What happens when you combine trained musicians from the world-renowned Berklee School of Music in Boston, with an articulate emcee and breathtaking beat-wizard both born and raised in sunny, southern California?
Crown City Rockers, that's what - a genre-blending hip-hop sollective whose music is original, powerful and provocative all in the same breath and follows in the storied footsteps of such pioneers as The Roots, De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest.
With an organic blend of lush, funk-drenched grooves, riveting classic soul samples, sharp live instrumentation and of course old-school inflected rhymes, Crown City Rockers is a welcome breath of fresh air in today's commercially cluttered hip-hop cosmos.
Comprised of stellar emcee Raashan Ahmad, producer Woodstock, keyboardist Kat Ouano, bassist/producer Headnodic, and drummer Max MacVeety, Crown City Rockers formed in Beantown's Roxbury section during the late nineties.
Raashan, who'd moved from Pasadena at the time to pursue his dreams of emceeing ran into the Berklee contingent at various open-mic and freestyle sessions aroung the city (Kat hails originally from Wichita, Kansas, Headnodic from Wisconsin, and Max is from Massachusetts). Everyone clicked, sharing an interest in organic hip-hop and live instrumentation, bonding musically as well as personally.
"We did some shows in Boston trying to get our name out," recounts Raashan. "And then we decided to move out to Cali to record an album."
And so, the group, then known as Mission: which at that time included Moe Pope (check Project Move), set out West. The trip to Cali proved to be an adventure in itself. An 18-wheeler totaled all of the group's instruments and the car they were driving. Once the group finally made it out west, they used the insurance money from the accident to put out a self-titled EP to get their name out.
Soon after came their first full-length, called One. The album quickly established the group as a subterranean stalwart in the Bay Area, where they were now located. After that, the group, who changed their name to Crown City Rockers after Mission UK, (an old 60's British rock band) asked them to switch monikers, hit the studio hard recording countless songs which they'd eventually whittle down to 19.
Now, Crown City Rockers' epic full-length LP, Earthtones is poised for release. It is an astonishing achievement, seamlessly fusing all of the group's sonic facets together. Indeed, the album overflows with Raashan's battle raps, poetic musings and emotionally fraught tracks about life and love. The lyrics are, in turn, melded with Kat's keyboards, Max's drums and Headnodic and Woodstock's beats - which run the creative gamut frum funk and soul, to jazz, to straight classic hip-hop.
On "B-Boy," Raashan pays homage to hip-hop's legacy - spitting razor-sharp poetics as he recounts the history of the culture - backed by a melodic combination of soulful singing and deft scratches.
Raashan, who cites Rakim, KRS-One, and Pos-dnuos as influences, says that throughout the course of recording Earthtones, he made an effort to bless audiences with lyrical gems without being overly preachy, a painstaking process.
"Without Love," features Zion, from the critically-acclaimed Bay Area group Zion I. This track, a spiritual unburdening, is one of Crown City Rockers' most powerful. Zion and Raashan trade life-affirming verses, backed by Kat's synthesized keyboards and Woodstock's drum programming.
This time I was really able to focus on the mixing process as opposed to just run everything straight out of the MPC," comments Headnodic on the varied soundscapes he created for Earthtones. "I just got to work with Woodstock a lot more too, and really stretch things out. It was dope."
"Another Day," the album's first single, is a classic cut. With its tight snare hits, keyboard progression and scratches, over Headnodic's neck snapping beat, Raashan spits his parables abous his own relationship with rhyme.
The song's b-side, "Fortitude," featuring Blackalicious front man, Gift of Gab, is an uptempo, bass heavy club joint, on which Gab hurls the venomous flow that has earned him such a fearsome reputation behing the mic.
There are, of course, so many hip-hop groups trying to sustain careers these days. And with Crown City Rockers' undeniable talents, their distinct musical backgrounds and now, their riveting debut album, this group is certain to make an immediate impact on the very first listen.
Indeed, no words need justify their abilities... Crown City Rockers' music speaks for itself, and dares you not to listen.