Tuesday, August 17, 2004
"The premise, the principle that will guide this exploration, is not nostalgic remembrance, but neither is it objective reporting. These are fragments. Moments remembered ... Wherever my feet have taken me, I have found both goodness and pain, and that's all I have to give."
So begins "From the Huge Silence," the solo debut by producer Jeremy Nesbitt, a.k.a. Nezbeat. The monologue, originally delivered by Kansas-born photojournalist and filmmaker Gordon Parks, serves as a mission statement for Nezbeat's three-year pet project, which features an all-star cast of local MCs, vocalists and musicians pouring their souls onto Nezbeat's dense hip-hop tracks.
"Basically I'm putting myself in Parks' shoes," Nezbeat said. "I'm presenting these fragments of Kansas lifestyle. Each song is a fragment like his pictures are."
The album title conveniently doubles as a judicious way to kill any jokes about Kansas hip-hop before they start. A native of Manhattan and five-year veteran of the Lawrence music scene, Nezbeat has done his share of defending the place he calls home.
"Everywhere we go it's like, 'You're not in Kansas anymore,'" he said. "We're just trying to break the silence, you know ... the idea that there's no hip-hop here.'"
"The whole Oz jokes and all - that's just gotta end."
Breaking the archetype
Around town, Nezbeat is known best as the shaggy-haired, backwards-capped producer of Archetype, an introspective hip-hop duo featuring lyricist Isaac Diehl, a.k.a. "I.D."
While that group is still active (with a second album written and partially recorded), Nezbeat used some down time to collaborate with more than a dozen local MCs, producers and musicians.
The eclectic track selection highlights a who's-who of local rappers -- Mac Lethal, Approach, Joe Good, I.D., Brother of Moses, Johnny Quest, Adru the Misphit, members of Kansas City's Ces Cru, DJ Sku and Lawrence's beatbox artist A-Train -- as well as out-of-towners like Def Jux rapper MURS and New York-based singer Krystle Warren.
"It's just a good experience as a producer to be able to work with as many artists as you can," he said. "It's a huge learning experience because everyone has their own way of recording, and every MC has a different way of wanting to do their songs."
"All the artists really put a lot of heart and passion into it," he said, adding that the album would be subtitled "Love, Pleasure, Passion, Pain."
"I ended up with way too many songs ... Most of what I cut was my songs, which is fortunate because I can part with my own art. I feel bad about cutting other people, though, because they put their time and energy into it."
One of the album's most fruitful collaborations is a song with local space rock band The Capsules. While Nezbeat's hard-hitting hip-hop stylings and The Capsules' dreamy pop may seem an awkward fit, the pairing makes sense from the downbeat. A driving marching drum sets the foundation for singer Julie Shields' vocal lilt and Nezbeat's otherworldly manipulation of an angelic Bulgarian choir sample.
Capsules bassist Jason Shields said the band was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating with a hip-hop producer.
"He saw the potential for something like that to work, which most people wouldn't necessarily," Shields said. "The album in general is gonna be really cool ... I can't wait to hear it."
Another highlight is a collaboration between Mac Lethal and Murs titled "Women of Scribble Jam," a reference to the popular freestyle competition in Cincinnati that Mac won in 2002. The humorous and largely X-rated song serves as a bit of comic relief in an album that's mostly serious in tone.
"The premise of the song is that Mac and Murs are at Scribble Jam and Mac is trying to get Murs to battle him ... and Murs is just trying to mack on girls," Nezbeat explained. "They wrote and recorded it in about two hours."
Nezbeat's music education can be traced back to his youth in Manhattan, where he grew up on a steady diet of Stevie Wonder and jazz. Though his first taste of rap was his brother's "super-raw gangster shit," including X-Clan and N.W.A, his tastes began broadening about the time he hit puberty.
"In seventh grade I was introduced to Souls of Mischief," he recalled. "That was my turning point. Hieroglyphics and Wu-Tang pretty much changed my life."
Drawing on his knowledge of percussion and piano, he began crafting beats in 10th grade with a drum machine and keyboard. Though he now incorporates computer programs like Pro Tools into his repertoire, piano remains his foundation, said Lawrence MC Johnny Quest.
"He's one of the few producers around that I know that's actually taken classes in music theory," said Quest, a friend and frequent collaborator who raps on two of the album's 17 tracks. "Sitting around a piano when you're seven years old doesn't seem like a whole hell of a lot of fun, but it sure paid off for him."
Though Nezbeat does the majority of his sample digging locally (he names Love Garden as a favorite spot), he also has an ace up his sleeve courtesy of his Dad's "super sick-ass" record collection, Quest said.
"Every once in a while (his Dad) will come down from Manhattan with a stack of records and be like, 'Here you go -- there should be some tight shit in here,'" Quest said. "And usually there is."
Surprisingly, Nezbeat said he doesn't even listen to much rap music these days on account of spending so much time working on his own material.
"I try to get my hands on some new hip-hop every now and then, but it's just hard to keep up these days," he said. "I listen to so much Radiohead it's stupid."
No more Yello bellies
In between working on his solo album and Archetype, Nezbeat has somehow found time to do drum and sample programming for the Kansas City-based band Ethereal. The band features a female vocalist and could be compared to Portishead or Radiohead, he said.
"I mostly stand on the side and push buttons," he said. "Me and the drummer have a lot of chats about how things are going to go."
After putting in a couple years of college and a four-year stint at Yello Sub, Nezbeat has been trying to make ends meet by playing shows and selling his beats to area artists -- a tricky endeavor since many of his prospective clients are friends.
"It's hard to separate business and friendships," he said. "Basically I try and find strangers that might be able to add to my music and are willing to pay for it ... If I make one sale I can live off it for like a month."