Wize Cracks

Cousins of the Wize rises above inevitable club resistance to live hip-hop

Although Pie Gomez is too humble to admit it, his band was initially conceived--much in the tradition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--as the local MC's personal creation. Six months ago, this local lyrical mad scientist awoke from musical hibernation and pieced together seven musicians--each from unlikely and unrelated circumstances--to spawn a telltale experiment that's still unfolding.

That creation abruptly gained life as Cousins of the Wize--a band considered by some to be the Valley's premier live hip-hop act. Although Gomez is quick to point out the dizzying array of divergent backgrounds and influences that flavors the band's sound, it employs hip-hop as its main vehicle and steers it through some interesting and entertaining musical territory.

In a relatively short time, this Tempe-based newcomer has developed a solid local following and a well-deserved reputation for bringing down the house. It bends the rules of traditional music genres, attracting and entertaining people who wouldn't ordinarily share the same breathing space.

By blending elements of hip-hop, psychedelic jazz-based grooves and aggressive yet contemplative poetry and rhymes, Cousins of the Wize is able to dutifully exploit the essence of numerous musical forms. In doing so, it creates a unique pocket of musical expression that lies on the four corners of hip-hop, hard-core, jazz fusion and rock.

"If we end up having to be in any one musical category," says bassist Steve Faulkner, "then we want to create a new category. If we become something we've already heard before, we'll throw it away."

Members of Gomez's former band, Brothers Grim, went their separate ways more than two years ago. Gomez continued writing songs and lyrics, and participating in various musical projects, but it wasn't enough.

"I can't say that I was too happy the two years that I was without a band," Gomez says. "So I needed to do what made me happy. Some of these guys were musicians, some just partied together, and some were friends. But I knew all of these guys, and I knew they were all talented musicians. At the time, they were each doing their own thing--they just weren't doing it together. I had this idea to combine all of these different styles, get these guys in the same room, and just let it develop."

Led by two intense, nomadic MCs--a third MC, RAS13, recently left the band--and fueled by discerning musicianship, Cousins of the Wize has jelled into an autonomous six-piece musical machine, capable of instantly raising the collective energy in a club by a good 10 notches. In terms of style, it capitalizes on the benefits of having two experienced vocalists/MCs who layer intricate combinations of lyrics on the tracks. The rhymes both complement and contradict each other in a slick, machine-gun fashion.

The four musicians of the band--composed of a keyboard player, bassist, guitarist and drummer--create a delicately balanced counterpart to the intensity or gentility of the lyrics. Through often repeated trancelike grooves, they lull the listener into an almost hypnotic state, while the rhymes seem to break in aggressive, poetic swells.

The presence of a keyboard player provides Cousins of the Wize with rich undertones that smooth the edges of its sound. For many songs, it acts as a subtle liaison between audiences and the MCs, bridging gaps by creating vivid musical imagery with layered chords and quirky sound effects. The recent addition of X-Factor DJ, Needles, provides the sound with a smattering of electronic accents, as well as a dose of hip-hop authenticity.

While some bands prefer a stripped-down stage performance, Cousins of the Wize incorporates elements of animation, tenacity and impromptu stage antics that often snag an audience's attention for an entire show.

Given the band's opportunity to vent, inform and entertain, the message behind the microphones yielded a simple notion and, fittingly, became the band's name.

"The idea wasn't to call ourselves wise," says Gomez, "but, rather, call ourselves the cousins of [the wise]. We wanted to say something where we weren't actually calling ourselves wisdom, yet wisdom was the end goal, almost like a steppingstone."

The appeal of the band's sound grew from a willingness to incorporate each member's musical influences, as they collectively represent a comprehensive array of styles. From Mr. Bungle to N.W.A to Bad Brains, diversity is the anchor of its wide-open sound, as well as what keeps it original and seductive.

"Whatever the hook is for some particular lyrics, we start with the mood," guitarist Jason Reynoso says. "I'll hear a few rhymes, and right away I'm hearing this song in my head. We all start wondering how can we make the music scream. We pull that sound from everywhere and everyone. That way, we custom tailor the sound to the emotion of the lyrics."

Just six months into the venture, the band has decided it has generated enough interest to begin laying down tracks for a debut, self-released CD. By pooling capital from outside investors, and by spending its own money, the band is currently working with Red Mountain and Porcupine recording studios.

"From the beginning," begins Faulkner, "we knew we were going to record. All the money that this band earned went into a jar. Now, we're using that money for something that's important to all of us."

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