- All the Procussions need to make great hip-hop are turntables, LPs and a standard pick ax.
The Procussions are in a great place. I'm not talking about L.A. (because, yuck), home since 2001 to the Springs-born-and-raised trio.
Their great place is a personal and professional one. The Procussions' second full-length, 5 Sparrows for 2 Cents, is set for release in February by an as-of-yet-undisclosed, maybe-major label. They've just ended a tour spanning four continents. Their previous albums, ... As Iron Sharpens Iron and the Up All Night EP, are selling briskly. And, best of all, they're uncommonly lucid about their burgeoning success.
The trio -- Stro the 89th Key (multiple instruments and vocals), J. Medeiros (vocals and keys) and Resonant (vocals and turntables) -- have been delivering cultured, jazz-influenced hip-hop since 1998, when they came together in Colorado Springs because of shared interest in the city's then-nascent breakdance scene.
"Colorado is pretty much in the middle of the United States," says Res. "You get influences from both coasts. Back then, we were growing. The East Coast didn't know much about West Coast, and the West Coast didn't hear anything from the East. We were in the middle, so we weren't pushed toward a style. We got to draw from both. It was just hip-hop."
At the time, the group found increasing popularity opening for larger acts because of their wit, transparent talent and musicianship, unapologetic spirituality and embrace of the "'93 age," or early '90s, styles.
"[The '93 age] was a time when you saw hip-hop grow up a little bit," says Res, who also co-founded the now-legendary radio show Basementalism on CU-Boulder's 1190. "The sound was a little different. Things at that time were a little more conscious, a little more thought-provoking. People were taking responsibility as role models. It wasn't tainted yet; it was more music than music business.
"Now if you step out of the mainstream, you're labeled: 'That's backpack rap, that's experimental rap, that's jazz rap.' But then, people had space to experiment."
While not overtly experimental, The Procussions have delved into instrumental jazz and spoken word (as with the aforementioned Up All Night, recorded and first released in Japan). They've released on their own label and coordinated their own booking and promotion. Res has handled their graphic design.
"We wouldn't have it any other way," he says. "It's trial by fire. It's like learning math for the first time. It's hard, but it gets easier, and when you get a label, it's like the calculator, like the shortcut that helps you out."
Whatever the label for 5 Sparrows turns out to be, Res is confident it won't step on any D.I.Y. toes.
"[The D.I.Y. experience] does give you a lot of bargaining chips to say, 'This is what we want. This is what we will, and this is what we're not gonna, relinquish.' And they're giving us a lot of freedom that way."
The group seems to ooze optimism, both about their careers and the future of hip-hop in general.
"Stylistically, I'm kind of excited," Res says. "The music industry is at a bad place. It's a bad economy. Things are tight, gas prices are high. People can't spend $50 on a show or go buy a ton of records. The industry is almost completely in shambles and, sonically, things have been the same for years. Everything seems to be rehashed, like remix this and regurgitate that, and the pendulum is about to swing the other way.
"Hip-hop does the best when morale is at its lowest. It's been said that music made during wartime or depression is the best. When the pressure's on, when there's more pain and more frustration, music and creativity seem to flourish."
-- Aaron Retka
The Procussions with Leer43 and Soul Food Hustle
Darkside, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Friday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $8; available at the door.