Friday, August 22, 2003
In Lawrence, hip-hop shows are typically synonymous with good times. Gaggles of beer-goggled youths gather on Friday nights in dimly lit clubs and houses-for-hire, dancing to the tribal pulse of hip-hop beats and flirting like mermaids.
Aaron Sutton might be at one of those parties, but he has more on his mind than partying.
As the lyricist and MC of Kansas City hip-hop duo Deep Thinkers, Sutton uses hip-hop music as a framework to talk about empowerment, homelessness, poverty and other non-party-related topics.
"I think that can have an effect on people when they come to a party setting, but I'm not partying," Sutton says. "I want people to be like, 'Dang, I went to a show last night and I was drunk, but I wasn't hearing 'Tear the Club Up' and 'Take Off All My Clothes.'"
On the strength of a self-released CD titled "Outlook" and a half-dozen Lawrence shows, Deep Thinkers -- Sutton and producer Kyle Dykes -- are making a name for themselves in the growing Lawrence hip-hop scene. Though they still consider themselves Kansas City artists, the duo has been building a Lawrence following and soon will release an album with Lawrence's Datura Records, which recently released Approach's "Ultraproteus" EP.
Datura owner Brent Lippincott says he is impressed by Sutton's social conscience.
"Nobody's talking about the stuff that Aaron is," Lippincottt says. "It's not revolutionary -- he's not talking about Black Power or anything -- but he has concerns with so many aspects of life and he lets you know."
Sutton derived his stage name, Brother of Moses, from the biblical story of Aaron, who spoke for the stuttering Moses.
"I'm like the news reporter," Sutton says. "If you lived in Kansas City, you'd be able to understand the dynamic and the segregation. That's why I'm Brother of Moses, the spokesman, because I see all this stuff and I got to put it down."
Sutton became involved with inner-city issues during a stint as a community organizer for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a human rights group in Kansas City.
"I had to knock door-to-door seeing tons of stuff that you never really want to see when you're just driving through people's neighborhoods," he says.
Sutton is heavily involved in his midtown Kansas City community, leading weekly talks at the Blueford Library on subjects like glam vs. reality in rap lyrics and empowerment through music and poetry. Many of the people he speaks to have gang associations.
"People may see these guys and be like, 'Oh, that's a thug or a gang-banger,' but they don't even know because that brother's been through a whole lot of stuff and he's out there spreading the consciousness even though he has to live that life," Sutton says.
Sutton also traveled to Louisiana to perform at a "Critical Resistance" rally to free political prisoners.
"People were out there wanting to hear some conscious stuff," he says. "There were some old ladies from Alabama, and it was good because they dug it. They came up to us afterwards, and we were all taking pictures with them and holding our fists up and stuff. They liked it because they saw us still trying to revolutionize, whereas a lot of people think that the revolutionary idea, the thought of still resisting, went out the window."
Sutton and Dykes have been collaborating since their days in Sevenfold Symphony, a live hip-hop band that also included Approach and Kansas City lyricist Negro Sco. Sevenfold typically eschewed written lyrics in favor of extended freestyle sessions and developed a reputation as one of Kansas City's most vibrant and original acts. Dykes, who also goes by Leonard Dstroy, is known in hip-hop circles for his inventive beat making, which is heavily influenced by electronic artists like Amon Tobin, Squarepusher and Prefuse 73. He composes all his music with computer programs, allowing him to "trick-out" his beats and add dozens of effects.
Dykes' beats caught the ear of Lawrence producer Miles Bonny, who contributed trumpet to a Deep Thinkers track.
"There's some stuff on 'Outlook' that blew people away," Bonny says. "What he brings to the table is a mix of jazz, electronica and hip-hop."
Before he began crafting beats, Dykes spent four to eight hours a day practicing his DJ skills. He took third place at a regional DMC scratching competition in 1999 at the Granada but shifted his focus to beat making when friend Ben the Scratch Rat taught him how to use an MPC sampler.
Dykes traveled to California to take a 600-hour engineering course at the Los Angeles Recording Workshop and hooked up with Sutton upon returning to Kansas City.
"I like having someone conscious as an MC," Dykes says. "So many people just sit around and don't do (expletive) all day but watch TV. You get sucked into that whole culture, which I think is unhealthy."
Deep Thinkers' "The Next Move" is scheduled to be released Nov. 4. The album showcases 15 songs and 75 minutes of new material, with guest spots from Approach, Mac Lethal, SoundsGood and jazz guitarist Jimmy Dykes (Kyle's father).
The album already has received interest from bigger labels in New York, Lippincott says. Datura will be re-releasing Approach's "Ultraproteus" EP with New York's Coup d'Etat Records and could seek a similar arrangement (possibly with a different label) for the Deep Thinkers' record.
Sutton says he would like Deep Thinkers' music to reach past the "digital divide" and touch the ears of minorities and the underprivileged.
"Tons of Latinos and African-Americans do not have access to computers -- 90 percent," he says. "That takes our music and puts it in a different category -- a predominantly white, privileged category."
He also says he would like to see more diversity among hip-hop crowds in Lawrence.
"There could be promotion at Haskell; people could really go beyond the college scene," he says. "It's possible. ... That place, Tremors ... there wouldn't be nothing but brothers and sisters in there. That's all there would be. Then you'd go to the Bottleneck and there'd be like three, plus me."
Sutton and Dykes are already planning the third Deep Thinkers album, a concept album about the urban experience. Dykes also composes electronic music under the name "Commute," and Sutton frequently collaborates with other KC hip-hop artists.
"We have a foundation that we're going to bring up with us," Sutton says. "We're getting real serious right now."