Until a few weeks ago, a 28-year-old Russian who makes music under the pseudonym “senya.” lived in the nation where he was born and raised.

But amid the war in Ukraine, he’s fled to nearby Kazakhstan to avoid being drafted “to fight in a war I don’t agree with.” In the “welcoming” Kazakhstan, senya. is safer, though not exactly out of danger.

After all, some of his music lambasts his countrymen who perpetrated atrocities against a “brother country” with a “sister language,” lyrics that could make him a target of the Russian government.

“You have to make a criminal offense for Kazakhstan to send you back into Russia, but the way Russia does laws now, it might take a week to come up with a new law, and if you’re not lucky, they can just get you back into the country,” he said.

Despite that risk, senya. continues to create music, most recently as part of the Neverending Mixtape, a multinational collective of hip-hop artists who connect over the internet to collaborate from around the globe.

"Extra Points," the Neverending Mixtape's most recent project, was released on Nov. 20, 2022. (Stew)
“Extra Points,” the Neverending Mixtape’s most recent project, was released on Nov. 20, 2022. (Stew)

Similar to the way the early-2000s supergroup the Postal Service mailed unfinished songs back and forth between members, the Neverending Mixtape uses Discord, an online platform that offers text, voice and video chat, to create music, provide feedback and decide what to release and when.

Aside from one trip to a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, attended by eight or nine people who could make it, many members have never met face to face, yet they’ve united to create eight albums and two EPs.

Neverending Mixtape members Denver and 724x pose in this undated photo. (Stew)
Neverending Mixtape members Denver and 724x pose in this undated photo. (Stew)

While working virtually presents its challenges, it also allows senya., a rapper, vocalist and sound engineer, to connect with musicians from the U.S., United Kingdom, India, Japan, Italy and several other countries, all in keeping with the group’s motto that “Music knows no boundaries, music never ends.”

“It was easy to click with everybody else on the server. We all love the same thing. A lot of people there grew up on the internet, so we have a lot in common,” he said.

The discussions often go beyond music, said 25-year-old Oakland resident Shanga Goman. It has simply become “a place for us to come together” to discuss “a little bit of everything,” though the shared interest in music is certainly a focus.

“We talk about whatever, current events. This morning, people were talking about classic video games we used to play. We talk about music past and present, we share our own music for feedback. We make music for the collective, but also folks have gotten together and branched out to make their own projects,” Goman said.

While the hip-hop’s penchant for regional specificity thrives — “I personally try to do my little Bay Area hyphy thing” when a West Coast beat comes up, he added — so too does a blending of styles from across the U.S. and around the world.

Rapper UnoDeuce is seen in this undated photo. (Stew)
Rapper UnoDeuce is seen in this undated photo. (Stew)

“It’s wild, in a positive way,” said 29-year-old Oakland rapper Mr. Chandler. “There’s a lot of different things that everyone brings to the table. Even a year-and-a-half ago, there were a lot of things I’d never even considered for myself musically or sonically, but being able to be so closely involved with everyone’s creative process has really opened me up as a solo artist.”

The varied approaches can broaden horizons in a way a regional focus might not. For instance, South Carolina native and current South Bay resident UnoDeuce explained that sometimes, when another artist crafts lyrics for the same song he’s working on, “it’s like I didn’t remotely consider the song sounding like this.”

“Now there’s a whole other culture cultivated in another verse. It’s probably a whole sub-genre of music I don’t even listen to. He’s been doing music for 10 years and his influences are completely different than mine,” the 24-year-old observed.

That variety extends lyrically as well. For instance, while some artists might emphasize overt political and socially conscious themes, Mr. Chandler aims for a “very personal, introspective journey into my emotions at the time,” and UnoDeuce balances the “very lighthearted, trying to be funny” material of his solo music with the “very, very serious” work he contributes to the collective.

“Aside from being racist, homophobic, any of that, there are no expectations on what we put on our music,” UnoDeuce said.

Stew, the group’s 26-year-old de facto leader, said the collective has about 80 regularly active members and 150 overall, one of whom is a friend of the author. He was not interviewed for this piece.

The collective began about a year-and-a-half ago when Stew, a Pennsylvania native, posted to Reddit’s r/HipHopHeads asking for submissions on a collaborative mixtape series.

STRIPE of the Neverending Mixtape performs in this undated photo. (STEW)
STRIPE of the Neverending Mixtape performs in this undated photo. (STEW)

While Stew does create some music of his own — he and UnoDeuce recently released a joint EP — “he doesn’t consider himself an artist, he’s more of an executive producer,” as senya. put it.

“He gets final word on what goes onto the album or what gets cut. It’s good that he doesn’t have any ego involved in the process in that sense,” senya. added.

“Stew, he wanted this to be a showcase for artists, a platform for people who may not have a platform yet to showcase their abilities, and he’d done a wonderful job as far as promotion goes and making sure everyone has a chance to shine,” UnoDeuce added.

For his part, Stew agreed with those assessments, adding that he’d never include his own music on a Neverending Mixtape project. Instead, he’s focused on other artists.

“I think that the big thing that I wanted to do, and I think we accomplished in 2022, we took it from something that was fun and established something legitimate,” he said. “We have a couple guys we’re trying to work with now and trying to get them some attention from smaller record labels. We’re trying to turn it into a jumping-off point.”

So far, that mission has been a success. The collective has boasted features from established underground artists like Quelle Chris and Denmark Vessey, and popular online music critic Anthony Fantano has featured Neverending Mixtape as part of the Needle Drop’s New Music Friday series.

After 2023, Neverending Mixtape plans to go on hiatus, allowing solo artists and groups formed from within the collective to chart their own paths. The collective could regroup after a break, but if they don’t, Stew is pleased with what they’ve accomplished.

“Even if we never made music as a collective ever again, the community exists and the support system is there,” he said.

But that’s not to say Neverending collective is finished. Three more projects will be released next year, and the artists expect that more success is on the way.

“It’s great to see how far it’s come in a year and some change, but I’m hoping for more wins, more life — not to sound like DJ Khaled,” Goman laughed. “I’m open and hopeful. We have some fire on the way.”