Lo-fi hip-hop is an ascendent style right now, generating hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify and coalescing around itself an global online community. Although like all hip-hop this style is composed with sampled drums and audio, instrumentalists from Paris to Japan to New York City are beginning to approach the music from their own angle and compose tracks free of sampling. Rarely, though, does one find a full band employing this approach. But travel to Denver, Colorado to the small basement studio of upstart label Color Red and you’ll find guitarist Brant Williams and his four-piece ensemble ManyColors recording sparse, low-slung hip-hop grooves direct-to-tape. Their first single “Bangs” used jazz modalities to riff over stuttering beats, and with their second song “Gladys” the group does the same but with more chemistry and confidence.
Color Red has been bringing all sorts of instrumentalists into their studio, where the board has only eight tracks and everything is recorded straight to tape. “The limitations of it are kind of neat,” says Brant - who originally hails from Des Moines, Iowa - tells me over the phone. Brant comes from a jazz background and plays frequently with jam and funk groups including Workshy and Judo Chop. “I’ve always played that sort of way, in the funk jam style. Being a guitar player, that can lend itself to extended solos and that sort of stuff. It’s fun to play that way, but eventually I ran into J Dilla’s music. I just loved the crossroads between jazz and hip-hop, and just the idea of chillin’ out. That was super attractive coming from this background of extended solos and extended forms.”
Brant is not a hiphop head by any stretch, although he does not dig for instrumentals after catching the scent of groove from Dilla. ManyColors is a great example of how intersectional lo-fi hip hop has become. That drag, that quintessential bodyrock shuffle, truly transcends genre and culture. Guided by Color Red - a real musician’s label run by Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds - Brant linked up with his bandmates. He gives them bare-bones charts and they - Braxton Khan, Eric Luba and Kirwan Brown - let it fly in the studio in true jazz fashion. Working in tandem with the keyboard player Eric Luba the group crafts rich, comforting harmonies on “Gladys” that float on top of Khan’s popping percussion. “The tempos are all up,” In the funk and jam band, says Brant, but now he’s, “vibing in the lower tempos, and that’s super refreshing.”
Brant’s not the only musician to approach instrumental hip-hop through the back door of jazz, and he certainly won’t be the last. Indeed, he says once he began playing in this new style he realized many people around him were doing the same, he just “wasn’t hip to it”. But with the group’s emphasis on harmony, the slightest touch of Americana in their melodies, and the relative absence of hip-hop in Brant’s musical background, ManyColors has a take on lo-fi hardly replicated anywhere else. Look out for more music from this group in 2019, and if you’re in Denver tonight check out their J Dilla tribute set at Cervantes’ Other Side as part of Live for Live Music’s ‘The Funk Sessions”.
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