As both individual artists and as a hip-hop team, community consciousness and political engagement moves the breezy content of Nathan Dufour and Hila the Killa’s music, while genuine warmth and joy sets the sails. Consider one of the Brooklyn duo’s latest bops, “Compost” (feat. DiorNoel, beat by LitKidBeats), which finds Nate & Hila trading sincere rhymes on food waste behind a seriously catchy hook. The video for their “love letter to the NYC composting community” highlights composting sites and crews throughout New York City, while the nearly-constantly-costumed pair frolic and flow as a banana peel and an apple core (made entirely from thrifted materials).
In short, an audience is more likely to get the message if it has an infectious hook, a dope beat, and cute costumes.
“People have reached out to us to say that they started composting for the first time because of our video,” Hila says. “So that's pretty cool. I do think that — just based on those testimonies — that even on social media, wherever we put out the message, someone's going to hear it and it might change the way they do something.”
Nate concurs, “People can support an ideology, like ‘Yeah, composting: good. Fighting climate change: good. Protecting ecosystems: good.’ But they're not actually doing anything. Then, you literally put the earworm — pun intended — in their ear, and they're like, ‘I can't NOT do it now. I can't be bumping this song or singing along to it and then not participate in the action.’”
“Making puns is one of our love languages.”
Hila can’t help but beam with sunshine when referring to her partner in rhyme, and the more you examine her work as Hila the Killa, the more it’s clear that she is a force of, by, and for nature. Whether she’s hanging from monkey bars, going hard for Mother Earth, or talking dirty about soil, Hila creates a gravitational pull with her intuition and confidence, expertly toeing the line between education, comedy, sex positivity, and pure entertainment.
“I was definitely spitting bars as a kid,” she laughs. “And it's funny because I think about it and I'm like, ‘Wow, I've never really realized how much hip-hop and rapping was a part of my childhood.’ When I was 12, I would memorize rap songs in Hebrew and perform them for my friends as if I was just, like, freestyling in Hebrew.”
After growing up on Lauren Hill and Missy Elliott, Hila graduated from NYU with a degree in Film and Television, which she utilizes frequently as a solo artist and for Nate & Hila projects. In fact, she and Nate have a green screen wall at home for video production, a creative necessity when the COVID pandemic decided to drop alongside their double-entendre-fest, Naughty for Nature.
The full-length album premiered at House of Yes as a theatre show in 2020, featuring ecologically educational songs that lean heavily on sexual innuendo. However, the momentum generated from several sold out performances stopped abruptly.
“We were feeling like, ‘This is it. We're doing it.’” Nate recalls. “Then the spirit of things changed when there's people ending up in the hospital in vast numbers, and then everybody marching in the streets for social justice...animal sex was suddenly not the thing to emphasize.”
The day George W. Bush got reelected, Nate skipped class to buy Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, a private act of resistance that shook new life into his creative growth.
“Folk music was my first big passion, and that's why I wanted to be a musician,” Nate explains. “I was obsessed with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and stuff like that...pretty much just a love of words. And then I got into hip-hop because of that. I got into it through my own portal, but since then it's just become the backbone of my creativity, and yeah, it's folk roots and a hip-hop house.”
Nate has a PhD in Classics and a day job teaching Latin language and Greek civilization at City College of New York, which becomes immediately apparent when you listen to (and watch) his latest release, “Be a Stoic”. In this custom philosophy rap, Nate’s pedagogic patter is on full display as he breaks down the oft-misunderstood topic of stoicism with lines like: Don't be overjoyed or a jerk / Your employer is the universe. You're always at work. “It's just good advice,” he deadpans.
“I think, to me, hip-hop is a reflection of the oldest poetic tradition. Prior to there being written language and those civilizations, you have these poetic traditions that had the job of simultaneously entertaining and educating. The two actually aren't separable.”
Nate & Hila
While the pandemic bungled live performance plans for Naughty for Nature, Nate & Hila didn’t lose momentum. Instead, they pivoted to using the year at home to shape their sound and message, choosing to focus on simplicity and social impact. And it’s working.
With different ‘Veggie Raps’, I'm trying to educate about nature with music that’s not just bars,” Hila explains. “I want it to be music first, and then educational and creatively informative second.”
Bars or no bars, it’s easy to see and hear the appeal when Hila crystalizes this vision on tracks like “Lettuce,” the TikTok-friendly Veggie Rap with crisp wordplay like: Lettuce can grow in the shade /Let it be known we were made for this lettuce /Always well-played on the plate / Let us say grace while we play and display all this lettuce.
While both artists acknowledge the compounding benefits of sharing their messages with a mobilized, like-minded audience, they are more interested in promoting the growth of an ecologically-conscious community by reaching out to new listeners.
“I think public performances are awesome!” Hila exclaims. “We do so much street performance and busking, and it's just been really positive. We have our apple core and banana peel costumes and this big mother earth costume, and it's just cool. People really engage with us in the streets.”
“I would say that “Compost” is our jewel song because (through it) we discovered that we really want to make people feel good and melted by joy and warmth and kindness,” Nate adds. “It’s like, ‘Come one, come all.’”
A Mix of Both
When she thinks about the future of the duo, Hila muses, “I think there's this map of what Nate is doing and what I'm doing. We found this middle place where we both are really inspired to engage in our community and build more environmental, New York-based content. We want to do something about green roofs and make another video for a green roof movement.”
Whether guided by Nate’s portal, Hila’s intuition, or a mix of both, it feels like serendipity that they ended up collaborating on Omega Mart. Although Meow Wolf’s latest project is informed by our country’s relationship with food, how it’s grown, and consumerism, it wasn’t necessarily clear to Nate & Hila that the opportunity would be more than a chance to step out of their comfort zones to play characters.
“I could understand at the outset how it would have that connection,” Nate says. “But I wasn't sure, in execution, if it would come through the way it did. And so I'm relieved and overjoyed that it fits our larger mission. You don't have to think too hard to see how it's like the same commentary.”
One thing that is clear from Nate & Hila’s charismatic, show-stealing performances in the Omega Mart videos, their tireless work ethic, and their commitment to community is that our planet needs more people who know which color cone to use in case of a difficult spill...and it needs more Nate & Hila.
“We want to have a show. I think that's our big endgame goal,” Nate says. “A show that is able to accommodate: Here's us doing a duo rap. Here's us doing a skit. Here's one of Nate's things. Here's one of Hila's things. And this whole cornucopia starring us that mixes Sesame Street, Pee-wee Herman vibes with more educational, Schoolhouse Rock types of things, just all meshed into this humor, education, philosophy, ecology, joy, and art for art's sake thing.
Hila: “I would say more Mr. Rogers than Pee-wee Herman.”