RISE UP! A Benefit For The GULU Walk featuring BrassMunk, Mathematik, Citizen Kane, SHylow, 9th Uno, Red Clay, Okai and others at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), Saturday (January 14), 8:30 pm. $20. www.ticketweb.com.
Local hiphop crew BrassMunk have been maintaining such a low profile that before their December appearance at the Academy of Sound show was announced, the Dream Warriors, Rumble & Strong and Kish were rumoured to be planning a search-and-rescue expedition to Scarborough.
But now that BrassMunk have announced their second gig in less than a month, performing as part of the Gulu Walk fundraiser at the Drake on Saturday to benefit the children of northern Uganda, it seems likely that the former hiphop group is finally back on track.
That could have something to do with the lineup addition of rhyme ripper King Reign - currently getting some attention for his bangin' Saukrates collabo Guilty Party - who filled the gap in BrassMunk's frontline attack left by the mysterious departure of group co-founder May 19 last January.
"May 19 is a talented MC with great charisma," says BrassMunk's designated beatmaker, Agile. "We just couldn't work through some personal issues. We sat down together and talked it over like men, and ultimately we made him a take-it-or-leave-it offer. He decided not to take it, and we were cool with that.
"It had nothing to do with 'artistic differences.' We all listen to different music and we have our own personal tastes. That's always been considered a positive thing with BrassMunk."
From the few advance tracks I've heard from BrassMunk's forthcoming Fewturistic disc, tentatively slated for spring release on 54th Music/Virgin, it sounds like Agile and his crew have been listening to a lot of music beyond the realm of underground hiphop. Of course, Agile's production work for Nas, R. Kelly, Jully Black and Kardinal Offishall has probably also had a significant impact on the BrassMunk sound, which has taken a sharp turn toward the mainstream.
"For the past 36 hours I've been driving around with Beck's Guero CD playing non-stop. My sister just got a couple of Ella Fitzgerald CDs, so that's whats on my iPod right now, along with 50 Cent's soundtrack for Get Rich Or Die Tryin'.
"All the stuff I listen to affects what I do in the studio. Lately, I've been putting more thought into the instrumentation and arrangements. The new technology has opened up a whole new world for me. It's still hiphop with that hard drum component, but I'm trying to be a little more musical in my approach."
Most striking about the new tracks is the forthright vocal presence. There's singing all over the place - not just the hooks - which is definitely going to surprise BrassMunk fans when Fewturistic drops.
"All the haters will be saying, 'Oh, they're singing too much,'" chuckles Agile, "but every group goes through changes, and right now we're in our melodic discovery phase. S-Roc's actually a really good vocalist and songwriter. He's working on a solo project under his Richie Hennessey alias right now. Clip used to do piano recitals as a kid, and he's been rediscovering his keyboard chops - he can play. And Reign definitely has some skills on the drums.
"There are barely any samples on the new recording. Actually, I don't think there's anything at all - at least nothing I'd have to get cleared."