ShrapKnel Break Down Their Homage-Heavy “Nobody Planning to Leave” Track by Track

Emcees Curly Castro and PremRock, along with the album’s producer Controller 7, walk us through the duo’s third full-length, out now via Backwoodz.
Track by Track

ShrapKnel Break Down Their Homage-Heavy Nobody Planning to Leave Track by Track

Emcees Curly Castro and PremRock, along with the album’s producer Controller 7, walk us through the duo’s third full-length, out now via Backwoodz.

Words: Will Schube

Photo: Matt Shaver

June 07, 2024

I’m one of those people who would rather hire someone to do a job well than to do it poorly myself and end up with extra cash in my pocket. Perhaps this is a convoluted way of saying I’m extremely not handy, that I’d much sooner hire a plumber for a running toilet than go digging through that vaguely prescribed tool drawer I have in my kitchen looking for a wrench. All this to say, sometimes you just need to pay someone (or, in this case, two dudes) to rap who is much, much better at it than you. So toss ShrapKnel $20 and listen to their brilliant new album Nobody Planning to Leave.

The duo of Curly Castro and PremRock recruited Controller 7 to produce the entire album, and as is always the case with these emcees, you need to know a lot of pop-cultural references to understand everything that’s going on here. If you’re not gonna get the Bogdan reference, fear not. There’s still plenty to chew on on this duo album (to say nothing of features from Open Mike Eagle, Armand Hammer’s ELUCID, Dark Time Sunshine’s Onry Ozzborn, Juggaknots’ Breeze Brewin, scratch king D-Styles, and on-the-rise emcee Lungs), the best Backwoodz entry since the last one. So it goes with this extended universe of rap superheroes, just plugging away making generation-defining music. 

To understand how, exactly, they did it, we had Curly, Prem, and Controller break down each track on Nobody Planning to Leave. Check it out and stream the record below.

1. “Metallo”
Curly Castro: Here at ShrapKnel HQ, we take our opening songs very seriously, and “Metallo” is no different, folks! [End commercial random sales guy voice.] We came, we saw a beat for the blaze, and we conquered. It’s of utmost importance that Shrap starts each album off with nary a bang, but a thermobaric bomb that also sucks away all available oxygen upon detonation.  
PremRock: I don’t think I knew it was the intro immediately, but maybe I did. Either way, it possessed great introductory energy and we always like to hit you in the mouth early. The only difference here is I set it off—which is a first, but the tone is right and the beat calls for the build up to the Castro crescendo. 
Controller 7: Back in 2021, Curly asked if I wanted to contribute some beats to a new ShrapKnel record. I asked how they’d feel about me producing the whole thing. I ended up pitching a nine-song, sequenced-out demo, and this track is how it started. What you hear on the album is almost identical to the original demo, besides their vocals. When I’m working on an album, I like to figure out the intro early on. I want something that sets itself apart from whatever was playing before, and also sets the tone for what’s to come. I really like the way that “Lot of stuff gon’ be revealed” clip starts things off and how the song takes its time to unfold

2. “Dadaism 3” (feat. Open Mike Eagle)
Curly Castro: If I learned anything from De La, it’s “Why so serious?” These Spitkicker plug n*ggas always had me in a Tasmanian word-wind, so fascinated, I could never turn the box off. Dadaism as an art movement can describe the Plugs Three, or the Three We: PremRock, Open Mike Eagle, and myself. Dadaists can reject the logic, reason, and aesthetics of modernity, and instead express nonsense, irrationality, and anti-bourgeois as protest in their works. That could sum it up. It might blow up, but it won’t go PoP. RIP Dove. 
PremRock: I look up to Mike, I always have. I don't know if he’s aware, but he has the coolest older-brother vibe of any rapper I met. Proud to say I knew him back when, and it was a blessing to get him on this record. Boy did he deliver. The beat always felt eerie in a light-hearted way to me—like a horror film with grave consequences for a character, but a punchline shortly to follow. It always felt like track-two to me. Track two is important. Lotta Allen Iverson/A.I. bars, but mine is the best, respectfully. 
Controller 7: This was the second song on the original demo, too. It was a great surprise when Castro sent me the demo with Open Mike Eagle on it. Production-wise, this one was a bit trickier for me. We definitely finessed this one along the way and fine-tuned it.

3. “Bogdan Interlude”
Curly Castro: Let’s take it back to a time before blue meth and Heisenberg theories, when a mild-mannered science teacher, had it up to here with his second job at a car wash, and his smug eyebrow tyrant of a boss. OK, now…scene; sound rolling; and action
PremRock: I didn’t know WTF he was talking about for the longest, but the song is so sinisterly fly to me. Then I was, “Ohhh, Breaking Bad!” The keys on this are just perfect for a loop. The vocal snippets Seven puts in to tie things in are a really nice touch, and what separates him as a producer on this record. Also, the nod to OME and Willie Green’s song in there is suuuper dope to me. 
Controller 7: This is one of my favorites on the album. After the verse was done, I added the strings at the end. The dialog is there to close out the song (it’s a nod to a line in the song), but also introduces the next track. 

4. “LIVE Element”
Curly Castro: It’s time to get live, live, live like a wire. We perform live, when we feel alive, so the sound can live. The live element is crucial to this thing of ours. And we regard this element as crucial to how we practice our craft. Nobody planning to leave. So get it how you live
PremRock: Fighting tears writing my part? Nah, just heavy cutting onions in the kitchen, man! We do it live, as you must. Alchemist backs us on a stage in Central Park and a few short months later we learn of a cancer diagnosis. The peaks and valleys of life at play here. But the fact remains…nobody planning to leave!
Controller 7: There’s a bunch of “live” references hidden in this track. In his verse, Castro mentions the show where ShrapKnel performed at Central Park. The end of this track is a clip from that actual performance. 

5. “Steel Pan Labyrinth” (feat. Onry Ozzborn & Lungs)
Curly Castro: No good deed goes unpunished, and no good album goes without a proper posse cut. Seven laid the soundbed, and Onry, Lungs, my pa’tna Prem, and I, hammered in the nails (facing upward, of course)—rusty, jagged, tetanus-steeped, lockjaw-inducing nails. 
PremRock: I got a lotta love for Onry. He’s a lifer, and I think we need to salute those who give this thing their all—so salute! Lungs is one of my fav younger spitters. Not a compromise in sight, and it reminds me why I love rapping. I give a nod to [De La’s] “Millie Pulled a Pistol,” which is being paid homage to also on the record. I like things like that. Weaving these things together expertly, Seven turned it into a Jack Nicholson–worthy hedge maze. Good luck leaving unscathed.
Controller 7: This was originally just three different sections. After PremRock’s section, I added a little instrumental interlude to close it out. When Lungs sent Castro his verse, he didn’t rap on the beat we intended, but he’d looped a two-bar section of the instrumental interlude. I went back and redid the music and built it up around his vocals. That’s one of those happy accidents that we didn’t see coming, but I really like how it ends the song.

6. “Human Form”
Curly Castro: In my honest opinion, this is the best song on the album, and another triumph by my A-alike Prem. Seven tapped into some Black Beethoven spirit with the production and arrangement. I challenge any and all to not listen to this three times in a row—it’s an affront to the beauty of sonics and hip-hop if you do. 
PremRock: I had this hook written in my phone and on a notepad, and I don’t entirely remember when it struck, but it feels like maybe in winter in Toronto. I spit it in the studio and Castro was like, “Repeat that!” I didn’t intend for it to be the featured line, but I suspect it will live on. I love what Seven did here, and for my money it’s one of my best solo songs yet. Proud of this one, for sure. 
Controller 7: This is a great PremRock solo track. This song changed a lot. After Prem sent the vocals, I went back in and did a lot of post-production to really keep things moving. 

7. “Nutkracker Blues” (feat. Breezly Brewin and D-Styles)
Curly Castro: Nobody Planning to Leave is a serious concept with a double consciousness to it. And I challenge all to find a more finely tuned serious weapon, more serious about his style, than Breezly Brewin. Bezerkowitz is still a favorite of mine when I want to mind-melt and question the nature of a reality where someone can be as skilled as this man. So with a concept of, “What would make someone syke-jump off a roof? ’Cuz he then…wouldn’t be living proof.” Seriously, now that’s the blues. 
PremRock: Breeze Brewin smiles and gives me dap when I see him, I’m never going to fail!
Controller 7: I’m a big Breeze Brewin fan. I bought the Juggaknots record on Fondle Em when it came out in 1996. Here we are in 2024 and now he’s on a song I produced. D-Styles and I have been friends since the late ’90s, so it was great to get him on here. He’s my favorite scratch DJ of all time.

8. “Deep Space 9 Millie Pulled a Pistol”
Curly Castro: A Producto and a few Plugs walk into a bar while Nas’ “I Gave You Power” and “Got Urself A…” play simultaneously on dueling jukeboxes. De La Soul is dead, but its spirit has possessed and inhabited Nobody Planning to Leave. 
PremRock: De La and Jux are spirits running through all three of us as artists—this is just a rather literal example. Borrowed the Deep Space flow for the keen ears on this, and of course a nod to Kool G Rap and [Company] Flow here, too. Visuals for this are something to behold, as well. We tried to do the concept justice sonically, and think we achieved this. 
Controller 7: I named the beat that when I sent it to them, so it’s cool for me that they took some inspiration from it. The intro is a nod to De La Soul. There are a few nods throughout the album.

9. “Kaishakunin”
Curly Castro: A Kaishakunin is a second to a person committing seppuku. Their task is to put the intended out of any misery after the seppuku act itself by swift decapitation. Their purpose is to end suffering immediately. My partner PremRock is my second, and he would fashion his blade to further my intentions, because I have the ultimate faith in his wielding that sword. 
PremRock: A perfect album cut, IMO. Suede additions like a fine cilantro. I was pleasantly surprised when Seven proposed the album title as one of my lyrics here, but it made more and more sense as time went on. Any phrase with multiple meanings holds power. This one evolved into quite a statement, and that caught me by surprise.
Controller 7: The album title originates from a PremRock line in this song. AJ Suede is the voice you hear on the backing vocals. Most of the album was done, but we had some friends come in and do a few specific ad libs and some other random ones that were sprinkled throughout the album. The song closes with a little vignette that introduces the next song. Castro wanted to incorporate the ELUCID line (“This piano was played…”), so I made that little interlude to flesh out the idea.

10. “8-Finga Piano” (feat. D-Styles)
Curly Castro: “This piano was played underwater by a slave ship’s suicide jumper with eight fingers, and no he didn’t take a selfie.” This blade by ELUCID gave me the entire coda for this track. It’s from his ethereal Save Yourself record, and this shaman’s incantations bore yet another spell in the form of “8-Finga Piano.” An indescribable sound emitted from an impossible instrument leads to iridescent scratches from a known Hanzo sword master D-Styles, who’s resume reads like a Star Wars exposition crawl. “Don’t quit the piano” – [billy] woods
PremRock: Armand Hammer has been making some of the most important music of a generation for a while now. I think the homage would be paid regardless of our personal relationships, but it’s a nice touch here. As a part-Filipino artist, it’s an honor to have D-Styles on this album. He may be in the convo for the greatest scratch DJ of all time, so it’s a wild thing to see happen on your own record. This track was vocally the most challenging for myself—something about the drop was hard for me to catch, but once I finally did it truly clicked. The transition at the end is masterful work by all. 
Controller 7: Castro wanted to include the billy woods “Don’t quit the piano” line, so we got D-Styles to do the scratches. It bookends the ELUCID line that leads into the song. An unofficial Armand Hammer guest feature. 

11. “Uru Metal” (feat. ELUCID)
Curly Castro: Uru is a metal ore from the first moon in existence, and has existed since the beginning of the universe. It’s said to be rubble from the rock of creation and the strongest substance in all the realms (if you believe in Thor and all that). Uru metal was used to forge Mjolnir, Thor’s mighty hammer. Which we three each weld, John Henry–lite, in this three-part annihilation. It’s always mass destruction when Guttah is at the party. 
PremRock: This is “I’m the Man” or “Speak Ya Clout” on HGH and angel dust. A great feature from Guttah here, too. I’m not even sure how he gets to the heights he does sometimes, a pretty singular artist in his own right. Castro with the high-octane close here—it suits the energy and completes the three-man weave with grace and a windmill dunk.
Controller 7: I pitched the idea of doing a multi-section song in the style of Gang Starr’s “Speak Ya Clout.” The album has a lot of songs with changes in them, but this one was intentionally three emcees over three different beats. ELUCID produced the bulk of the ShrapKnel self-titled LP, so it feels right that he’s part of this. His bellow at the end of his verse is one of my favorite parts of the album. 

12. “Sadatay”
Curly Castro: “Sadatay” is what happens when you try to kick game or a rhyme, and Pootie Tang edibles got your tongue. What’s the dabble dee, tipi tais, on a wah da tah?
PremRock: Incredibly catchy work by Castro and Seven here. They sent me the demo and I simply couldn’t provide an addition to it that was worthy. Sometimes an underrated skill is to know when you’re not needed. 
Controller 7: A very simple version of this was on the original demo I sent. I envisioned it as a more low-key, short section of the album. Castro is a one-of-one amazing artist. His early ideas were not what I was expecting, but he’s a visionary and I think we ended up with something that’s a pretty perfect balance of calm and chaos. His storytelling helped me shape the song structure, too. 

13. “Illusions of P’
Curly Castro: If at all necessary? Then fine. But GoFundMes won’t save you. 
PremRock: Pretty bangin’ beat here. I wrote this as a direct manner and leaves little to interpretation. If we talking about you, then that’s a you problem. Royal Tenenbaums is a great movie.
Controller 7: The beat for “Illusions of P” was actually one of the last ones I sent them, but ended up being the first song that anyone heard. They tested it out on their 2023 West Coast tour and we ended up releasing it as the first single. 

14. “Worry Doll” 
Curly Castro: Worry dolls, also known as “trouble dolls,” are small, handmade dolls that originated with the Indigenous Mayan people of Guatemala. They’re believed to have magical properties and are said to soothe fears and anxieties, take away worries, and bring good luck. Prem came up with the concept and song title. We hope this album, as worry dolls, brings good luck and sucks away impure anxieties—with knocking-ass beats to boot!
PremRock: My friend Gustavo is from Gautemala and told me once that for some reason he finds worry dolls constantly throughout his life and sometimes in unexpected places. It gave me a chill, but in a good way. There are forces at play in this world and beyond, and I like being reminded of this. We take our closing duties seriously, and this is no different. 
Controller 7: Worth noting, the very first thing you hear on this album are the words “It worries me.” As Castro describes, the album concludes on a different note with “Worry Dolls.”