Defprez’s raps are like matryoshka dolls. At the surface of the duo’s latest album, It’s Always A Time Like This, you can find an abundance of stories relating to the difficulties of being an independent artist, the perpetual grind, and, of course, making enough money to get by. The tale isn’t particularly new, but to distinguish itself from every other album with a similar nature, Defprez infused a flurry of stories and subtleties entrenched in the depths of each song.

Dense lyrics and blitzed performances make sense given the album’s composition. Clocking in at just under 25 minutes, both Defcee and CRASHprez have to cover major ground in as few words and in as little time as possible. It may seem like an intimidatingly tall order, but the two Chicago rappers work symbiotically on each of the ten tracks, ensuring that neither of them steers too far from each track’s subject.

Timing plays a major part in the project’s nostalgic intro “Always” which sees Defcee rapping about the build-up to his prime and coping with living with addicts. For as direct as his verse is, he embeds a subtle joke poking fun at someone’s refusal to concede like Donald Trump did after he lost his re-election bid. In that same track, CRASHprez raps about his origin story and how he carved out his own style. Their verses, though similar in subject, don’t compete with each other; they simply allow two rappers on comparable journeys to lay themselves bare.

Honesty and reflection are essential pillars to good storytelling — Defcee and CRASHprez know this. But the two are equally self-aware, anticipating that the masses won’t be as receptive to a gritty half-hour of grim accounts. “Our own worst Public Enemies, of course, radio won’t play it,” Defcee raps on “Home.” The dreamy set of keys from producer knowsthetime won’t bring them closer to stardom, but neither are particularly concerned with that, even if money is on the line.

Money may not be the driving force of the album, but its omnipresence shows just how tight of a noose is wrapped around the necks of artists looking to their art to provide for them. The latter half of the album dives deeper into themes of endless riches and the executives that exploit art for their own financial good. Where “Safer” tells the story of a rapper headed to jail in a Wraith, “Inheritance” paints a much more macabre picture of an artist being overburdened into running themselves into the ground trying to sustain themselves.

It’s easy to imagine Defcee and CRASHprez as cynical, but their raps aren’t meant to sway artists away from their craft. They use their stories and the stories of others to show the hurdles of coming up as indie artists with no major label backing them. “Endless,” the highlight of It’s Always A Time Like This, uses solemn guitars and brooding drums to display the harsh realities of persevering even when life is at its most dire.

The morose album isn’t going to suddenly turn Defprez into a star duo, but it will help cement the two as some of the most realistic and vivid rappers of the decade. It’s Always A Time Like This isn’t interested in solely focusing on the present. It’s as much a history lesson as it is an imploration of persistence and grit, hoping that listeners and artists alike can use their stories to pave a clearer and sturdier path for themselves.