Wize Cracks

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

From the start, Cousins of the Wize was adamant about handling its promotions, recordings and distribution needs independently--the members each agree that control of their image is essential. "We want to keep it grassroots and do everything ourselves," says Faulkner. "We don't want to get caught in the whole corporate music machine or whatever."

In fact, the band has gone so far as to produce the CD itself, with various members often at the helm of the mixing board. "A good producer can completely change a band's sound for the better," keyboardist Kevin Pope says. "Especially if it's a talented producer. But, with our budget, producing the CD ourselves just made sense."

However, like many of the area's local hip-hop acts, Cousins of the Wize struggles with the challenge of booking itself into Valley clubs and venues. "We're almost to the point where we might lie about our style of music just to get booked," Gomez jokes.

"A lot of people try to pigeonhole hip-hop as this typical urban, gang thing," says drummer Stephen Pond. "So it's difficult to find places for hip-hop music to thrive because a lot of club owners automatically think 'trouble.' As soon as you say those two words, they put up a front."

Frustration is inevitable when club owners see hip-hop as a threat to their livelihood and bands see it as their outlet for musical expression. Ironically, while Cousins of the Wize is likely to pack any venue it plays, it hasn't attracted the problems associated with some hip-hop acts, nor does it claim hip-hop as its sole musical genre. Yet, because that genre of music is one of its more visible and obvious elements, the band finds itself forced to disprove its connection to those fears--and hoping it's right.

"Straight hip-hop doesn't necessarily even have music in it," Reynoso says. "Sometimes, it's just sound. But, for our ears, we write tunes so people who are used to hearing harmonies will still be able to listen to and enjoy it. On the other hand, our music diversifies the crowd by attracting people who aren't used to hanging out together. But that's a good thing."

Through compromise, a series of peacefully uneventful gigs and sheer drawing power, Cousins of the Wize has begun the arduous process of infiltrating mainstream music venues.

"People talk a lot about the negative things that can happen in the parking lot of hip-hop shows," says Gomez, "but it can happen at any show. You could play a frat gig, and it could pretty much turn into a bloody mess. I believe once club owners see us play, they'll realize that we're not going to bring anything to their club that they're not going to be happy about."

Onstage, the band heavily contradicts the stereotype of handgun-toting thugs oft-derided by hip-hop opponents. And, since hip-hop's potential violence factor--inspired from both a national and local level--occasionally eclipses the true entertainment value of the music, Cousins of the Wize has been forced to find positive alternatives to the traditional don't-fuck-with-us attitude. In that respect, the band has embraced the approach of not taking itself too seriously.

"As far as categorizing hip-hop," says Gomez, "the music is expanding. It's like a huge backyard, and we fall into that field. We definitely graze somewhere in it, too. But it's not this tiny yard that people make it out to be.

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