I've been following hip-hop since I first heard Run-D.M.C.'s King of Rock album when I was 11 years old. I'm not a fanatic, though; my sneering, hip-hop-obsessed DJ friends will tell you that. They just recently schooled me in hyphy, the cartoonish and kind of silly Bay Area sound kicked out by artists such as Mac Dre, Keak da Sneak, and Devin the Dude.
Nonetheless, I hit up my share of hip-hop shows, and I especially keep my eye on locals who drop beats and bust rhymes. Except for some notable exceptions, though, checking out these shows too often can get pretty fucking boring. You've got your DJ, one or two MCs, and that's what 80 percent or more of the artists out there are doing.
I'm far more intrigued by outfits such as Who Cares, a group of friends from Sacramento that has a saxophonist, a keyboardist/MPC player, and an MC. Or, locally, Drunken Immortals, who rock the full bass/guitar/drums combo along with a DJ and two MCs. Don't get me wrong: I'm not looking for bands that bust out hybrids with hip-hop unless it's with jazz. I don't want to hear crunchy rock riffs with an MC over the top. Linkin Park can keep that shit.
For more insight into Phoenix's music scene, visit Brendan Joel Kelley's "Ear Infection" blog.
Drunken Immortals have really come into their own over the last few years, releasing a stellar album (Hot Concrete) and touring all over the States and Europe. If you're interested in that sort of thing, you've heard them already. However, in the live-band hip-hop game, you may not have heard of Antedote the Neato Project (for brevity's sake, and because I think "the Neato Project" is a little silly, I'll call them Antedote for the duration of this column).
If you catch one of Antedote's live shows, like the one the band recently played at Chasers, you'll see some amazing shit. Eight people onstage, with much the same setup as the Immortals (bass/guitar/drums/keys, plus an extra percussionist), but on a much more downtempo, jazzy tip. The group's two MCs, Mesi Goodness and Many Pieces, flow like an oil slick over the waves of smooth funk the band lays down, with two female vocalists singing near-lullabies underneath.
The musicians Siddha on bass and keyboards, Griff on guitar and keyboards, drummer Dan Val Dan, and percussionist E.B. Magic bring an improvisational jazz sensibility to the music during the live shows (Dan Val Dan won a Guitar Center drum-off in September of last year, footage of which you can watch on Antedote's MySpace at www.myspace.com/antedote). The result is experimental, but it's all going down within the parameters of hip-hop.
It's definitely feel-good shit there's nothing harsh to Antedote at all. And while I certainly appreciate some hard rhymes and shit-talking, it's pleasant to not feel aurally assaulted at a hip-hop show. That doesn't mean they don't hype the crowd, though songs like "Jazz Ain't Dead" and "Upliftment" bounce and ricochet enough to get some hands in the air and some asses shaking.
Though the group is more under-the-radar than its contemporary, Drunken Immortals (with which it often shares the stage), Antedote's far from toiling in anonymity. Since its inception in early 2003, the group has played incessantly at events like Blunt Club, and it released a CD, The Neato Project, Vol. 1, in 2004.
Antedote's working on wrapping up Volume 2 of The Neato Project right now, and recently completed a video for its new single, "Universal." The video, shot by director Fredy Polania, is an arty montage of live footage, local scenery, and color-soaked shots of the band doing its thing. The song itself is an earnest, laid-back paean with funked-up drumming by Dan Val Dan and shimmering, flute-sounding samples whistling in the background.
"Quills in the Parchment" is a live favorite from the band's current repertoire in which Mesi Goodness and Many Pieces trade lines over a subdued bass line and an easy-listening keyboard progression. The spirit is mellow, but it's energetic and groovy, nevertheless.
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Now I have a confession the words "mellow" and "groovy" don't feel comfortable rolling off of my fingers onto the keyboard. It sounds like hippie shit, and really, with the positive, socially conscious, be-dreadlocked attitude and style that Antedote affects, it kind of is hippie shit, and that's not my style at all.
That's why I've got nothing but props for Antedote. The band's positive vibe, jazzy grooves, and laid-back attitude somehow combine to become more than a glorified drum-circle patchouli party. Maybe it's because I've seen the band back up local revolutionary rapper Grime on his cover of Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade," where Antedote got uncharacteristically crazy actually, I'm sure that I wouldn't be as impressed with the relaxed shit if I didn't know they were capable of freaking out. But I think Antedote's got what hip-hop needs right now: soul. Soul, and real instruments played by real musicians.
With the amount of Antedote I've listened to recently, I think I'm going to have to counteract the group's mellow vibe with a few more hyphy-enlightenment sessions. There's only so much positivity I can handle without balancing it out with some tracks about bitches and getting high. Yadadamean?