It's a powerful medium that carries all this information. It's a message for people, and people look up to it really strongly. You can see how it affects kids growing up and everything. When you have something that powerful, you should use it in a positive way in reflecting society. And I feel like that's what we've been doing."
MC Spends Quality sits in his 10-by-10-foot studio in Sebastopol, talking about hip-hop, surrounded by keyboards, laptops, mixers, microphones and records. DJ Deezlee plays snippets of soul and jazz on the turntables in the corner; posters of Stevie Wonder and Bootsy Collins look down from the walls. This weekend, their six-man Sonoma County hip-hop collective Sonicbloom releases Motherlode, their third full-length, and Spends feels the weight that comes with bearing the hip-hop torch.
"We're in a new era," he says. "We're in a new place. Hip-hop's come a long way."
Indeed it has. Sonicbloom's place was established with their excellent 2007 sophomore album Paradigm Lift, a dizzying gnash of lyrical and thematic labyrinths which hit the same part of the cortex as polyrhythmic groups like Freestyle Fellowship and language-twisting artists like Aesop Rock—which is to say it wasn't "fashionable" at all. Paradigm Lift was more about the brain than the brawn, a thinking-person's interpretation of what hip-hop could and should be.
Around that time, I asked the group's members to rattle off their top hip-hop albums of all time. The impromptu list-making session yielded a different side of the group, for entwined with thick linguistic tomes such as Wu Tang's Return to the 36 Chambers and Busdriver's Fear of a Black Tangent, group members cited a number of laid-back classics. Digable Planets' Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space). A Tribe Called Quest's People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythms. E-40's The Hall of Game.
As intriguing as it is to discover an artist's influences, I didn't hear a lot of these records in Sonicbloom's own complex music until I popped in Motherlode, the group's most decidedly relaxed album. "We started getting this collection of songs, and we felt, whoah, this is our best material to date," says Spends. "The most commercially viable, the most palatable. I think the average person could vibe with a lot of these songs, rather than being some deep stuff or some crazy poetic, too-much-going-on cerebral stuff."
Spends doesn't hesitate to throw around words like "formulaic" to describe the new songs, but stresses that Sonicbloom didn't change their sound to appease a broader fan base. The older material, while invigorating on record, was just not going over live, and truth be told was tough to replicate. "Some of it wasn't the most performance-friendly," he says. "We're trying to be a little more fun with our performance, a little more upbeat."
If there's a recurring theme to Motherlode, it's that music is much more than just sound. Over a tweaked, pitch-shifted treble sample, the album opens with group members almost whispering the mission statement "Speaker Seeds," cleverly likening music to horticulture. To a chopped-cello beat supplied by the Cuf's N8 the Gr8 on "For You," the group compares music to a romantic interest. And between the delayed guitar arpeggios and distant strings of "Sonicbloom Tonic," music is recast as a strengthening elixir for personal achievement.
Songs about walking on the beach, smoking weed and chilling out in the summertime enforce the breezy nature of the album. And while on the surface Motherlode's beats are more Labcabincalifornia than Bizzare Ride, repeat listens reveal an in-depth quality in the verses and a meticulous arrangement to the production, created and mixed in this very room.
Sonicbloom's members are all involved in side projects: both Spends and Penman have solo records in the works, vocalist J.Kendall has a live R&B project and Adomant is working with Rob-I-Root; Spends and fellow Sonicbloom producer Mr. Tay are involved in all of it. Far from splintering the group, the extracurricular work enriches the core of Sonicbloom. "I think we can make a lot more happen as a group if we delegate, and break it up and do other things," says Spends. "It's gonna all still funnel back to Sonicbloom. It's this umbrella thing, it's this foundation we've built."
Sonicbloom celebrate the release of 'Motherlode' with Rob-I-Root, MamaWisdom, N8 the Gr8, Marv Ellis, Caitlin Cardier, TAIS, Noah D, Fossil, Chango B and J. Riggs on Friday, April 9, at Hopmonk Tavern. 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. 9pm. $12&–$15. 707.829.7300.