Tag Archives: atlanta

A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With The Black Opera

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By:  Gus Navarro 

If you haven’t heard of The Black Opera, get online and look them up. No seriously, do it. You should check them out because they are unlike anything else in hip-hop right now. With multiple costume changes and crowd participation, their live show is an explosion of anonymity and boundless, colorful energy. The Black Opera isn’t upfront and won’t say who is in the group. However it’s there, in plain sight, if you take the time to do your research. The Black Opera exists in a space that is in opposition to the rappity-rap clatter we encounter on a daily basis. Instead, the group is an international collective of artists that have come together around the communal idea that we, as humans, are connected, or as they so eloquently declare, “We are one.” Having released music since 2010, The Black Opera is beginning to reach a new level of acclaim as they continue to push the boundaries of what people perceive hip-hop should be about. If you have the chance to see them live, do it. If you can get online and listen to their music, do it.

During their tour stop at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was fortunate to sit down and speak with two members of the group in anticipation of their new album, The Great Year, released via Mello Music Group. In the interview we touched on topics such as the philosophy behind their music and the influence the Internet has had on the growth of the collective. After seeing them perform and speaking with them, I learned that The Black Opera’s music, stage presence and overall style are propelled by the idea that it isn’t always about who is talking, but what is being said. In a society where the individual is placed on a pedestal above all else, this is a powerful stance to take.

As opposed to revealing the identities of The Black Opera members I spoke with, each voice is denoted as Black Opera Member (BOM) #1 and #2.

Bonus Cut (BC):  What is The Black Opera to you?

BOM #1:  The Black Opera is a collective of forward thinkers, artists, musicians, producers, rappers and videographers who have one goal and that is to promote that all are one. All people are one and that we put art in the forefront of that.

BC:  Will you tell me who’s in the group?

BOM #2:  Everybody that we work with becomes a part of The Black Opera. So we have a lot of affiliates and black ops all over the world. The main focus is the music so we shy away from saying who we are. The best thing to do is just check out the music and find your way through it. You can go through the credits and use Google to find out who’s doing what. We try to make sure that the music gets to you first. That’s the whole goal.

BOM #1:  Research! Do your research if you want to know.

BC:  That’s exactly what I wanted to talk with you guys about. You’re very intentional about being vague and not explicitly revealing your identities. Is that liberating?

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BOM # 1:  Yes, absolutely. Joining The Black Opera movement was one hundred percent about liberation, freedom of expression and not being tied to anything from the past. Whether that’s the block you’re from, the hood, the city, the set you claim or whatever. A lot of times, especially with hip-hop, people get away with saying, “I’m from the city that’s this, that or whatever….”

BOM #2:  They build a box around themselves.

BOM #1:  Yeah, it’s like, “What else?” Especially if that’s not the life you live. You’re telling the story of your city but what else is there? Who are you? We don’t like to fall into that lane. We definitely feel that it was a liberating situation when we chose to join The Black Opera.

BOM #2:  Like he said, “Who are you?” Another question is:  “What are you here for?” Just because you are who you are doesn’t mean you have to create like you look, how you smell or how you move. You can create whatever you want to. It’s like when you put out too much information about who you are or where you’re from, you create this box of judgment. For example, people expect something specific with artists from New York. If you don’t know where I’m from you’ll hear the same song and be like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Let me find out more.” If you start with the music, the live show and unravel it from there it can be pretty dope.

BC:  In some ways, it seems like you’re creating a lane for people to use technology.

BOM #2:  To use it correctly. Nowadays people just go on Twitter or Facebook to see what everybody is talking about. Let me do the cool thing; let me be hip for today. People have so many outlets to find out information (Google, for example) and we’re challenging people to use the Internet in the correct way and think critically for themselves.

BC:  Would there be a Black Opera without the Internet?

BOM #1:  There would be a Black Opera without the Internet, but the Internet has definitely benefitted the growth of the collective. That’s for sure. A lot of our collaborations have come from people that we’ve worked with personally. A lot of the times we’ve grown those relationships organically through the Internet. We like what they do, they like what we do. We start building a relationship and that’s when the music comes. The Internet has most definitely helped in that process.

BOM #2:  We did a song called “Opera Hands” with a producer called Tall Black Guy. It ended up being, for our core fan base, one of their favorite songs. That came from a DJ in Atlanta called DJ Apple Jac. He literally took the Soundcloud link to the beat in its original form, posted it and said, “Yo, the Black Opera should be on this.” We listened to it and were like, “why not?” We were creating in the studio at the time. So that’s how we got connected with Tall Black Guy. Everything happens organically, at the flow of the pace of creation. We do have serious intentions and a serious message but when it comes to the creativity we like for it to just flow organically.

BC:  On your Facebook info page you talk in big terms about the art you make being a commentary on “OUR perception of timeless issues.” Can you expand on what that means and what those issues are?

BOM #2:  Basically this is what we do:  We have issues that are not going anywhere, right? They’ve been professed to us through the news, propaganda, homies and friends. Sometimes you have to find those areas where you can switch the perception on it. Like, what really is racism? What really is hip-hop? The things that are popular to the people that listen to our music, we take a piece of that and we twist it a little bit. It’s like art, you know? Some of the music on our new album has a trap influence. Why? Because you would be blind and you would be deaf if you didn’t understand that hip-hop is going through more of a danceable time. You have these guys that grew up in the ghetto trying to find something positive to do. We’re not trying to condemn them. We’re making the people that listen to hip-hop understand what they’re doing. We did that exactly with a song called, “Rich Like You.” The hook says, “I just wanna be rich like you.” They’re trying to find a way out and the only channel they have is through music. Us being the hip-hop heads, we hear that and we’re like, “Turn that off.” But really it’s like, “Yo, they need your help.” Give them some time. A lot of them sound no different than Ol’ Dirty Bastard comin’ out. They have off-time styles and are creating a lot of new flow; it’s just a foreign tongue. That’s what we do. We use our music to show people how connected we are. The simplicity of the human is really all one. Everybody just wants to breathe, drink clean water, be loved, seen and listened to.

BC:  How did you get to this point?

BOM#1:  I think we see things and we’re inquisitive. It just comes down to wanting to know more, wanting to dig deeper and not taking everything at face value. We’ve got a song called, “Black Nirvana,” where I say, “The same thing that happened to Cobain happened to Tupac.” You might hear that line and be like, “What? No. Cobain shot himself and Tupac was murdered.” If you dig deeper, you can see the similarities. They both were outspoken people, had a lot to say about the society we live in and a lot of people didn’t like that.

BOM #2:  Yeah, both were very misunderstood and heavily judged.

BOM #1:  A lot of people didn’t like the way they viewed society. So for whatever reason, they both died very young in this society. Why is that? There has to be something about this society that did not mesh with how they spoke. I think what got us to this point mentally is just through thinking in critical terms about the things that are presented to us.

BOM #2:  I was listening to a Souls of Mischief interview and Tajai mentioned our names with TDE and Pro Era, which is really cool. He was talking about their [Souls of Mischief] new album, and he was saying that they weren’t necessarily trying to make a hip-hop album. They were just in the studio creating and just trying to make the best music they could. That’s something different for a group that’s been together as long as them. They started talking about some of the newer artists, and he included us, in talking about how he feels like a lot of the new artists have hit a creative wall where it’s like, “I’m sick of doing this. I’m sick of seeing this. It’s the same old, same old.” Even the underground has become predictable and kind of sold out to a certain extent. That’s basically where we’re at right now. We’ve hit that wall and we want to know what else is out there. How can we stop chimin’ in with what everybody’s complaining about? How can we turn a light on and let everybody know that we can do something completely different? You can do whatever you want to and that’s what we’re bringing to the feel. You might look at us and say, “Oh, they’re rapping.” If you look closer, you’re going to see performing arts, art pieces and costumes. It might look like a play, like it could be on Broadway. We’re just doing what we want to do creatively and trying to connect with as many people as we can.

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BC:  How do you want people to feel after they’ve seen you perform live?

BOM #2:  “That was the best show I’ve seen in ages,” that’s actually a direct quote. I’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m inspired to go create, I’m inspired to do something different, think outside of the box and critically think for myself.  We are one.

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Album of the Week: “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” by OutKast

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OutKast
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
LaFace, 1994

Daniel’s Thought

Southern hip-hop very rarely gets its due, and that may be in part because it’s still relatively young compared to other hip-hop regions. The Geto Boys broke the South in the late 80s and early 90s, and 2 Live Crew and UGK helped push the scene even further. However, Southern hip-hop was still a Wild West-like barren land just waiting to be explored. By 1994, the South was making its move, and it was in Atlanta where everything was taking shape.

In comes OutKast, the infamous duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, and out comes their 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, an album ripe with lyrical recognition, groovy bass waves of seduction, turntable scratches and 808 rhythm clapping. A lot of what makes OutKast’s debut accessible is its mechanical sound that mixes East Coast boom-bat alteration and West Coast funk melodies, and on top of this you have two deeply contrasting lyricists with ‘Dre and Big Boi. By mixing unique rhyme sequences and tongue-twirling lyricism, OutKast brought in a true regional representation in record form. Take for instance “Ain’t No Thang”, a verbal onslaught filled with Southern slang like “ya’ll” and “you’se”. It’s here where OutKast shines on their debut, successfully showcasing Southern flare and pride for their city.

More importantly however is some of the subject matter. “Git Up, Git Out” preaches that teenagers should follow their dreams and put the drugs away. Featuring fellow Atlanta natives Goodie Mob, “Git Up, Git Out” is a simplistic yet essential song to the album’s overall message (“I thinkin of better shit to do with my time/ Never smelled aroma of diploma, but I write the deep ass rhymes“). On “Crumblin’ Erb”, OutKast explores black-on-black violence and how that has a negative effect on the African-American and black community as a whole (“Niggas killin’ niggas they don’t understand (that’s the master plan)/ I’m just crumblin’ erb, I’m just crumblin’ erb“). Comparatively, “Funky Ride” reassures us the need to keep calm and take everything in (“Ahh, relax your body next to me/ As I sing this OutKast melody/ On this funky ride/ So just relax baby“).

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is essential for its variety. It helped break the Southern hip-hop scene and Atlanta as a true representative for hip-hop, and it pushed for reform regarding social constraints on the black community and violence as a whole. Moreover, it encourages and pushes, and this is all while the Southern plunking of diverse hip-hop sound crashes all over. It may not be OutKast’s best record or most recognized, but when it’s all said and done, it’ll be their most important.

Gus’ Thought

Music is an art form that is ever changing and evolving over time due to things such as creativity, past compositions and advances in technology. These help to push musical genres forward and constantly offer new ideas for aspiring artists looking for their sound. Every now and again, when a group truly discovers their sound, an album is released that changes the landscape of music. From 1994, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik by OutKast is just that type of record. Released near the end of what is debatably the Golden Age of hip-hop, OutKast’s debut album introduced the world to southern hip-hop with its illustration of life for African-American youth facing the social, economic and racial inequities of post-Civil Rights Era Atlanta, its use of funk and live instrumentation and the rapping styles of Big Boi and Andre 3000.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, rappers from the East and West Coast were the top dogs, each with their own unique style. The South was somewhat of an untapped resource of talent and experience that had the potential for great hip-hop. This is evident on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, as the record presents a different sound with its muggy, slow-cooked grooves on songs such as “Crumblin’ Erb, “Ain’t No Thang,” “Claimin’ True” and “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.” Add the flow and ingenious lyricism of Big Boi and Andre 3000 and you have an album twists and turns, creating the desire to dance, nod your head and reflect deeply on your circumstances.

These sensations come out because Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is about the group’s lives in Atlanta, what they experienced on a daily basis and what they know. There is a lot of pride with regard to the city of Atlanta, the place they call home. They tell stories about drugs, prostitution, gun culture and male braggadocio. There is no attempt to glorify this. Instead, they offer up tracks such “Git Up, Git Out” which are about seizing the day. Additionally, there is an acute awareness to the generational pain of slavery and the repressive nature of the Jim Crow Era. For instance, on the interlude, “Welcome To Atlanta”, we hear a pilot explaining to the passengers, “To the far left, you can see the Georgia Dome, which by the way still flies a Confederate battle flag.” Ultimately with this album, OutKast doesn’t allow the pride of place to get in the way of reflecting on where they came from. Let’s not forget, they do this over tantalizingly smooth beats, piano riffs and the twang of the guitar.

With their debut album, OutKast offered up something different for the hip-hop community to take in. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik has the funkiness and flavor of the South mixed in with the insightful lyricism of Big Boi and Andre 3000. This record put southern hip-hop on the map and paved the way for many aspiring hip-hop heads born below the Mason-Dixon line. If you’re looking for an old classic that you haven’t heard for a long time or for something you’ve never heard, put this on.

Must-Listens

“Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”

“Git Up, Git Out”

“Ain’t No Thang”

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