Official album cover of Requiem Inc.’s debut album, ‘THIS IS A CULT.’

Requiem Inc. and the Rise of 100% Virtual Albums

Technology and social media have become more accessible than ever before. As such, the space for media and product creation processes have expanded rapidly. This is a look at how Requiem Inc. crafted an album 100% virtually, without ever meeting each other.

Enter a hip-hop collective named Requiem Inc., formed in November 2017 on the Hip-Hop Discord with a single message inviting others to create a music group. Although foreign to most traditional servers, this is a common request within music communities. Rarely do the inquiries get taken up, but for some reason, this one struck a chord.

Where it all started: Discord Message [381360408273092610] within Hip-Hop Discord’s #freestyle channel.

The group had grown to 24 members within a few months, each from different corners of the United States at first, then expanding further across international borders into a global entity. 

This wasn’t just a quick make-a-beat once-off. There was something in the water here. Nuovale, the group’s leader, was determined to create something more productive:

The group had two dozen members, but that was when we first started. The current member count roughly a year and a half later sits at 11. I had been involved in two previous collectives as a member, both of which went nowhere and, eventually, broke down.

I went onto servers, such as HHD [Hip-Hop Discord], as well as reddit threads to find talented producers, rappers, singers, and artists to help me form a more productive group of people who were actually determined to accomplish something. It took me some time to find the perfect mix of people, but when we did, things took off.

Embracing Similar Cases

The first correlation to draw upon hearing of Requiem Inc.’s founding would be Brockhampton, initially created on the hip-hop forum KanyeLive in 2010 (succeeded by sister site KanyeToThe).

Producer and vocalist Jonny Sé was an early arrival of what would become Nuovale’s ‘perfect mix’. A junkyard rogue in mind and music, the Cuban-born Floridian found a way to rework the Brockhampton comparisons:

I think it’s really easy to take the parallels in a negative way. Sometimes it feels like its undermining. It’s better to take it as a compliment.

The comparison for me personally is also a huge motivator because it pushes me that much more to establish my own original sound and really carve out my own lane.

It is easy to recognize that a genuinely grassroots group wanting to carve their own lane hold many similarities to more well-known collectives, but no one in Requiem Inc. allows that impression to sour their milk. In line with Jonny’s sentiments, Requiem Inc. is unfazed by any outward impressions. Mastering their own niche is less hopeful thinking than it is a necessity. 

Their first album, 350°R, was nowhere near perfect. The day-to-day disconnection between member’s lives, tastes, and performances bled into the project. Despite dabbling in the experimental hip-hop sound, the music went in too many directions sonically. 

One of their main resources for feedback and litmus testing was reddit:

We’re Requiem Inc. a group that met on this subreddit and we just released a single and music video for our upcoming album 350°R: Coupe from brockhampton

Requiem Inc., one of the many aspiring groups formed here, is back at it again with our newest single "Don’t Bite" let us know what you think! from brockhampton

It’s us again, the BH subreddit’s illegitimate lovechild – what do we need to do next? (Req Inc) from brockhampton

You’ll even spot some humor from Jonny, mentioning:

Thanks! “Bootleg Brockhampton” is the best compliment I’ve gotten all week!

Groups which are wanting to make a splash must rely somewhat on early adopters. Calculated marketing and PR stunts with immense backing from shadow corporations tend to work; thus, investment is seen from such companies. 

Starting on your own involves risks; a lot more hit and miss, and a lot of miss at that. Listeners who witness shots-in-the-dark like Requiem’s will recognize the greater intent. 

Pitchfork unfortunately glances over the bigger picture when it came to Brockhampton’s Saturation review. They strangely deadpan the group’s idea of having high hopes:

But when they veer toward more indistinct territory—whether that means vague self-affirmation or songs that sound like Blonde karaoke—their ambitions sound too much like pipe dreams.

Glancing back at hip-hop’s oracle of photography Chi Modu, or even the way Nujabes came up into the scene, having unparalleled ambition is a positive, not a negative. A crack cocaine dealer from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn becoming a billionaire also sounded like too much of a pipe dream back in ’96. Can I live?

Breaking Down the Discord Process

Discord was released to the public officially in the summer of ’15, although it didn’t pick up much buzz until a year or so later, which is when the Hip-Hop Discord came to be. Different from forums in speed of media intake, it allowed for a dynamic space—something which was never quite done like this before.

Live chat room communities for hip-hop and related topics have been attempted time and time again, but never were they carved out against the grain within a gaming-first application.

Today, Requiem Inc. is taking free platforms like Discord, Twitch, and even Google Sheets and pushing them to their limits. By mixing in aforementioned litmus testing via reddit’s hip-hop and music subreddits, it is a new age of creation, communication, and flow.

Their present level of organization and quality control was hard-won. Zooming back to last year when the 350°R mixtape was banged out, we would see music workflows, financial systems, Discord configurations and personal relationships still very much under construction. As front runners in this rising movement of online music collaboration, they’ve had to muddle through trial and error for everything — all while getting to know each other for the first time. 

After forming on Hip-Hop Discord, Requiem Inc. went on to make their own private Discord server, strictly for members of the group.

The first messages on Requiem Inc.’s private group server

 

If you click below, you’ll see the initial greetings of some members:

 Getting members is a critical part, but it’s only one part of the process overall. Once established, most of the time went into throwing ideas back and forth, plotting them out, structuring them in a way where they could translate into music, and then taking a serious approach to organization. 

Remember, this was all being done over Discord, a live chat. This was the modern-day equivalent of creating a music album from the ground up through MSN Messenger or AIM. Unlike those applications, however, there is no chat scroll-back limit on Discord (like Slack has, for free users), and there are functions baked in, such as message pinning, topic-specific channels, and advanced message syntax.

Members would leave feedback, input, or suggestions around the clock, with other members across the globe picking up on their messages at their own convenience. This unique approach to crafting an album made the process different than any other. A relaxed-yet-serious atmosphere allowed for members to feel calmer than traditional means, while still adhering to group policies of participation.

 Årmå, one of the more cryptic and volatile voices on their works, is surprisingly pragmatic when talking about how the group operates internally. A militant empath, he’s a strong believer that intimacy is necessary to operate at peak capacity:

Because we were disconnected — because we didn’t have the rapport of body language, the energy of a room, or the constant awareness of what’s going on in each other’s daily drama — we had to go the extra mile for communication and clarity.

In person, a bottled-up disagreement could be hashed out in one drunken night. It would be ugly, but it would get dealt with. Online? It’s easier for wires to get crossed, and even easier for issues to calcify for weeks … that’s where apathy, the grudges, and falling out inevitably appear.

We knew this was our vulnerability going in, and we turned this weakness into our strength.

This is the key that makes the group dynamic and tight-knit. Other such 100% virtual groups have failed solely due to not recognizing this as a strength. The names and attempts are plentiful, but those who made it to the other side of the tunnel are nearly non-existent. 

Why? Simple: failure to establish structure, to sort out problems virtually at a relative level as they would be solved physically

To be open with one another, and treat other like family at the level they do is what makes Requiem Inc. very unique, and strange in some ways, compared to other groups which operate virtually. 

The original spreadsheet for a project entitled “350°R” — messy and incomplete, the group sought out better structuring

 

Årmå gave some insight into how the literal planning of the tracklist looked, after refining it:

After we had reduced the mixtape’s candidate songs from about 25 to the final 16, we stopped using this spreadsheet tracker and instead coordinated through Discord channels and direct messages chasing down vocalists for clean recordings.

Once 350°R’s final songs were locked in, many of our producers were hungry to get representation on our next project. We had a lot more songs to contend with.

Over 150+ beats for what would result in their 9-song album; three tiers of beat filtering

 

The beat selection operated in a fashion where there were three tiers, seen above. Fresh beats (open game for vocalists to test run), Beats in the Lab (WIP beats), and Junkyard (beats that didn’t quite make the cut). Remember, the group at one point had over two dozen members with a large number of producers, so beats day in and day out were commonplace. 

With beats come track stems, producer collaborations, vocalist demos with multiple takes and ad libs, and more. It was critical to stay on top of the constant flow of files and concepts. To stay above water, the arranging team decided to attempt setting up what they call Songcards. Songcards are basically spreadsheet blocks which denote who is on which song, what role they play, and some additional personal notes for them to either adhere to or be reminded of.

Songcards showing who does what, with external links to demos, references, and inspirations

 

I hit up Årmå again to get some more insight into this structure:

It was taking us forever to sift through months of Discord chat history to find “that one demo for that one song”. We needed a better system to help organize all the producer and vocalist demos. 

We also needed a way to keep our vocalists and producers on the same page about the thrust of each song. Given that we aren’t spending time in person, it’s easy for signals to get crossed, and for the vocalists to go on lyrical or energetic tangents that felt out of place. We needed cohesion.

Cleaning the blocks up a bit, and making templates for future usage within the group was a key to efficient workflow 

 

We found that projects only got finished if they had a dedicated and respected quarterback leading the charge. One idea we tried was to split off into small teams, managing 2–3 songs each. Jonny Sé, Jamie Fairfax and Blondie were our three team captains.

The songcard for an unreleased track called Olé, led by Jonny Sé in the “Jonny’s Cellar” tab

 

We’re planning on making these Songcards available for download — we want to equip aspiring online collaborators with the tools to form their own ‘cults’.

Sneaking Past the Gatekeepers

As the 350°R mixtape made the leap from pipe dream to confirmed release date, the group realized that marketing needed to be done. This is a large aspect of what makes Requiem Inc. stand out from similar groups in the all-virtual space.

There needed to be a way to promote and spread the word of the energy accumulating within Requiem Inc. One of those avenues for spreading energy and the word was the Hip-Hop Discord, an online live chat community that has slowly gained its own following with several notable guests appearing for AMAs (ask me anything, essentially Q&A sessions, but virtual). When Pusha T (shout out to Summer and the Heir FM team) and Anthony Fantano were slated as guests, group leader Nuovale seized the opportunity to rally his team lurking across the world and push them into the spotlight for the first time:

While we were trying to pull our first members from HHD [Hip-Hop Discord], we saw HHD go through its own transformation at the same time.

When Pusha T came through the first time, I notified everyone in our server to go listen — or really, try and take the server over.

We did the same thing when Fantano showed up — we all switched our names to have the [Requiem Inc.] tag. It was like ‘HHD is appearing on the hip-hop scene’s radar, so let’s try and get on HHD’s radar ourselves.’

HHD is the closest thing we have to a hometown to rep.

Although an approach like this often falls flat on its face, it actually worked for Requiem Inc. Following their appearances, Requiem Inc. appeared (albeit minutely) on both Pusha T’s radar as well as Fantano’s. Even if they couldn’t name a single song the group put out up until that point in time, the name was becoming more familiar at a higher level of play.

While organic support is their lifeblood, Requiem was early to start thinking about marketing in terms of low-cost outreach tactics and brand-based initiatives. Co-conspiring with Nuovale is Simran, who joined prior to the release of 350°R as a publicist.

When I found Req, I was in awe of how these kids were able to cultivate and sustain some of the most powerful creative energy I’ve ever seen. All from significant distances, all online. That’s why I spend most of my “free time” teaching myself about all facets of artist development from the ground up. I feel a sense of urgency for the world to see what I see in these boys, and ultimately I want to be the one who makes that happen.

What followed was a hefty Rolodex when compared to the size of the group. Lists of Spotify curators, music bloggers, tastemaking Twitters, and professional contacts were amassed. Cold emails were unabashedly sent out. Social media platforms were now meticulously curated.

The group learned how to play with “industry rules” while maintaining its unique identity. If the music industry was to provide a real living for the team, then they had to own up to the asks that the industry makes.

What kind of online collective acquires an in-house publicist before they can even pay themselves? Apparently, the same one that gathers coders, managers, graphic artists and videographers for the cause. 

Their successes can be attributed to a blend of grassroots efforts and targeted industry approaches. No method is wrong — the only bottleneck is time and willpower.

The group’s Discord’s role hierarchy; going beyond music creation into brand development

 

At the time of writing, Requiem Inc. hasn’t been incorporated yet. However, their collection of skills beyond music demonstrate remarkable awareness about what it takes to bootstrap success in the current music industry. While not every member may have their credentials on a project’s final cut, they all play crucial parts in the rise of this artistic organism, and receive proportional (albeit humble and very minute) “salaries” cut from the streaming earnings. In this early space of all-virtual group play, earnings are beside the point for managers or other roles. Their effort, dedication, and specialization to key in on such energy represents a palpable belief in themselves and trajectory of both the group and the movement. I wanted to know more about the salaries that were mentioned, and got a breakdown from Årmå:

Here’s how it works:

  • 1–2 months before we release any music, each song’s contributors will negotiate attribution.
  • Verses or production tend to range from 2–4 credits. We discuss quantity, quality, memorability, and estimated audience impact. It’s informal but thorough
  • Outros, bridges and choruses float between 0.5–2 credits
  • Mixing floats between 1.5–2 credits
  • Mastering between 0.75–1.5 credits
  • Mix/mastering is hard early on, but it’ll likely earn less later

We’re not sure how far we’ll take the credit system yet — it’ll have to evolve as we start generating new income outside of streaming distribution. It’s very convenient how we currently receive earnings breakdowns automatically from our distributors (Routenote, Distrokid). 

The literal formula used to split earnings

 

A makeshift credit system, developed by Requiem Inc. to divide up the aforementioned “salaries”

 

Raw earnings

 

This is something very seldom seen within the industry; inter-workings of groups and the breakdowns of such structures that are, as mentioned, makeshift. To excel in many environments, early adoption is necessary.

With this expansion, however, came reality. Family, money, school. Priorities came relentless and fast at the group’s leader, Nuovale, and made him question if he was even needed. Things were slowly becoming somewhat of a controlled chaos:

Once 350°R came out, when our first real songs started to get made, everything in my life was starting to fall apart. Seeing Requiem as a self-sufficient thing — it shook me, to be honest, because it felt as if Requiem no longer needed me.

I had looked for talent and I found it, but now I wasn’t the best singer, producer, rapper, or designer — nor was I even needed for management. I had to step away to take care of my suddenly very real adult problems — family, money, school — and I wasn’t sure that Requiem would need me if and when I would be able to return.

Structure was needed, and roles were mandatory. A process had to be present, or this would all crumble.

Small Milestones, More Visions

With no real support aside from a few avid listeners in the Hip-Hop Discord, and members’ friends in the know about what was bubbling under the surface, committing to the serious journey of crafting an album to overcome 350°R’s shortcomings would require vision, determination, and fuel for the adventure.

Small milestones provided just that. The roster and music creation structure were solid enough, and Requiem could keep the drum beating with loosies, singles, and smaller project releases. The promotional team led by Simran also started to bring much appreciated attention — and validation for the group’s marketing efforts.

Sometimes a long creative process isn’t needed for a project name; on the fly works, too

 

The numbers start coming in

 

The group’s first stack in the bank

 

Årmå talks about how things came together:

We had no brand, no following, no industry connections. Our marketing was still in sandbox mode. The entire $87.00 we squeezed out of our members was put into an Instagram advertisement. The sudden traction of SPF10, our second single off of 350°R, had us puzzled. Not because it wasn’t great, but because we had no idea what algorithm or promotion happened. 

We were just kicking stones into the darkness — the ricochets were quiet, but the echoes were deafening.

If anything, the impact of this mixtape-turned-album fell far from deaf ears. Shortly after SPF10 appeared on Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, the song received a Chloë Moretz cosign through her Instagram story and seemingly out of nowhere, a slew of tweets from Brockhampton’s very own Dom McLennon. The squad began to pick up steam. Sometimes, all you need is a quick cosign from a person with authority to join the conversation.

Chloë Moretz is a well-known actress and model, often posting what’s #nowplaying on her Spotify, via Instagram stories

It was this genuine appreciation Requiem Inc. had, for something so small as a tweet from a member of Brockhampton, that was so satisfying to see. Far too often, especially in today’s fast-moving current of clout-based “chess moves” do we get engrossed in scene politics, skating over the genuine ground-up groups coming through the surface of the scene in this new movement of creation.

In the unique position of balancing a live band in the Jersey City scene alongside his involvement in Requiem Inc., vocalist Bob Botanist reflected on what it’s like to work with an all-virtual group:

Imagine, you’ve been going through these systems — you come home and you have to do THIS THING by THIS TIME. You don’t even know what the fuck the result is going to be. Persistently, in these systems (both societal and sonically), you’re trying to make something happen in life. Then, out of nowhere, the body of work comes together.

All of a sudden, you’ve got Album V1.

You’re looking at the culmination of work from the people you’ve been interacting on the internet with, for so long.

Bob joined the group following the 350°R mixtape release, coming in when the group had collectively made over 100 beats to select for the next album, THIS IS A CULT., off the ground.

I remember being in the call with Jonny and Blondie. I didn’t even think I had the merit to be in this call being the latest member, but we asked ourselves “what the fuck is this album… what is it going to be?”

More questions arise: “how many songs is a dope album to you… how many songs do we have?”

Then we hit this record of hot or not, on the songs that we currently had made. Then, we listen to this demo of a track me and Jonny had made… Blondie proceeds to ask Jonny to take the hit on solo work and throw that track on the album. I remember asking myself like, ‘yo… what the fuck is going on?’

[Bob takes a moment to reflect on his thoughts thus far]

You do something. You do it rigorously. You strive hard enough. You make it happen. It happens — now you have a new set of goals.

Now, you are the Cheetah. You watch this proverbial child bloom and grow. We’re about to send this child into the wild. ‘Go! Bye! Go be free and wild!’ That’s exactly what we get to do with this album.

Except this child is an anomaly: it returns to us.

With newfound motivation to exceed any and all expectations of listeners, both old and new, group founder Nuovale posed a question. A question that would, in and of itself, let other group members know that Requiem Inc. no longer needed to be caged in as a Discord-based collective. It could become a collective who once used Discord.

Summer 2019, the plans for Philadelphia

Rise of the Cult: Create Your Own, Today!

You could call this a strange in-between approach of virtual research and real-life method acting. Similar to the way producers in modern times virtually dig in the crates for samples, the group decided to create mood boards on Pinterest and Imgur to portray portals into the realm of cult personas and atmospheres. One of many ways of harvesting ingredients.

A “distilled” image board, sort of like a concentrate of their aesthetic

 

A more general album aesthetic mood board, meant to encapsulate the cult aesthetic in whole

 

Vocalist and producer of the group Blondie wanted to speak more about how the aesthetic of cults became intertwined with the album’s dynamic:

This sound was made behind closed doors. It’s pure.

These very different people are all putting out original ideas from the privacy of their bedroom and following their own tastes. So every song starts in a disembodied state of chaos — unstable chemistry and plenty of volatile mixes. Then a vision will hit one of us, or all of us, like a shared dream.

A song’s new arrange finally turns it into what all of us wanted it to be — suddenly the album is what it was meant to be.

Blondie grew up near Amish farms outside of Philadelphia. Internet is one thing that wasn’t necessarily commonplace growing up. Thus, his presence within Requiem Inc. is one of extreme serendipity. While discovering reddit, he came across the Hip-Hop Discord via the hiphopheads’ subreddit. From there, he downloaded Discord and connected to the server, finding Nuovale’s initial recruitment message inviting those who were willing to peruse the idea of joining a group. 

Alongslide Blondie’s heavy contributions to the group, he has embarked on a series of solo projects which have resulted in two full-length albums. His own relentless devotion to the craft is indicative of what he requires from his peers. Especially within the cult dynamic of a 100% virtual group:

They say that you are what you do in the dark when no one’s watching. That applies to music in a deep way for me. Lots of people have high expectations for themselves when they’re making music around other people. But we work on our own — and our expectations are still high.

I couldn’t build long-term with anyone, offline or online, who isn’t ready to bleed.

And you wouldn’t expect that the online relationships would be the one’s you’d stake your life on, but it’s weird — since you only have their musical outputs to judge them by, you actually get a clearer image of who’s actually putting in work — of who you can run with. Who you can build a legacy with.

The message of the cult is at the center of the album’s sound and aesthetic.

Dispelling any notions of exclusivity, this community has an open invitation to all who embody their shared values of ambition.

Requiem Inc. wants creatives around the world not only to unite over these ideals, but also to take it one step further and engage in producing their own groups, or “cults”, per se. They want you to utilize this new movement of virtual creation, and spark inspiration for those not confident enough to do so, or perhaps those on the fence about whether or not to give it a try. 

This is for the hungry and seasoned musician that wants to try something new to satiate their creativity. For the kid in their bedroom with a few online friends and no one to fall back on, or for those looking to fulfill something outside of their normal daily routine. There’s no discrepancy or difference. No binary qualifier.

The world is yours.

Front and back cover design of Requiem Inc.’s album, THIS IS A CULT., out July 12th

Available worldwide, July 12th. 

Create Your Own Cult Today! (their Discord)

Requiem Inc. and the Rise of 100% Virtual Albums