“Lots of people think they’re thriving, and all they’re doing is surviving,” reflected Aaron McNutt (aka MC Nutts), speaking of his rhymes on Magnetic Forces’s “VITAL VINYL.” “And I’ve been there, so I recognize that.” The meaning behind McNutt’s personal favorite from the duo’s new album, The Vision on Multiple Occasions ÷x​+​-, eclipses his prescribed definition when looking at the larger picture of how the MC got to this point. Late in the 2000’s his health issues were becoming serious and he decided to take action, dumping a number of destructive habits as doctors cautioned him of potential long-term consequences. Not long after turning this corner in his personal life is where the story of Magnetic Forces picks up, with McNutt connecting with his friend, beat-maker and MC Adam Brock (aka AdVantage the Nickel Loot Tester) to start creating music together.

Both 33 year old Nashville natives, the duo first met shortly after graduating high school, but it wasn’t until several years later that they paired up on a creative level. Brock had originally started Magnetic Forces with his roommate in 2002, but at that time McNutt was in the group Dr. Relax with several of his friends. (Another of Dr. Relax’s members, Sean Brashears, is behind the Wrapper’s Delight food truck.) “I was writing at home over no beats,” said McNutt, speaking of his struggle to find his voice, post-Dr. Relax, “and I was like, ‘Man, what I’m writing is terrible,’ [but] I know I’m a good rapper and I know I want to put stuff out before I die, because I always felt — at that time — close to death.” Finding a new outlet was critical for McNutt as his group’s time was coming to an end, and the connection between he and Brock lit a spark that helped reinvigorate him. “Rap’s supposed to be, I think, fun first,” he continued. “That’s something we’ve talked about as a group a lot.”

After settling into a regular practicing and recording schedule, the duo collected the first series of tracks that they had amassed into 2012’s Skunkworks Protocol LP. Named after the Lockheed Martin test facility, the title reflected the idea of being “developed under the cover and highly technological” while the music showcased a throwback to a traditional hip hop aesthetic. AFROPUNK commented on this, noting, “AdVantage’s beats are lovingly hand sampled and crafted, and loaded with the kind of scratches and voice samples that once were obligatory and now are almost unheard of.” (Sidenote: The release’s artwork incorporated Christopher McMahon’s re-painting titled “The Monster” two years before Weezer used the same image for their Everything Will Be Alright in the End album.) “The mentality wasn’t to perfect everything,” said Brock, speaking of the duo’s approach on Skunkworks. “It was to create something that I felt like listening to later, or felt like making at the time.”

During the next several years they began playing more live shows, while releasing one-off tracks including some that would ultimately land on Vision. Complementing his releases with McNutt, Brock also took to expanding his production skills by competing in beat battles online, primarily on the Making Hip Hop subreddit and the Stones Throw boards. “Other producers are going to hear this,” Brock said, reflecting on the inspiration to put his best foot forward among the 200-some-odd people who would compete on the latter board’s weekly challenges. Primarily what he took away from the work, though, was an understanding of the importance of self editing in the digital age. “Our latest release is 35 minutes long [and it] took us three years,” continued Brock, speaking to the decision to refrain from releasing the hundreds of beats he’s been sitting on in favor of the distilled recording, before McNutt chimed in, relating the scenario to the title of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

While there’s a huge leap between Skunkworks and Vision, the process wasn’t without its growing pains. For example, as Brock unpacked the new album’s title, The Vision on Multiple Occasions ÷x​+​-, he related it to “division on multiplications” and “35 minutes of all my visions, from all the multiple occasions over the last three years.” (His stage name, AdVantage the Nickel Loot Tester, is also a play on words referencing something of a crate digging Nicola Tesla.) But without hesitation, McNutt jumped in adding how he thinks of the album in a different sense, with him swinging between positive and negative poles while Brock is “both mutiplicative and divisive.” When he said that, there was only a brief pause, then a laugh from Brock, not taking the off-the-cuff remark overly personally. But by their own account, the occasional cerebral conflict between the two hasn’t always been so playful.

Shortly after the release of last year’s Kings of Lo-Fi EP, the two butted heads resulting in what McNutt called “a whole hideous fight.” They had met up to go over a beat that Brock made, but conflict was growing as they were both struggling with where they were at creatively. “We were fed up with being Magnetic Forces,” said Brock. But in that situation, before they stormed out and went their separate ways, McNutt agreed to listen to the beat (which would eventually be released as “UNIQUE ROUTINE”). “[Aaron] was mad, so [his] presence was really great because [he] was so upset,” said Brock. “And I didn’t care because I was so upset, so it had this vibe, more like the first album where [we’re] just making stuff for the first time. And somehow it all came together right as we were walking out the door from each other and we’re like, ‘fuck it, let’s just record this really quick’… We never touched that recording after, we just made it that day and put it straight onto the album. That’s the only one like that.”

Magnetic Forces was first launched as a tool of attraction to bring together likeminded artists, and in taking score of their situation the outlet is currently offering both members what they set out to achieve and then some. They’re playing live with regularity and made certain to shout out hip hop Tuesdays at the Bearded Iris Brewery, where the after-party cypher brings together local MCs in what Brock calls both a “workshop” and “a safe place” to interact and create with even more likeminded artists. “[Hip hop] helped fulfill part of me that I felt was there all along but I had been letting wither and die,” said Brock. “That’s helped me feel more of myself.” “I never had any lofty aspirations,” he continued. “Maybe one day we’ll have, like, a hundred solid followers and that’s what I really want.” When thinking about what the group and his music does for him, McNutt added how its use as a bridge between him and others might be its most important quality. “To have other people say ‘I understand,’ and they’re like, ‘That speaks to me,’ I can’t think of a better feeling. If they could bottle, sell, and snort that — that’s what we all need.”