When Oren J. Schuable's cell phone rang on the morning of September 11 last year, he didn't want to pick up.
His group, Silver Medallion, had staged two off-the-hook gigs the evening prior in Scottsdale, and the 24-year-old hip-hop artist was sleeping off a hangover after a night of performing and partying.
New TImes music feature
Hear tracks from Silver Medallion's new album and read remembrances of Carnegie at www.phxmusic.com.
Silver Medallion is scheduled to perform on Friday, February 11, at Bar Smith, and on Monday, February 14, at Pussycat Lounge in Scottsdale.
When Schuable eventually answered the call, what he heard immediately caused him to sober up. Abay Lattin, his best friend and musical partner, was dead.
Lattin, known as Carnegie, had been killed by an allegedly drunk driver in Tempe hours earlier as he traveled from a solo DJ gig after Silver Medallion's shows.
For Schuable (who performs as Oren J.), nothing would ever be the same. He'd gone from serving as one-half of a rising hip-hop duo, opening for acts like LMFAO, to spending sleepless nights slaving over No One Ever Really Dies, Silver Medallion's latest album, which was released on Tuesday and, Schuable hopes, will be a fitting tribute and legacy for Lattin. And it all changed with the ring of a phone.
"It was so hard to wake up and hear the worst thing imaginable," Schauble says. "It was unbelievable. We did a show the night before in front of thousands of people and then he's suddenly gone."
Silver Medallion rose to prominence in 2008 and became one of the Valley's hottest hip-hop acts before relocating to New York City the next year. They'd returned to the Valley for a special weekend that included a gig opening for Girl Talk in Tucson, followed by the aforementioned Scottsdale shows.
Carnegie was riding home from a DJ gig at Philthy Phil's, a Phoenix bar, with recording engineer/hip-hop artist Hejus Trife. They were driving along University Drive near Rural Road in Tempe in Trife's Chevrolet Caprice when a Ford Expedition driven by Kathryn Hetrick, a 17-year-old who, police say, was intoxicated and leaving a party at the Quadrangles apartment complex, slammed into their car. The 25-year-old Lattin was killed instantly and Trife sustained fractured ribs and a broken leg, After being taken to Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center, he recovered. A motorcyclist was also killed when he ran into the wreckage. (Last week, Hetrick was indicted on one count of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated assault.)
Shortly after the accident, Joel Davis, a longtime Silver Medallion collaborator who spins under the name DJ Epidemic, summed up the feelings of Lattin's nearest and dearest.
"It's a total clusterfuck and tragedy," he says. "Carnegie was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It sucks because they were only in town to do [those] shows . . . and then this had to happen."
Schuable says he's spent the past six months thinking about Lattin and working on No One Ever Really Dies, which will consist of four new songs completed before Carnegie's death and previously released tracks that have been remixed and "transformed into something better."
"I think about him every day. We spent so much time together and did so many things together and Silver Medallion was our whole lives. It's still the majority of my time that I can't help but think about him constantly. Our music is playing all the time; even maintaining our social media is a constant reminder," he says. "It's been hard, finishing what we had all by myself. We used to spend 90 percent of our time together, always bouncing ideas back and forth. It was very interactive, both of us clicking with each other on music."
He and Lattin began clicking from the moment they met in early 2008.
Schuable, a Boston native raised in Hawaii (hence his blond surfer boy appearance), was working at a Tempe recording studio when Lattin came in to lay down some tracks for a solo project. Lattin, who was born in Phoenix, had recently returned to the Valley after a long gig as a hype man in Hot Rod's posse, spending years collaborating with the local hip-hop breakout (who was signed to 50 Cent's G-Unit label), appearing in his music videos, and rubbing elbows with such stars as Mary J. Blige.
They struck up a conversation about music, particularly the B'more and electro remixes that were a trendy staple of New York City's club scene at the time.
"I'd briefly lived in NYC and saw how acts like Santigold, Spank Rock, Chromeo were blowing up. When I came back to Phoenix and said, 'Yo, I wanna make music like this,' all my friends were like, 'You're crazy,' but Carnegie wanted to do it," Schuable says. "We had access to a studio, literally made 14 or 15 songs, including 'Gravity,' and immediately realized we had something. We set out to make some different music, and it turned way better than we expected and way more interesting than anything either of us had done alone previously."
And that was due in large part to Lattin's mad vocal talents, which local producer Stevie Thunder described (in a blog eulogizing Carnegie) as "on par with heavy-hitting punchline artists of the East Coast."
"His flow was seasoned, and he possessed one of the key elements that makes a great lyricist, and that is the ability to stay on beat," Thunder wrote. "He was really comfortable on the microphone."
Lattin's vocals also made an impression on former Power 98.3 producer and on-air personality Karlie Hustle, who described her reaction to hearing "Gravity" for the first time in her own online epitaph.
"I still remember where I was when I first heard this song," she wrote. "I knew in that moment that something huge was on the horizon for the Arizona music scene."
Silver Medallion had uploaded "Gravity," an elegant yet emotionally wrought four-minute slow jam, onto their MySpace page in April 2008, when Hustle and the rest of the Power 98.3 staff heard it and played the track on the radio station's "Street Heat" local artist spotlight. It eventually made its way into regular rotation and, Schuable says, "things kinda whirlwinded from there."
Another major MySpace hit for Silver Medallion was "Scottsdale," a debaucherous hip-hop anthem that both celebrated and lampooned the city's hedonistic obsession with drugs, alcohol, and sex.
Within weeks, they went from their first gig at Tempe's Yucca Tap Room to Scottsdale clubs like Axis/Radius and Myst, as well as appearances at hipster hangouts like the now-defunct Glam, where they were popular with the Valley's electro-oriented trendsters.
"Both of us were pretty notorious partiers in both scenes. That's one reason why Carnegie and I got along so well, we would both go out every night of the week, whether that meant going to Glam or going to Scottsdale. It didn't matter," Schuable says. "When we started, we'd dress all crazy, with huge silver chains and matching '80s tracksuits, rolling into Glam and drinking trashcans and 40s out back and then hop right in to perform two songs at the height of the night.
"There are also so many crazy people in Scottsdale, from club owners to DJs. We were right there with 'em, doing drugs on rooftops and everything you could possibly imagine that a group that's getting popular would be doing. And the people who we partied with dug it and supported it, even if we were making fun of them in the song," he says. "We were amazed that we got caught up in this world so quickly. We had a grand old time."
Silver Medallion was "just running wild," engaging in a nonstop party. A year after their debut, Silver Medallion had tracks were in heavy rotation on Power 98.3 and 101.5 Jamz. The release party for their album The Last of the Pop Stars drew hundreds to the W Scottsdale. Their tour schedule included slots opening for electro-hop artists LMFAO and white-boy rapper Schwayze, appearances at college campuses around the country, and even a few spring break gigs in Lake Havasu.
Although Schuable considered the Valley their home base, the pair moved to NYC in 2009 to take the next step. But ties to the Valley were exemplified by the music video for "Gravity," which was shot by onetime New Times photographer Giulio Sciorio and featured the pair on a stylized walking tour through downtown Phoenix's more picturesque landmarks. Schuable says its more serious tone (especially in contrast to the drug-and-sex-laced music video for "Scottsdale") underscored how Silver Medallion were trying to shed their party image for something more mature.
The unfortunate irony that a member of Silver Medallion would be killed by a suspected drunk driver (given the group's success was based on a song glorifying alcohol and drugs) is not lost on Schuable. It's one of the many reasons he wants to distance himself from "Scottsdale."
"We made 'Scottsdale' as a joke and it became extremely popular," he says. "And we wished people would listen to 'Gravity' more than 'Scottsdale.' In a way, it's more of where we were going as a group."
He's also trying to move forward with both his life and Silver Medallion, which he says will continue to exist without Lattin.
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"Silver Medallion wasn't just me or just Carnegie, Joel, or all of us together. We always looked at it as something greater. So I've tried to keep that attitude. Like, I don't look at it like Carnegie's gone and now I'm Silver Medallion. I'm just a part of something that is Silver Medallion — and that includes Carnegie and all the people that we work with."
That includes DJ Benzi, the NYC mixtape maestro who's worked with such hip-hop heavyweights as Kanye West and Lil Wayne and helped Mike Posner's breakthrough. Benzi worked with Schuable on producing No One Ever Really Dies, which was released online for free through Silver Medallion's website on Tuesday.
"I wanted to get out as much of the music as we have and give it the best treatment we can," Schuable says. "A lot of my priority now is that this is my best friend and I want to make sure that as much as the music that he made can reach as big an audience as possible. It's a way different goal than us making music and making a life out of it and building a fan base. That's a big goal for me and my life, to make sure that my friend is remembered for the art that he created . . . Whenever I'm thinking about Carnegie, it's like, 'Am I doing his legacy justice?' I've never experienced something this strong motivating me.
"I'm kinda hoping that at the end, when this is done and it's out there and I see people's response to what we created, that the album truly will prove to be cathartic. It's been really sad mostly. This obsession of mine has involved listening over and over to things and wondering what really could've been. And I don't want to live like that anymore."