- Were behind you, Superman. You can do it!
When Hurricane Charley shoved a tree through the house they shared, Sol.iLLaquists of Sound saw opportunity.
Previously, the Orlando-based hip-hop act MC Swamburger, songbird Alexandrah, spoken-word artist Tonya Combs and DJ-producer DiViNCi had played dates throughout Florida, without pursuing national notoriety. After losing their house, though, they took themselves on the road, gaining exposure and the ear of the Obi-Wan of independent hip-hop, Sage Francis. The ordeal gave them the kick in the proverbial pants that they needed.
"It gave us an exciting sense of urgency to go out there and rip it like we had nothing to lose because, really, we didn't," DiViNCi says.
Heavy touring with Francis followed, and SOS just signed a recent three-album deal with Francis' label, Epitaph/Anti Records. Their debut album, As If We Existed, is a lush and multilayered endeavor. Alexandrah's syrupy, jazzy lilt gives a slight Fugees feel, while Swamburger's rapping lopes with a heavy sense of syncopation and rhythm.
This is especially evident in the title track, and in the back-and-forth wordplay between Alexandrah and Swamburger on the hyper-electro of "Mark It Place" a track which, without the two vocalists' interchange, would just be a litany of consumerism commentary.
Thoughtful "emo" hip-hop is nothing new rappers and crews like Francis and Atmosphere, and even Colorado Springs ex-pats The Procussions, have been doing it for years. But to pursue this less lucrative subgenre of hip-hop is a noble cause, indeed.
And As If We Existed feels like something new, which is largely due to DiViNCi's production skills. He throws unexpected beats and styles the listener's way; case in point is the gorgeous and lengthy strings piece that makes up the end of "Ask Me if I Care."
SOS's message concerns itself with hypocrisy, especially that found in media, government and American culture. Even their beloved hip-hop isn't safe from criticism. The song "Black Guy Peace" sarcastically references the classic anti-lynching song by Billie Holliday: "Monkey see monkey / make a platinum hit / 'Cause niggas nowadays / Be on some strange fruit shit / Do the Strange Fruit!"
DiViNCi says the song is meant to co-opt Holliday's original metaphor of black bodies hanging from Southern trees as "strange fruit."
"We just put that idea into today's context by describing "strange fruit' as a dance of self-destruction that occurs when these [mainstream] artists play in to the materialistic pitfalls of the industry," he says. "In those days, people were being hung against their own will. Today, it seems more like we are killing ourselves with the choices we are making and by disregarding the opportunity that our past leaders fought for."
Though "Black Guy Peace" has the propensity to sound bitter and defeatist, DiViNCi says the group wants the song to inspire: "We really hope this song ... forces people to strive to make those before us proud, rather than forgetting what they struggled so hard for us to benefit from."
Sol.iLLaquists of Sound, with Glue, X:144 & SPS and Prolyphic
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Saturday, Sept. 30, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $10-$12, all ages; visit tickeweb.com.