“We’re using video games and religion to tell a love story,” says rapper SciryL, bouncing around the Harlem living room-turned-studio that belongs to his partner in rhyme, !LLumiN@TE. Together, SciryL and !LLumiN@TE record as the group Mankind. Their latest release, 8-Bit Genesis, is a concept album about the duo’s imagined search for the Black Lara Croft who, in this story, reveals herself to be God. This spiritual flight of fancy is set against beats provided by the eccentric hip-hop character Charles Hamilton, whose soulful, chiptune-style production boasts the oblique bloops of a ’90s video game.
!LLumiN@TE, relaxing in a corner by a mic stand, recalls how he first bonded with SciryL after their path’s crossed in New York City’s battle rap scene. “At first we weren’t even recording,” he says. “We’d get up, watch some battles, and talk shit about music that was out. We both cook, so we’d do dinner parties that were like chill sessions, and we’d invite people over. The Mankind recording sessions came out of that and we’ve been writing and recording for a year straight since then.”
In that short time, Mankind has racked up a sizable discography—proof of which is displayed on a wall opposite their recording nook, where six giant pieces of paper are taped. On each of them, the track listing for various projects is scrawled out in chunky green and orange marker. As the two rappers discuss their music, they often motion towards the display to illustrate key points, with SciryL frequently reaching over to touch specific song titles.
Having wrapped up the release of 8-Bit Genesis, Mankind spoke with us about the group’s collaborative song writing process, how they met Charles Hamilton, and the throwback wrestling references seeded throughout their music.