On Valentine’s Day, Syracuse-based hip-hop band Sophistafunk released Real Vibration, their newest collection of material, featuring seven high-quality cuts as well as their seven corresponding instrumentals. The trio, made up of keyboardist/bassist Adam Gold, drummer Emanuel Washington, and MC Jack Brown, have made a name for themselves in a live music scene that appreciates–though often doesn’t heavily feature–hip-hop by taking an eclectic approach to their music. Explains Brown, “Our style blends funk, soul, and jam music with East Coast hip-hop flows, which are known for wordplay, rhyme schemes, and lyricism. The music is about similar themes as Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Talib Kweli, and Rage Against the Machine, among others, and hopefully it inpires more people to get down with the message of peace and unity.”
The group has kept busy over the past few years touring with funk and jam bands like The Motet, Orgone, EOTO and Dumpstaphunk, among others, helping cement themselves as a sort of “hip-hop band for the jam fan.” As Brown explains, “You know, back in the day on the northeast scene, you always had hip hop artists collaborating with the jam bands and funky musicians of the era. I think it’s because the positive, conscious message of underground hip hop has always resonated with the psychedelic music community. For example, there were groups like Granola Funk Express that spawned on the festival circuit and carried the torch for both movements. [Adam Gold] was a teenager going to the Wetlands in NYC around this time. Through the years over there you’d have The Roots playing downstairs, or Soulive, and so many others laying the foundation for what we now consider ‘jam,’ ‘live EDM,’ and ‘neo-soul’. Remember, the so-called ‘genres’ that people buy on the internet are not born independently. This was all happening at the same time, often in the same rooms, on the live music scene, which was – and still is – a living, breathing organism.”
Real Vibration perfectly embodies Brown’s assessment of Sophistafunk’s unique sound, featuring seven tracks worth of blunt-ride beats and Internet-age paranoia and resistance. Funky protest track “Translucent” offers itself as a “musical solution to mass pollution,” with Brown delivering biting bars that evoke the style of heady underground MCs like Atmosphere‘s Slug. “This Life” sees Brown shine some light on the outfit’s musical DNA–part funk and jam, part beats and bars–as he proclaims “I love live music” over a 90s-style back beat.
The socially conscious “No More War” dips into the chaotic paranoia of our social media society, as sparse funk interspersed with digital fills mirrors the chaos of today’s world, before well-placed horns bolster the song’s “we gotta love each other” refrain.
“Make Em Clap” continues on the album’s conscious themes, as Brown proclaims, “I’m not a rapper, I’m an activist”–though lines like “esoteric eloquence/Still I stay relevant” show that there’s room for him to be a bit of both.
“Duke of Errl” tells the saga of “dabs,” sampling sound bytes of TV news PSA’s warning parents about the perils of marijuana concentrates. Toking-up is far from an unusual topic in hip-hop, but few artists have hit the relatively new wax trend head-on like Sophistafunk does on this track. They approach the topic with equal parts enjoyment for its pros and restrained caution for its cons, with extra pep added by layered horn fills courtesy of Andy Frasco & The U.N.‘s Ernie Chang. Brown even earns extra “heady points” shouting out The Lot (“You can find me on Shakedown Street”).
The album rounds out with title track “Real Vibration,” a slow jam laden with enthrallingly spacey synths. It serves as an appropriate coda for the LP: laid-back vibes, mindful rhymes, and THC-infused good times. Take a dab and press play. This is one session you definitely want to get down on.