"Sometimes the beat has a life of its own"
"If Rakim and MC Lyte had a baby" is the short version, when you ask the Oakland duo Nu Dekades -- made up of writer-emcees RyanNicole and K.E.V., for Kickin' Every Verse -- for a description of their sound. But the longer version is worth hearing, too.
"By iTunes standards, we are defined simply as hip-hop, but we describe our sound as the convergence of Black music combining elements of jazz, funk, soul, and reggae...as expressed through hip hop," explains RyanNicole, an Oakland native who's also stage actress -- this spring she'll appear in the California Shakespeare Theater's production of A Raisin In The Sun. The pair considers themselves anthropologists for the genre, describing their second full-length album, 2013's NEXUS, as "a love song to our people...people of the African diaspora, experiencing life in the context of color, be it beautiful or tragic."
What that means sonically: A warm, energetic landscape of old-school hip-hop built over the French producer Dela's jazzy beats, be-bop influences that recall Digable Planets, but with the emcees trading verses that displays a thoroughly modern determination -- a lyrical focus that's not afraid to be directly political or spiritual, or both at the same time.
"We're not studio revolutionaries," says RyanNicole. "Kev and I are products and servants of our community, and our stances and statements do not come from a thin veneer of political experience or social awareness, as may be the case with many 'conscious' artists." The duo is at work on their third record, tentatively titled Recomposition, and have plans to tour in the second half of 2014.
How do you survive here as a musician? What's the best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay Area?
A mentor of ours used to say to us that "Real MCs have day jobs." We certainly do, as we are the primary funders of our own projects&ldots;also, we are learning that, ironically, as much as we love the Bay, the best way for the Bay to love us back is to perform elsewhere. Gil Scott Heron said "home is where the hatred is." We've come to learn that home doesn't necessarily love you until another place validates you. That truism is the best and worst thing about being a musician in the Bay.
Weirdest /coolest thing that's happened at a show?
Everything about performing is cool and weird! Rocking shows and being respected in cyphers with people we grew up listening to, like MC Lyte, Camp Lo, and Phife of A Tribe Called Quest. One of our weirdest shows -- we performed in front of a very small audience of mostly drug addicts. It was one of the smallest and liveliest crowds we've ever rocked!