Eastern Sunz is not hustling everyday, big pimpin’ or sippin’ on gin and juice. You won’t see Aaron Harris and Travis Taylor (better known as Courage and TravisT) throwing dollar bills and featuring their ride of the week in music videos. Instead, the duo raps to the beat of its own 808 and promotes a sub-genre of “intellectual hip-hop”—a thread that covers political and social issues, as well as sustainability.

Portland, OR-based duo Eastern Sunz is five albums deep into its career and has already toured Europe. When Harris isn’t scoring verses though, he’s finishing homework and reading assignments for his degree at Portland State University.

“I find that staying in school, always discovering new ideas is really a lot of what inspires me to continue to be creative,” Harris told CMJ. An undergrad student majoring in social science, Harris finds that academics and travel keep the him and Taylor at the top of their game, creating music relevant to the times as well as highlighting timeless themes that will always be present in our dialogue.

The two met at a mutual friend’s fundraiser, performing with other groups. Taylor was looking for an artist with which he could DJ, while Harris was looking for a way to perform more seriously. When Taylor started freestyling at his birthday party, the two became a dual rap group, with Taylor running behind the turntable in live performances to DJ.

“I really feel that making hip-hop music is a lot like making an artistic collage,” explained Harris. “It’s an eclectic bunch of sound coming from all these different places.” The group usually works with Oregon-based producer Smoke, who finds a beat as a foundation for the collage. They then find the right verses and samples that will fit together in the big picture.

The time spent finding the perfect mix has paid off seeing as Eastern Sunz was recently nominated for Hip-Hop Album Of The Year in the Independent Music Awards for its 2010 album Corroded Utopia. The only nominee to represent the west coast, the duo is among five others that have been nominated and it’s the two’s biggest nomination to date. Its last album 9 Triangles received an honorable mention in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

As in their music, Harris and Taylor are always looking to find what they need to do to move ahead. “It’s about being a voice to the underrepresented people,” said Harris, who along with Taylor serves as a voice for underground hip-hop. Though the two would love to have successful mainstream careers, they’re not about to give up what they’ve worked to build.

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