If there's one thing Sonicbloom want you to know, it's that they are a hip-hop group. It might have been hard to tell by the lineup in Sebastopol last Friday night, when Sonicbloom, the most promising hip-hop group to emerge from Sonoma County in a long time, found themselves ridiculously billed as "grassroots freestyle." Asked if they thought the club was uneasy about advertising hip-hop, the members all nodded in immediate agreement, and Spends (Spencer Williams, one of the group's MCs) summed it up. "Here's the gist of it," he said. "They don't want to get their bathrooms tagged."
But Sonicbloom aren't what most people think of when they think of hip-hop. Centered with a worldly consciousness, Paradigm Lift, the group's second full-length album, which hits stores next week, contains six full pages of printed lyrics, a rarity in hip-hop. Rarer still is that the subject matter spans politics, spirituality and culture without sounding anything but dope.
Sonicbloom member Penman (Hunter Blackwell) understands the incorrect association. "When I first started making hip-hop, I felt a little bit of guilt with the connotations in the mass culture that hip-hop carries with it," he says. "We represent the smallest fraction of hip-hop artists, really, and also the most potent and real element of the culture. What hip-hop started from, we represent."
Earlier in the night, Sonicbloom had represented with a vengeance. So completely clear on the mic that at times it seemed the group was lip-synching (they weren't), they powered through songs like the economic indictment of "Under the Table" and the early '80s funk groove of "Revolution Sound." To lyrics like "What do you do when every senator has got a serious scotoma? / Percepticide got society in a coma," the group performed the song with balled fists in the air, dancing and dropping insight at the same time.
It's a balance that J. Kin (Jason Kendall) says is imperative. "A lotta people now have ADD, and you gotta catch 'em fast. But we figure if you catch 'em with the beat and then give 'em the content afterwards, they be like, 'Oh, you can have a slappin' beat and still have content?'
"A lotta the good beats go in the industry," he continues, "and you be like, 'That's a tight beat, but there's nothin' said over it.' It's like, 'Damn, that was a waste of a good beat.'"
Sonicbloom hooked up in 2003, when Blackwell quit his job, left his girlfriend and dropped out of college in Eugene, Ore., to live in a tent in Williams' kitchen. Along with longtime producer Mr. Tay (Matt McGlasson), the three started writing like mad, releasing a debut album in 2005. Eventually Kendall and Adomant (Adam Steiner) came on board, and the group recently recruited Deezy (Noah Deitz) as their live DJ.
Over meticulous and guttural beats, Sonicbloom's vocals range from subterranean bellow to high falsetto, often meeting in perfect harmony on a chorus. Steiner raps in a fast, robotic staccato style, like his words keep getting chopped off before he starts another, and Williams has a direct flow similar to Slug, from the Minneapolis group Atmosphere, although with less desperation. Blackwell is the hardest to place. Completely born for the mic, his voice carries the noirish cadence of Wolfman Jack with the animation of Bob Barker in a syncopated, experimental delivery.
All these elements create a force that, as demonstrated earlier in the night, cannot be stopped by cutting off the sound system to finish their set. The group criticizes each other, laughs at each other and contradicts each other, yet an overriding love unites them. "I definitely think that all of us consider ourselves spiritual people," Steiner says. "That's what brought us together, was just connecting on every level. It's good to have folks like this. We're family, really, more than friends."
Chalk one up for grassroots freestyle.
Sonicbloom's album 'Paradigm Lift' hits stores this Tuesday. For more, see [ http://www.myspace.com/sonicbloom ]www.myspace.com/sonicbloom.