtrack around that. I don’t want to say that like it’s some kind of cheesy concept album, but I guess it is in a way. We had an idea for a story then we started having ideas for songs. We’re not explaining the story, but songs that had the same vibe as the story.”

I only learned what a testarossa was by listening to Yoni & Geti’s album. On my first listen, I thought I was missing the reason for the album’s namesake, so I asked Yoni to give me a little insight. “The main character’s name is Davy Testarossa. He’s Indie/garage legend in his own mind and that may or may not be his own last name. It may be like Johnny Rotten. He goes fast, lives fast, goes hard.” said Yoni.

Yoni & Geti crafted a fleshed-out story for Testarossa, but Yoni also produced and organized the album. Because of that, he put all of the songs in a very specific order that help the listener get the full experience of Testarossa.

Considering he put so much time into crafting the album, I figured Yoni must have a favorite song off of Testarossa, but it’s difficult to choose just one. The rapper said, ”It shifts around. As far as Dave’s raps, I like 'I, Testarossa.' I put that at the end because it sums up the life of Davy. He’s really sort of letting it all out on that one and I love that.” After some thought, he added, “I like all my babies.”

Every song is placed somewhere on the album for the effect and Yoni seemed especially proud when he went into detail, “For me, I definitely am very particular about how the songs fit together and how the energy ebbs and flows throughout the record. It’s leading you down a rabbit hole into a grimness, then climbing back out of that grimness. Within each song you want to have the ups and downs and builds. That’s a microcosm of the album. If you have ten lives you want each one of those lives to ebb and flow and build. There are layers to this shit.”

Yoni put it well. There are definitely layers to Testarossa. I won’t ruin it for future listeners, but I will say that no one is right in this moral middle ground love story. I was intrigued why Yoni & Geti decided to tell this story, and in doing so, do they decide if either Davy or Maddy is right?

“I don’t know that people know the whole story by listening to the album, but that’s what I like about it. You don’t necessarily know that while Davy was gone, trying to hustle music, but also partying, while he’s away Maddy ends up carrying on with his ex band mate. You could also say she had reason. It’s all grey. People do what they think is right. They do what feels right. It doesn’t always end up being right.” Yoni said.

The inner workings of human relationships don’t appear to be a hot topic in the modern rap scene, but Yoni explained his intentions for Testarossa were modest. The pair weren’t out to set a new standard, they just wanted to produce something with some depth, even if the story is based the age-old topic of relationships.

Yoni offered, “I wouldn’t say that their relationship isn’t the same old trope. That’s been written about many times with Homer and Shakespeare. No matter what you write about it’s the way you write about it. The big thing in rap now is money worship, the selling of sex, you could write about any of that stuff and it could be interesting or poignant if there are layers underneath it. We happened to settle on this story as a metaphor for things we see around us.”  

Although they’ve known each other for years, Yoni & Geti are both well established solo artists. Yoni has his own solo rap career and fronts the band Why? and Geti has been operating as Serengeti since the early 2000s. Considering both artists have prolific careers, I was curious how Testarossa was different than both Yoni and Geti’s other work.

“I think it has a kinship with certain parts of my work. It has that griminess that my work has. That low fi/hi fi kind of stuff. I record on stage a lot. I enjoy that crunch. I enjoy that dirt. It’s distinctly a collaborative effort between the two of us so it sounds like the two of us together. Geti is an incredible rapper, it’s not like he’s the greatest technical rapper, it’s not about that. I just respond to his material and his style. We play off of each other real well. There’s always push and pull but that’s to be expected in any collaboration.” Yoni commented.

Yoni & Geti are setting out on a one of a kind tour for the pair. The two rappers have actually never shared a stage as part of the same group, even though they’ve toured together. They’ve also never played Testarossa live until this upcoming tour, but Yoni had high hopes for the band’s performance, stating that they would be accompanied by a band and he felt good about the live energy.

The duo is playing a show on Saturday, June 4th at Grog Shop where Yoni says they’re focusing on the Yoni & Geti albums, but fans will also be able to hear a few Why? songs along with a couple solo tracks by Serengeti and Yoni Wolf.

​Yoni & Geti are actually kicking off their tour in Cincinnati, which I was surprised to find out is actually Yoni’s hometown. A secret Ohioan was in my midst, although he admitted to little to no knowledge of Cleveland, but he looked forward to playing at the Grog Shop

Tickets are still available for Yoni & Geti’s show at the Grog Shop. It’s primed to be a chill show with some fantastic first time performances and a truly eclectic experience.