The Duality of Chicago’s safeNsound
Ambi Lyrics and L.A. VanGogh discuss their new collaborative project
Located in Chicago, Ambi Lyrics and L.A. VanGogh’s Hyde Park apartment is big—the first thing you notice are the 10-foot murals that take up residency in the living room. The one behind the TV states, “Fuck the police,” a smug looking policeman arresting a protesting monkey who’s wearing jeans and a green hoodie. Catty corner is a composition of a manga-stylized girl with bright blue eyes, half naked and smoking a cigarette, her body hidden behind a veil of seafoam green smoke.
Inside Ambi’s room is a set-up that every musician dreams of: Two booming speakers, an Apple desktop computer, piano keyboard, mixer, turntables, MPC, mic, stacks of vinyls, and more. Overall, her apartment—where L.A. lives too—is a package deal. Everyone in the spot is a creative: singers, producers, rappers, photographers, engineers. You name it.
Ambi and L.A. squeeze in next to each other on a futon, situated below a lofted bed. Ambi’s ample dreads are tucked underneath a bright red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap, L.A.’s blue cap reading his moniker, “shpeshftr.” They’re at ease with each other, joking about meeting on Tinder, how L.A. likes to date college-aged “woodles” (a term they loosely use instead of girl), how L.A. “put a ring on [her] finger”—the teasing and inside jokes going back and forth.
Together, Ambi and L.A. comprise the producer duo safeNsound, a name they believe speaks for itself. “It’s a sound that you feel safe in,” Ambi says. “You feel like you can be yourself in a sound that you, the artist, helped create.”
Today, we’re premiering their debut project, safeNsound presents: L.A. VanGogh, a 7-song EP of their production, paired with vocals by L.A.
Their meeting was something like kismet. Ambi Lyrics—née Brittany Petty—grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and moved to Chicago in 2009 to attend Columbia College. She took an interest in producing at the age of 12, when her cousin brought an MPC 2000 to her house. She started playing with it, and then watched an interview with 9th Wonder, who mentioned he uses FL Studio. That sealed the deal; she was hooked.
L.A. VanGogh, born Edgar Lamont Anderson Jr., grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, specifically Dolton and Harvey. He was raised on a lot of Dr. Dre, so he always thought the rapper did everything, from producing to engineering and writing. His initiation into music was partially spur of the moment: He first started producing, only wandering into rapping because his classmate told him he couldn’t do it, and L.A. wanted to prove the kid wrong.
“I’ve always been an autonomous person. I don’t like relying on other people, especially if I don’t need to because I feel like I have a great capability of learning, and I truly believe that anything you put your focus to, you can pick that up and perfect it if you truly stick to it. So I applied that to rapping and producing,” he says.
One of Ambi’s first affiliations with Chicago music was Lon Renzell, a producer and member of the notable music collective THEMpeople. As she grew closer to musicians like Renzell—and other local musicians and pillars of the community, like Via Rosa—Ambi met L.A.
Their banter is seamless, just like their ability to work together. “Every time we sit down and do a remix or a beat, or a song… I get a certain feeling every time. I’ve never had a feeling like that creating with anybody except,” L.A. says. While he prides himself on being an autonomous solo artist, he’s found a different kind of freedom as part of safeNsound.
In 2013, Ambi and L. A. released their first single, either called “Stephen Curry” or “30” (they argue over the name). They subsequently released “1997” in February 2015, on Ambi’s last compilation tape, Lost Love Notes. More or less, at this point, they had subconsciously created safeNsound: Ambi eventually sent L.A. the beat for “Nine Ta Five Bluez,” what was to become the second single from their debut. They officially became safeNsound in August of last year.
safeNsound’s project is indebted to today’s musical landscape, vibrating with genre-bending and blending melodies, which vindicate the need for versatility and a wide skill set. Laden with vocal manipulation, its electronic playfulness and hip hop production resonate with each other and coalesce, making way for a number of aesthetics, from colorful synths and vocal swoops, to trappier drums and dizzyingly textured hooks. But above all safeNsound presents: L.A. VanGogh is about duality—and women.
“Like there are two sides to everything, and one of those sides is always going to be yours, so you should have empathy towards that other side. You might not always agree with it, but you have to understand that somebody else comes from a different perspective than you…That’s what the duality of life is for me. That’s why a lot of my music is so honest and it includes multiple perspectives. It’s never from one side of the story,” L.A. shares.
Besides a couple of tracks, overall, the tape gravitates towards more feel-good, uptempo harmonies that act as a slight diversion upon first listen.
L.A. continues, “I always thought you can feed anybody some shit if it looks nice. On that same token, you can feed anybody what they need if it looks nice. So I’m talkin’ about things that are very honest and relative, but you’re so caught up in the beat [and] you’re having a good time in the song, but when you actually sit and listen to it… you already subconsciously know that you’re looking into yourself now.”
That’s exactly what L.A. does on the project’s first single, “Changed My Number.” “I changed my number just to talk to you / I changed my number just to call you / I’m sure you got my whole seven blocked by now,” he sings on the hook, speaking to an ex he’s trying to get in contact with. “Do you hate me that much now?” he asks.
This song, like many on safeNsound, is a push for honesty—to be candid with yourself. The upbeat rhythms act as a mask for truthfulness and sincerity, evinced by the lyrics. As you move through the project, the whole thing becomes an emotional microcosm, acknowledging our tendency to avoid the shit we need to deal with, reminding us that that’s no way to act.
Both artists also made the tape for women—for their experiences with women. But for Ambi, it runs a little deeper. She wants to create a safe space for other women to produce and DJ.
“A lot of my music is shaped around women, like empowering women because I am one and I love being a Black woman—a gay, Black woman. I am very proud of that. And I want the next little girl who look like me or whatever, aspires to do certain things like me, to be able to say I can do it, and I want my friends to think they can do it.”
Ambi lays the foundation—the ambient sounds—and L.A. adds the bounce. And that, in itself, is also the perfect duality.