One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the music world over the past decade or so is the willingness of bands to take risks. They don’t always work out, but without them we’d still be listening to Perry Como records, so I’ll take a couple failures along the way. Interstellar Elevators is not a failure, but it continues in the experimentation and evolution of hip-hop that A Tribe Called Quest found success with.
The group is the brainchild of Billy Rodriguez-Lopez, and they’re based out of that hotbed of indie rap Weston, Connecticut. He’s the MC, the guitar player, and spins the 1’s and 2’s. He’s also in charge of writing songs. I assume if he played the other instruments involved he wouldn’t really need the other members of the group. Luckily he can’t, and we get to hear some other talented musicians do their thing.
Paper On Plastic dropped way back in September, but like so many works went unheard by most. That’s too bad. While it isn’t the greatest hip-hop album I’ve ever heard, it is a fun EP with a lot of funk keeping the toes tapping. It’s only five tracks, so allow me to discuss each briefly.
The opening track, “Walk,” includes my favorite line in the collection: “I’m like Sarah Palin, because I tell the people what they want to hear then I plow down a moose with my AK47.” It kicks off with a great bass line and when the vocals kick in, it comes with about ten other instruments behind it. Rodriguez-Lopez has a voice that matches this style pretty well, and he has the ability to spit quick and still enunciate so that no lyrics are garbled. He also has a good flow that allows the other musicians to stay on course.
“Better Reasons” sounds like the band Chicago if Peter Cetera had left and been replaced by The Sugarhill Gang. It’s a good song about relationships and they pack in a lot of lyrics in the five minute run time. It reminds me a bit of something off of The Streets A Grand Don’t Come For Free, with a bit more funk of course. Not my favorite song on the EP, but a good one.
The third track, “Residue,” is probably the jammiest of the five songs. This one is my least favorite, but it has some good music going for it, so it’s defnintely listenable. I really don’t have much else to say about this one, so let’s move on.
“Kanye West” is a great title for a hip-hop song, but brings with it some lofty expectations. And actually, I enjoyed this song quite a bit. It’s a slower number, and it features good lyrics and instrumentation to match. The line right at the beginning that I like goes: “I asked are you shitting me or are you really the shit? And if bullshit sounds like this then I’m listening in, then you should bullshit again, then I’m the number one bullshit fan.”
And the final track, “Tired Of Compton,” delivers the most compelling argument for this kind of music. Not only does it start as a great jazz-fusion rap song, it delivers a great guitar solo to go along with fantastic bass and drums. This song encapsulates everything that the rest of the EP aims for, and does it with an effortless feeling that makes you think these guys are on to something.
In what I have considered a down year for hip-hop, I’m happy to hear that there are still some people taking risks. Interstellar Elevators aren’t blazing the trail forward yet, but Paper on Plastic makes me think that maybe they will be someday.
The rest of the band is made up by: