Why 18+ Is A GHE20G0TH1K Version of Lionel Richie

There are few delusions more powerful than those shared with another person. Such psychological states are frequently referred to as “love,” but peer closer in and this concept so often papers thinly over dependency, obsession, coercion and abuse. Sometimes it’s something imposed, subject to unequal power relations: masters and slaves, games of wits and denials. Other times it’s a stalemate, a feedback loop, two souls locked in a strange world of their own rituals, mythologies, pleasures and plunderings. Occasionally it’s a downward spiral with the tender violence of mutually assured destruction. This has been called folie à deux or “shared psychotic disorder”; a madness arising from such a fateful affinity. It’s what makes 18+’s debut LP such a compelling and disconcerting performance of the pop double act. Each track could be as much a threat as a love duet, a series of cruelties as a hymn of sweet nothings. With the creeping implication that they’re addressing or describing each other and each other alone, the pair flows freely and ambiguously between sentimental bliss, gleeful fetishism, barbed warnings and plunging the knife in.

The listener is a voyeur, witnessing a ghetto-gothic (or GHE20G0TH1K) version of Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” play out in each of its different forms as so many facets of a single menacing reciprocation. What’s more, the inverse symmetries of gender and skin color add uncomfortable socio-political overtones to the power struggles they lay out as violent erotics. For the few years that passed between their first visibility online and Trust, 18+’s Justin and Samia were known only under the monikers “Boy” and “Sis,” and seen only as blurs or silhouettes. Their YouTube account slowly filled up with minimal yet twisted hip-hop tracks made from esoteric samples, juddering synths and weird found sounds. The rap alternated between a lithe, velvety feminine and an expressionistically pinched masculine, yet each felt equally ominous and alluring. A decisive moment came with the track “Jets,” which now appears on Trust. Its subtly electrifying bounce and eerily singsong refrains confirmed 18+ as a name to watch.

By the time the third of three free mixtapes was released in 2013, the pair had honed their craft considerably, each track a perfect balance of hook and experimentation. It seemed only a matter of time before a label became interested—in this case the respected electronic imprint Houndstooth, typically known for groovier material. Trust is effectively a greatest hits derived from their existing work. Much of it comes from MIXTAP3: “Club God,” “Crow,” “Iawa” and the psycho celebration “OIXU” appear, as does “Dry,” whose playful “brr-rrr-rrr” refrain and piercing synth suggests both the cold and electrocution as its text unfolds. “Nectar” and “Jets” come from MIXTA2E, while “Midnight Lucy” already appeared on YouTube, as we mentioned in our previous interview with the duo. Album opener “All the Time” is new, and its uneven lope and powerful melody could be bolstered by fuller production values.

Even for those already familiar with the duo, the assemblage is well-presented—practically a onestop-shop that can now be enjoyed on vinyl, too. But at only one new track it might not offer much more. What counts are the new listeners who will want to explore MIXTAP3 and some its the standout tracks, such as “Horn,” that are missing here. Hopefully Trust represents the beginning of a career in conjuring similarly unique and provocative scenes from a shared darkness.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. Click here to read more from this issue, including our cover story interview with Jamie xx.