By Robyn Rubinstein
It's no secret that rap music is big business in America today. What began as a voice for the disenfranchised and ignored is now a major driving force behind large-scale marketing campaigns world-wide. Pepsi, cell phones, and sneakers are mere slivers of the ever-expanding advertising and merchandising pie. Jay-Z has his own vodka, and Diddy hawks ProActive acne solutions. It might make the discerning music fan feel that hip-hop is just too commercial and over-produced to be good. I'd like to tell you how wrong you are. There are a handful of supremely talented artists poised and ready to bring the poetry, the soul, and the art back to what is - when done correctly - undoubtedly an art form, back to hip-hop. The Crown City Rockers are eagerly ready to blaze this trail, having been described more than once as "the next phase of hip-hop." This five-piece ensemble stretches far beyond the prevalent conception of a hip-hop band, and they are teetering on the cusp of something huge.
Crown City Rockers by Hanes
MC Raashan Ahmad, keyboardist Kat Ouano, producer and bassist Ethan Parsonage, (a.k.a. Headnodic) producer Woodstock, and drummer Max MacVeety have created a distinct niche for themselves lodged between the amorphous funk/jazz/jam genre and the clearer-cut lines of hip-hop. They bring thoughtful rhymes out to play with blazing, funk-laden instrumentation and an undeniable groove. The music integrates aspects of post-bop and soul jazz, the visceral elements of Headhunters-inspired funk, and the precisely produced beats and rhymes of rap. The Rockers are a throwback to funk and an innovative step forward on the mic at the same time. The musicianship is razor sharp, with addictive grooves and discerning lyrics.
Raashan :: Crown City Rockers
It started in New York with some tables and mics
Now every country on the planet got somebody who write
...Ripping next level music with the mic in my hand
Where my friends is fam you hear the music groove to it
Being first generation hip-hop music
It's the end of the world as we know it
Yeah it's the changing of times
For better or worse or which way you're hopping the line
Will you find yourself victorious or on the side of the dying?
And when it's all said and done
Was it fun or wasted on crying?
These five inspired musicians are a confluence of diverse musical backgrounds who have come together to create the exact sound that music is lacking right now. Their shows are an evocative funky-fresh party that challenge you lyrically and move you physically. The collective skill and passion in the group is overwhelming. A few days before they were to hit the road on tour, Kat, Raashan, and I got some coffee and talked shop.
Max and Raashan by S. Anderson
Kat, Ethan, and Max are three musicians who met at the esteemed Berklee School of Music in Boston in the late 1990's. As hip-hop grew up, so did Raashan and Woodstock in Pasadena, immersed in b-boy culture. Raashan moved to Boston in 1996 and discovered the voracious Boston b-boy scene at various open mic nights around the city. "Cats were freestyling, beatboxing, and battling. Every MC had so much hunger and fire, like if they couldn't get these words out they would explode." At one battle he met Moe Pope, who would later be the first MC for the band and a good friend to all. Kat, Ethan, and Max were also frequenting those same open mics and had landed a weekly gig playing rare funk grooves at a seedy bar in the Mission Hill district of Boston. Raashan spent almost all of his time writing, freestyling, beat boxing, and performing until the Boston winter became too much to handle, and he returned to Pasadena.
Soon after his return to California, Moe was calling Raashan repeatedly, urging him to come back east and check out the band he had hooked up with, at the time called Mission.
"I was living with Moe then," Kat explains, "and he used to call Raashan and beat box over the phone to get him to come back. He called him once a week."
Kat :: Crown City Rockers
Raashan smiles at the memory. "He would rap for me and play me beats that Ethan had made, and I was into it. I said I'd only do it if we would be gone by winter because I couldn't take another winter in Boston."
Raashan returned to Boston and soon after, introduced his longtime friend, producer Woodstock, to the band. "Woodstock came to visit us, started making beats with Ethan, and they just clicked instantly," says Kat. "He was supposed to come for a week and stayed for over a month." All the pieces were in place, but there were a few key obstacles yet to overcome. One was the name. A 1960's British rock group named Mission UK asked them to cease and desist using the moniker Mission, so they became Crown City Rockers, an homage to Pasadena and the old-school vibe they represent. Another bump in the road was actually a major traffic accident.