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Get to Know:Cheat Codes and Their Renewed Purpose

by Megan Armstrong

Cheat Codes' new single "No Service in the Hills" featuring blackbear and Trippie Redd initiates a new direction for the American DJ trio in 2020.

The ironic thing about Cheat Codes, comprised of Kevi Ford, Matthew Russell and Trevor Dahl, being called Cheat Codes is that they have not taken any shortcuts.

The process behind “No Service in the Hills” featuring blackbear, Prince$$ Rosie and Trippie Redd serves as proof.

The single, Cheat Codes’ first offering of 2020, went through countless phases for over a year before rounding into what was released Friday (Jan. 31) via 300 Entertainment.

Cheat Codes had sent blackbear “three or four records” before, but a collaboration didn’t work out until this track landed in his lap. The group’s friend Lil Aaron wrote a hook for “No Service” alongside some friends, but that hook was ultimately recut by blackbear. Trippie Redd immediately came to mind as someone Cheat Codes wanted to deliver a verse, but experience taught them that it was far from guaranteed.

“It’s one of those records that we’re really excited [to have] coming out because we weren’t exactly sure if it was ever gonna come out,” Russell tells tmrw. “But it’s a life lesson of, like, you gotta be patient sometimes and then good things will happen.”

The result is a cross between grunge, emo and hip-hop. An ominous guitar opens the song before blackbear and Redd set the tone: “It’s no service in the hills / I can’t hit you back (Yeah), you gon’ have to chill (Have to chill).”

Ford appears on “No Service” as Prince$$ Rosie. “Tom Ford, 20/20 vision / Tom Cruise, I’ve been on a mission,” he sing-raps in the first verse. It marks the debut of his solo project but also the evolution of Cheat Codes as a central base for his, Dahl and Russell’s individual ventures.

We want it to all have synergy with the solo projects as well,” Russell says. “That’s the thing, too. We all, the three of us, we’re all writing together but we’re also writing separately, and then we bring our separate ideas to the table for Cheat Codes, and if it doesn’t really fit then that’s fine. We have other avenues to put out other music.” 

First and foremost, though, “No Service” is fans’ first glimpse into Cheat Codes’ forthcoming full length album. Their Instagram page was wiped clean, and a new era was officially launched with promotion for this track. “It’s kind of a whole new life for us as Cheat Codes,” Russell notes. “We just wanna start fresh with everything. New year, new look.”

“The idea of the album is we have a lot of different-sounding tracks than what we normally put out,” Russell says. “‘No Service in the Hills’ is almost like an urban, emo kind of vibe—if I had to put it in a genre—and we have a good amount of tracks on the album that fit that vibe. So, we wanted to start the new year off with something from the new album to get people hyped. We’re working on a bunch of music, and a lot of it is not necessarily dance tracks. They’re more just good songs and songs you can connect to with us as people and give us a little more depth as far as lyrically—you know, understanding what we’re all about with more lyrics. A lot of these dance records that we’ve put out, they may only have, like, a couple really catchy lines and then it’s more about the instrumental. So, a lot of these songs are gonna be the opposite, in a way.”

Russell discloses that Cheat Codes did “probably over 40 demos” for the unnamed album and are in the process of cutting down the tracklist to their favorites. “[‘No Service in the Hills’], in particular, it was just something we were sitting with, and it sounded different than anything we’ve ever put out, but it was always stuck in our heads,” he says.

“No Service” is a statement that Cheat Codes wanted to make in order to set a larger foundation for expectations moving forward. Or rather, relay that expecting any one thing from them is a waste of time. “If you can have zero expectations going into something, you’re going to have a better time,” Russell told me three years ago, in reference to something else entirely, but the sentiment can be repurposed as advice for listeners anticipating this new Cheat Codes era.

They are working on a new live show that will diverge from their standard DJ set to include live instrumentals—guitars, drums, bass, keys—and vocals. While the sound and lyrical approach will be different from Cheat Codes Past, their collaborative nature will persist.

Cheat Codes’ rolodex of collaborators is too long to list here in full, but breakthrough smashes include 2017’s “No Promises” featuring Demi Lovato and “Shed a Light” alongside David Guetta and Robin Schulz. Most recently, the boys hopped on “Live Forever” with Liam Payne in December.

Collaborating so consistently was necessary for Cheat Codes to arrive in a place where “No Service” can exist.

We didn’t want to be boxed into one sound,” Russell says. “I think if you listen to us every year, get really involved in our discography as far as the sonics of the music that we put out, it really does change every year. Last year, we put out ‘Ferrari’ and a couple other records that felt more urban-leaning with the sound as far as the beats. We had produced some stuff like that, but we had never released anything like that. So, I think there was this discovery period of, like, This is cool, I’m learning to create something new, almost in a new genre that I’ve never created, but I’m still gonna take my old influences with me and hopefully it sounds like something fresh. … I think a lot of the records we did last year and maybe the year before kind of helped us learn how to make stuff like this.”

Russell adds: “This isn’t necessarily a record that Trippie Redd would put out on his own, this isn’t really a record that blackbear would put out on his own, and this isn’t a record that Cheat Codes has ever done before. It’s creating new ground that never existed before.”

Their revamped live shows will reflect that mentality. Cheat Codes want to send a personal message rather than only provide a soundtrack for club-goers to get drunk and dance (though they will still do that). Going on six years of near-constant touring, Russell discloses the hardships they have overcome together.

Mental health is really important to us,” Russell says. “I think it’s becoming more of a hot topic for people to talk about. I don’t know if it’s because of the social media age or the society we live in that wants us to go, go, go, but I think it’s important that artists that have dealt with [mental health issues] are being vocal about it. So, within our group, we’ve definitely dealt with mefntal health. Depression, anxiety, things like that. I think it doesn’t matter what you’re doing as a career or what your situation might be, I think it’s important to emphasize that we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing if we’re not taking care of ourselves mentally in a very conscious way. Whether that’s taking time to meditate or just taking time off, just little things like that.

“I think that’s important because I think a lot of social media portrays, ‘Oh, we’re doing this, we’re doing that, we’re superhuman. We can play X-amount of shows, and nobody else can do this!’ It’s not really like that. It’s like anybody can do anything they put their mind to, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your health or wellness for it. Now we’ve been touring for four or five years as a group, and we’re all very aware of each other. … The fact that there’s three of us, that’s something we’ve really learned over the years.” 

Redd’s verse in “No Service in the Hills” hints at Cheat Codes’ intention to address difficult subject matter: “The devil’s workin’ out the surface in the hills / The birds are chirping in the hills / It make me nervous in the hills / ‘Cause that’s the reason why I’m swervin’ in the hills / Or why I’m hurtin’ in the hills, lose my purpose in the hills.”

We have a song that deals with being depressed and almost like not wanting to go on, not wanting to keep moving forward with your life, but there being that support system that gives you hope and gives you—like, almost saying, ‘You’re the reason why I’m gonna keep trying, keep moving forward,'” Russell foreshadows. “We do have some songs like that, and all three of us, as a group, we’re all just really grateful to be in this position that we’re in and to be able to do this as a career. We just want to go for it, whether it be being vulnerable in some of these songs, being more honest.”

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