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The Insects Are Free

Back in the late '90s, I was getting pretty tired of Drunken Immortals — the group was playing a weekly hip-hop night at the now-shuttered Arizona Roadhouse Brewery and, after that, weekly at a place called Donny Brasco's. I've always believed in the laws of supply and demand as far as bands playing shows goes; it's not a fucking event if you play every week.

Though I'd known the group practically since its inception, Drunken Immortals pretty much fell off my radar screen for a while, which made it a pleasure to enjoy the group's latest album, Hot Concrete, when it dropped. I think that they'd figured out the saturation factor, and by the time Hot Concrete was released, Drunken Immortals pretty much personified East Valley hip-hop — radical in the fact that it's a full band that incorporates musical styles from jazz to funk and rock, intelligent and socially conscious lyrically, with a D.I.Y. aesthetic. The band pretty much became the nexus of hip-hop on the east side, the heart of a network that different artists swing in and out of.

I'd had MC Brad B's album Drifter prior to picking up the new D.I., and dug that shit. Then Hot Concrete showed up, and then I heard that Brad B and producer/DJ Foundation had another new project called the Insects.

The decision whether to get the Insects album, Free the Hard Way, was easy — that shit's free for download at And once I had it, I wasn't thinking about saturation or even about Drunken Immortals; this is a whole new beast that ought to be considered on its own merits, and that's how I appreciate it.

Not that the Drunken Immortals connection didn't help the duo out. "Everywhere we go with the Insects, we represent Drunken Immortals," Foundation tells me. And thus far, the Insects have gone a lot of places, starting with a two-week tour of Europe opening for 2Mex earlier this year. I guess having a 10-year-old band opens a lot of doors when you bust out a new project. The thing that excites me about this new project, though, is that it redraws the parameters of what the two artists are capable of, and reveals a new facet of East Valley hip-hop, one that's darker and more compelling than what I've heard from Drunken Immortals over the last decade.

"I'm at a high point in my little career," Foundation says. "I just released what I think is the best record I've ever done and I went on a European tour right off the bat with a brand new crew, no name recognition. I think this is the best shit I've ever done. How many groups, right after their first record comes out, no label support, no nothing, get to go on a European tour right out the gate? Before it's even released in the States. I feel great about it."

He should. Free the Hard Way is a complex assemblage of dark, sinister beats and samples that doesn't sound like anything else he's ever done, and Brad B followed that cue, hardening his rhyme style and spitting more aggressively.

"The Insects album is one of the fastest albums we ever made; Drifter took us like a year," Foundation says. "This one you can tell the continuity. I go through spurts where I make music and it'll all kind of have the same feel — I'll use similar drum sounds or similar sample sounds, some kind of mood I'm in. I made all these beats in a two-month period. It's much harder and darker, a lot more punk-rock samples, dark eerie noises, distortion, shit like that."

Foundation was the producer for Brad B's solo album Drifter as well, but this time around, the duo wanted to invent something totally new. "I think it's actually a new beginning, a new project," Brad tells me. "I'll put out Brad B shit in the future, but as far as me and him go, it's the Insects. My favorite shit is the shit he's making.

"We chose the Insects because we have a love for insects — the idea is the worker, the little people, people step on them, they were here before and will be here after," Brad continues. "Just to undermine what's going on in the way everything's changing in the music business, we figured we'll give this album away for free, just get it out there with the digital download thing, and we have a limited edition package of the CD which I screened myself. The idea is just to spread it out there and encourage people to burn it or share it. It won't be that way for all the albums we put out, but for this one we wanted to try that."

They're not at all the first to put their shit out for free on the Internet, but it's still dope that you, right now, can get up online and have the album in minutes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Immortals are staying busy as well. The group is working on the follow-up to Hot Concrete, and most of the other individual members have their own projects as well, like guitarist Chris Hill's Shhh . . . the Baby's Sleeping and drummer Scott White's group the Threads.

I still think that the guys in Drunken Immortals are the core of the east side hip-hop scene, for good or bad, but much like the Insects, there's more innovation bubbling beneath the surface waiting to come out. These guys know this as well. "People come into our family, they do it for a while, and it works real well, then they get bored with it and want to do something else, which is cool," Foundation tells me. "To me, I feel like within our community, we're on a pretty good high."

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Brendan Joel Kelley