Forget CMJ, Here’s Sunny Gang

Marshal, drummer for Newark, New Jersey based band, Sunny Gang, broke his nose jumping around in their guitarist’s basement the night before a festival audition. They were not practicing. He was not drunk. This is a member of Sunny Gang off-stage in everyday life. So imagine what this band brings to its audience, all hyped up and high on musicians’ adrenaline.

Sunny Gang.jpg

Photo credit to John Mueller

I had to hear this story when the guys told me that Marshal took the stage at a show with a tampon in his nose. The pictures were gruesome and totally awesome. Kind of like the band themselves.

Composed of four college business and marketing majors from various parts of New Jersey, Sunny Gang brings together rap and punk music in raw way that is impossible not to like. Unless you suck. Despite the fact that the guys are self proclaimed “shitheads,” they’re very serious about their music and where it’s going, and they have a clear-cut plan to make things happen.

“My whole thing is that I’m trying to dive headfirst right into this whole music thing,” Marshal says, “because that’s the only way that I feel like we can do actually make something of it. With that, it’s kind of like you HAVE to make it your main focus.”

The rest of the guys agree that, though they are balancing college and their music, seeing the band come to fruition successfully is the ideal route, and they approach it with the hearts and determination of kids but the minds and intelligence of grown men.

“Even though we like to act like shitheads, we wanna make something out of ourselves,” guitarist Chris Bacchus admits. ”I feel like that separates us from a lot of people. When you’re in the studio, these dudes don’t fuck around. Marshal came up with the idea, but the way we look at it is, basically, we’re all in a relationship with one girl, and we just gotta make her happy all the time.”

Not only is their approach to the band unique, the Sunny Gang sound comes from a healthy blend of what each member brings to the table. When they met, Marshal, Bacchus, vocalist, Nasty Nate, and bassist, Joe Sap, were already into music on their own separate terms. Marshal relocated to the college campus for the sole purpose of gathering fellow musicians, Sap was keeping his talent alive, Nate was working on an album as a solo rapper, and lil Bacchus was playing in a metal band known as Babies in My Septic Tank (formerly First Aid).  Once they started playing together, the guys settled on being a “punk band with a rapper” because it remains the only style of music through which they can take care of business and properly release as a group. They know what they have to do to keep that outlet alive and they know what they’re aiming to accomplish with each show.

“I didn’t wanna be in a band at first,” Nate shares, “but I was warming up to the idea because I wanna be a rock star. Rap stars are too worried about their image and their nice shoes and their jewelry, and I wanna go out with no shirt on and bummy ass sneakers and just wild out. I think that’s why we did go with the punk sound, because we’re pretty obnoxious, and the energy is just better. You look in the crowd and see dudes with Nike foamposites on and baggy ass pants vibin to your music you know you’re doing something right.”

As much as any band loves to see fans, Marshal maintains that the positive reactions aren’t the only important ones.

“At the same time, when we play our shows you always look into the back and you always see somebody leaving,” he says, “and I always say that means we’re doing our job right. If we piss somebody off, we did our job, because that’s what kind of music we’re going for.”

Sunny Gang 2

Photo credit to John Mueller

Clearly they aren’t the only ones fond of their sound. The guys played this year’s Afropunk Fest as an opening act on Sunday, thus fulfilling a goal they set for themselves last August. Not a group to wait around for luck, Sunny Gang took active measures to make this goal a reality. Bacchus applied for an internship working with the marketing department as a social media guru. According to Nate, not only did Bacchus blast info on the festival’s social media, he also blasted from their own, Sunny Gang, accounts to be sure the Afropunk crew knew they had the band’s support. Though the guys were runners up in the Afropunk Battle of the Bands, they were impressed with the positive outcome of the competition and have stayed in touch with the organization.

“That battle of the bands at Afropunk is the only battle of the bands that we’ve been in that actually gave back,” Bacchus maintains, “because even though we didn’t win, we’re seeing all this positivity and our music getting all over the place because of Afropunk. We owe a lot to Afropunk. Even though we didn’t win first place, they still were trying to help us out because of that relationship.”

Having achieved that goal and seen satisfaction with their results, the guys now have their eyes set on the career-making South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and they intend to work just as hard to earn a place on that bill.

“We filled out the application, sent in a press kit and everything, and now it’s just a waiting game,” Sap says.

In the meantime, Sunny Gang is working to find funding for the festival if they’re accepted. Sap says it could cost up to $2500 for the four of them to make the trip to Austin, but Bacchus maintains the cost is worth it.

“We’re looking at festivals that can bring us to the right people,” he claims. “South by Southwest is good because it’s for up and coming artists–even though Bruce Springsteen was there last year. It’s his second time around the block.”

Funding and attending SXSW is a daunting task, no doubt, but if anyone can do it, it’s these guys. From frat parties at Rutgers Newark to one of Brooklyn’s biggest music festivals, Sunny Gang hasn’t stopped yet, and it doesn’t seem as though they have any intention of doing so anytime soon, a fact I, for one, am happy about. Sunny Gang brings a refreshing, organic, organized chaos to the New York music scene, and once they’re released into the world, it won’t be long until their sound grabs ears across the nation. My advice? Get on it right now, so when they’re on and poppin’ you can pull the hipster card and say you knew them before they were huge.

Originally published October 16, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Shinobi Ninja on Making It Happen

Whether or not you’re a fan of Childish Gambino, it’s hard to deny the reasoning behind his 2013 album, “Because the Internet.” In this day and age, it’s almost astounding how much can be accomplished by artists, entrepreneurs, crowd-funders and basically anyone, thanks to the invention of the world wide web. Brooklyn band, Shinobi Ninja has certainly made a career of using the internet to their advantage.

Shinobi Ninja_Sanchez

Photo credit to Sergmatik Sanchez

Last week, following the pumping excitement of another trip to Austin’s SXSW, Shinobi’s vocalist, Duke Sims, was generous enough to give me some talk time and chat about what the band stands for, how they came together, and how they’re making it work in a world almost overrun with music genres and T Swift songs.

Sims names one of Shinobi’s key accomplishments as staying together as a band for eight years. In the era of Craigslist bands and hobbyists who aren’t sure what they want from life, that seems like a pretty fair assessment.

“I think our biggest accomplishment as a band is freaking making it eight years,” Sims admits. “Some bands don’t make it eight months. It’s all about focus and energy and determination.”

The six ninjas who make up Shinobi Ninja, including Sims, Baby G (vocalist), Maniac Mike (guitar), Alien Lex (bass), DJ Axis Powers (turntables) and drummer, Terminator Dave, are undoubtedly a story of what dedication, positive energy and the power of the internet can do.

The crew initially began to come together at a recording studio called Progressive Music in New York City, where Sims, Mike and the original bassist worked. (Fun fact: Mike and Terminator Dave are twins!) Sims and Shinobi’s original bass player, Jonathan Simone, were playing various venues around the city with the help of whoever was available at the time, while the twins (Mike and Dave), and DJ Axis played in their own band, Stalley & the Wax Machine.

When Stalley & the Wax Machine decided to disband, Sims stepped in to take the lead, and when the guys came together with Baby G, whose sights were set on conquering singing like she had dancing, Shinobi’s seeds were planted.

“Baby G, when she first started the band, probably sacrificed the most,” Sims shares. “She was dancing for Rihanna, Santigold, Diddy, Ricky Martin…she was at the top of her profession. There was no higher than that. But when you want to do something like be in a band, you have to jump off the building, so she jumped off the building.”

Based on Sims’ account, Baby G, herself, is a tale of determination, focus and energy. Essentially, the girl came to the city of lights with no dancing experience and a job at Swatch, and before giving it all up to be the vocalist in a metal band, she’d made it to the top of the top (let’s be real, dancing for Rihanna and RICKY MARTIN is kind of a big deal).

Her dedication to her craft and talent to make it happen is representative of the band itself. Shinobi has been fully complete since Alien Lex’s appearance in 2011 (Lex was a fan who got a pretty sweet chance!), and by all accounts, the group has been hustling and grinding the whole time. From producing their own music and videos to branding themselves and scouring the internet for fans, Shinobi Ninja is a self-professed “DIY band.”

“It’s all about hard work,” Sims says. “There’s nobody telling you that you have to work hard. It’s just you versus you. If you want things to happen, you have to make them happen yourself.”

From the get-go, Shinobi has proven they’re up to the task. After deciding on a name (which comes from a combination of influences, including a favorite video game and the architectural design of the twins’ mom’s Piermont, NY home), the group set to work branding themselves, a move that Sims maintains is indispensable. 

“That’s one of the hardest things you can is brand yourself, in any business,” he says. “Doesn’t matter if you’re doing book bags or guitars or pencils, it’s all about branding.”

In choosing colors and merch designs and creating their own unique sound, Shinobi Ninja nailed that aspect of the game. Within a few months of coming together, the band played Afropunk and made television appearances, and in the years since, they’ve been featured on NBA 2K12, the soundtrack for A Haunted House 2, The Killing, and much more. Baby G was featured as a coach on MTV’s Made (back when MTV was relevant), and the band was even chosen by New Music Seminar as one of the best new bands, and they’ve done it all without the help of nary a fat cat.

In fact, Sims rates playing that show at The Roxy for New Music Seminar as one of the best experiences so far, along with hearing their music in a movie theatre and on a video game loop. He also maintains that giving it their all, no matter what the occasion, is part of how they’ve climbed so high, even from their very first show.

“You can’t deny energy, be it positive or negative,” he says. “Whatever you put to the wall is gonna bounce back at you. That’s just what we did. Our stage presence was all or nothing. We were just dying to live. We didn’t know what to do. We knew we had to express ourselves, and people got that. Even if the sound wasn’t fully developed, even if we weren’t fully developed, we were still energetically giving it our best. That came across. It always comes across.”

According to Sims, that dynamic energy still comes across, each time Shinobi Ninja reaches out to someone on Twitter in an attempt to share new music or releases a new video on YouTube or takes the stage for a smaller show in their home city. As helpful as the powerful connecting potential of the internet can be, it all comes down to the perseverance, dedication and effort the band brings to the table.

“With the internet, you can put out quality, great art, and you can be distributed throughout the world,” Sims maintains. “You still have to have the determination and want to do it. Even though the internet and the technology is there, if you don’t want to do it, then it doesn’t matter.”

Shinobi Ninja

Photo credit to facebook.com/doobiedukesims

Between their obvious success, the number of sheer outreach efforts on social media and Sims’ description of “couch gut,” it’s clear Shinobi Ninja does want to do it.

The Shinobi crew is no group of gods though, and they have their rough spots like anyone. Sims says the key to pushing past these days and staying ahead is harnessing positive energy and using it to reach further and further toward the top.

“You’re always gonna have positive and negative thoughts,” he admits, “but you’ve gotta persevere with the positive, always, because the negative isn’t gonna bring you anywhere.”

I have to agree with that train of thought, and it seems as though their throngs of fans do as well. Even as a band who produces a wide variety of music, from high tempo metal jams to more relaxed, introspective tunes, Shinobi Ninja never sees a change in fans that isn’t positive. Sims attributes this to their fans’ real love for music itself.

“Real music fans love music, period,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how it’s being presented, it’s all about melodies and quality.”

Is there a better kind of fan? Fortunately for fans, old and new, Shinobi Ninja is looking towards a pretty dynamic 2016. Having just finished a brand new album, the band is shopping for a label to sponsor their release, hoping to bring their sound to a wider audience than they have so far.

“We try to be smart business people and do right for us, not just put music out because it’s cool,” Sims says. “We have to figure out how to put this music out so that it gets the broadest reach.”

Not only are Baby G and the guys wearing their business hats this year, they’re spending ample time in front of the camera, thanks to YouTube, and looking forward to hitting the stage in as many places as possible, hopefully including L.A.

As far as shows go, their first order of business is Williamsburg’s The Hall at MP this weekend. Shinobi hits the stage on April 1, and whether you’ve heard these guys or not, it’s a show worth attending. As far as I know, Williamsburg is still the cool place to be. Pair that with good music, and you’ve got yourself a damn good way to spend April Fool’s Day…all because the internet.

Charlie Scott’s Circle of Life

I have to admit I’m hesitant about hearing white boys rap, and usually when one is pitched to me I go in guns blazin’ and ready to say no. Despite the likes of some of the most amazing talent I know being of Caucasian descent, I’m still a little brainwashed to think that hip-hop is an urban scene. Of course, when said artist has a story that’s worth hearing, I’m just a tad quicker to lend my ears. Case in point: Charlie Scott.

Charlie Scott

Photo credit to Mike Geffner

Scott stumbled into rap as an outlet for recovering from drug addiction that had all but destroyed him. During his time at a rehabilitation center, Scott transformed his long-time propensity for poetry into a collection of songs tailored to speak to others struggling with drug use and other addiction.

After releasing his song, King Simba, Scott recently produced a Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe show entitled “Heavy Hitters.” While much of the talent featured in this show was unfortunately less than impressive, Scott closed us out with an inspiring performance for his family on the front two rows as well as the rest of his crowded house.

As can be expected given his history, Scott’s lyrics pack quite an emotional punch, even for random audience members who have no idea what it was like to watch him recover from addiction. Coupled with catchy beats and his smooth, well-practiced flow, Scott’s music is in no way hard on the ears. While certain parts of some songs may seem unnecessarily strained for effect, Scott has little work to do on the road to making his music heard by a wider audience than the crowd at the Nuyorican. He may be Simba now, but that little cub one day ran the pride.

Originally published May 7, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

MAD…They So…Crazy…and Talented

Not surprisingly, every New York musical act has a different story about coming together. For MAD members, Davon Vernon and Marcos Antonio, this story has a little more meat to it.

MAD

Photo credit to Rodrigo Gonzalez

Antonio and Vernon, or as they are commonly known, Marcos and Davon, met through a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization called El Puente, where both were employed at the same time. According to the guys, the chemistry was immediate, and when they heard about Art Start’s Emerging Artist in Residency (EAR) program, they promptly seized the opportunity…well…maybe not promptly.

“I forgot to mention, we turned in our application on the last day,” Davon admits. “I felt like if it was meant to be it would happen. Literally, on the last day I was still completing it.”

Their luck continued shortly after when they mixed up the address (Thanks, HOPSTOP!) and were each about an hour late to their interviews for the program. Thankfully, they were still welcomed with open arms, which tells me two things: 1. Art Start knows what’s up with the creative types. 2. These dudes got it goin’ on.

As two new musicians, the work Marcos and Davon did with Art Start was their first real experience with recording their music, and they maintain they’ve learned an immense amount from the process and have both improved significantly as artists along the way.

“Sometimes you start a project, and after being with it for a little too long you start losing inspiration,” Davon says. “But being here, being part of Art Start and them giving us the space, the time, the equipment allowed us to do it. We had everything we needed.”

As the two pull out their business cards, Marcos agrees that the EAR program has made an impact in both their lives.

“We’re very indebted to Art Start,” he notes.

MAD Playing

Photo credit to Rodrigo Gonzalez

During their six months in the program, the guys wrote, tracked and recorded a 10 song album complete with artwork by MAD’s very own Davon. Incidentally, the two are also working on a comic centering around two characters based loosely on them. Apparently in addition to dance and music, Davon can draw as well! Marcos isn’t without multiple talents of his own, as all the music for their freshman album was composed primarily with the help of his guitar and a loop pedal. Despite success with this method, the guys express intentions to expand their instrumental portion to include more variety in drums and beats.

Thanks to their strong start with a program that reaches out to fringe youth interested in the arts, after releasing their first hip-hop album Marcos and Davon are also already working on a new album and a mixtape, the latter of which they expect to release sometime in June. Before then, keep an eye out for MAD music videos from the mixtape on YouTube and check them out on twitter, ‘cuz we gotta get these guys into the social media world. #makeithappen

Originally published April 30, 2013 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Emphasis on Accent

After a lengthy, unexpected bus ride through Brooklyn, this guy is sitting across the table from me at a diner reading me the most beautifully crafted, rhythmically sound, sexually provocative poetry I’ve ever heard face to face. No, that’s not a description of my most recent blind date. It’s my weekend interview with Billy Rivera, better known as Accent.

When I stepped on this dude’s feet numerous times at a Kinetics and One Love show, I had no idea I was badgering the walking blocks of such an interesting guy. Among the fun facts he shares with me over a chicken salad sandwich and a plate of pickles with hot chocolate (no, I’m not pregnant), Accent admits that he’s a Pokenerd, emo rapper, aspiring wine connoisseur and cat lover. Um..what?

Random fun facts aside, Accent is a very dedicated hip-hop artist with plenty to say, both on and off the soundboard.

“I’m probably one of the most emo rappers you’ll ever meet,” he admits. “Art in general comes from pain, and you take it and create something beautiful. My writing is so much better when I’m sad and depressed.”

It’s not that I want Accent to be sad and depressed, but if that’s what it takes to get these verses onto paper, I’ll take Emo Probs for $200, Alex. Thankfully, being self-proclaimed emo isn’t the whole of what makes Accent a great artist. He also prides himself on what he calls “perfect rhyme” and attention to rhythm.

“Accent means how it sounds when you speak, not what it means,” Accent explains. “I’m a notorious freestyler. My focus in freestyle is less on lyrics and more on rhyme and heavy on rhythm.”

Don’t get it twisted and think that he’s one of those rappers who only cares how the flow rolls. Accent is a rapper, but first and foremost he’s a poet, even if that’s not always where his emphasis lands.

“All that really matters is how it sounds, but if you really listen there’s always meaning,” he notes. “I don’t want people to get tired of my songs. I want my fans to analyze my songs like poetry. I don’t wanna write songs people can sing along to.”

Known well for his work with fellow hip-hoppers Kinetics and One Love, Accent is the only artist to have been featured multiple times on the duo’s mixtape, With A Little Help From My Friends. He’s also had hands in many other collaborations over the years he’s been writing and considers himself to have a sort of “underdog” vibe.

Accent_Kelsey Cohen

Photo credit to Kelsey Cohen

“Kinetics is Batman; I’m Robin,” Accent says, true to his love of comic books. “But Robin is nasty on the low.”

As nasty as he may be in collaborations, Accent’s unique talent lies in his Nuyorican quality. A frequent guest at Alphabet City’s Nuyorican Cafe, he writes and speaks verses with the skill and soul of a seasoned poet. Accent is never one to shy away from aspirations and shares that he plans to spend the upcoming year perfecting a poem for publication. Lucky me, he recited some for me over the diner table. I blushed. Think about what that means for a classy lady like me.

The first single, Everybody’s Crazy from Accent’s new album dropped last night (December 5) at 9:00 p.m. and the full EP, Sight and Sound, produced by Kid Vision is scheduled for release exactly a week later (that’s December 12, guys. Come on..do math). After that, prep yourselves for a music video or two and plenty of other collaborations with our favorite rappers…aside from, of course, Accent himself.

Originally published December 6, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Gangstagrass

Gangstagrass Introduces Bluegrass to Hip Hop

Ever wonder what happens when a California-raised hip-hop producer meets his Oklahoma bluegrass roots? Gangstagrass happens.

Gangstagrass

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

Fronted by musician, producer and all-around “mastermind” Rench, Gangstagrass is a brainchild that blends the unique sounds of modern, lyrical hip-hop with some of the country’s oldest music: bluegrass. Though his father lived in Oklahoma, Rench grew up in California, where the rap and hip-hop scene reigns. He spent most of his time in this environment, but he also got a good dose of more country, Southern music when he visited his father. This interesting combination of exposure led to the organic birth of Gangstagrass.

As a hip-hop producer in New York, Rench says he was working on a project, couldn’t help himself and had to add a “little steel guitar” to the mix. That little steel guitar proved to be the catalyst for what may very well be a new direction of modern music. Rench began working with various emcees and musicians to create a collection of tracks that combined a traditional bluegrass sound with the throwback hip-hop style that each artist brought to the table. These collaborations have resulted in two albums by Rench’s group of various and often visiting musicians. In addition, Gangstagrass created the theme song for FX’s Justified, resulting in an Emmy nomination , and as of recently the band has added a new music video to their portfolio.

Gangstagrass is no stranger to the merging of music and visual media, but their newest video, released at Brooklyn’s Genuine Motorworks, is their first venture outside of live footage. Well-executed in black and white, the video’s old-western theme drives home the novelty of the musical sound behind Gangstagrass. Outdated wardrobe and multi-cultural facet pinpoint the marriage of two near-opposite musical genres and progression of society over the past century.

Gangstagrass

Photo credit to Blackbook Magazine

Despite its unexpected partnership, the fusion of bluegrass and hip-hop creates a powerful social message on many levels and should not be entirely surprising given the fact that much of America’s current music is derived from bluegrass roots. Rench and his fellow musicians meld together guitar, fiddle, banjo, dobro and a multitude of male and female emcees, sometimes as many as five at a time, to create a simultaneous representation of the country’s musical evolution and its simple beginnings.

While it may be some time before the rest of the world catches up with this retro-visionary style, Gangstagrass is mastering cross-genre experimentation and providing an excellent example for future artists. Not to mention, the music is pretty damn good.

Originally published August 22, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com

Ghostface Killah Entertains Celebrate Brooklyn

In tribute to Old Dirty Bastard, to catch a plethora of free hip-hop performances, to breathe in an abundance of fresh greenery, to enjoy the beautiful breeze; though any of these reasons could have been used as an excuse to check out Celebrate Brooklyn’s free presentation of Ghostface Killah, the presence of Ghostface himself was most likely the primary reason for the crowd of 10,000 Brooklynites and other fans on June 23.

Ghostface_Celebrate BK

Photo credit to Shanna Gibbs

As early as 6:30 p.m. and before, hip-hop and Wu-Tang Clan fans from all over the city began to form the line outside the entrance of Prospect Park’s Bandshell, the venue for the annual Celebrate Brooklyn festival. Produced every year by the efforts of BRIC Arts Media Bklyn, The Bowery, NYC Parks and Prospect Park Alliance, Celebrate Brooklyn is a collective presentation of music, art, word and film. During the summer months each year, this massive outdoor festival plays host to many well-known performance artists in an effort to revitalize interest in and attendance at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. As was obvious at the performance of Ghostface Killah and his fellow hip-hop artists, this goal seems to have been achieved. This particular show was also a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the respected hip-hop showcase, Lyricist Lounge.

Along with the revered hip-hop guru, several new and local artists showed off their skill at this performance of Celebrate Brooklyn. Miami native turned Brooklynite, Farrah Burns, started up the party with her powerhouse flow commanding the crowd’s respect and heating up the stage for her fellow performers. Fifteen-year-old Astro followed up with an astounding performance backed with old school references and hip-hop savvy lyrics. Charismatic and wildly talented, Astro spit lyrics of a mind twice his age and spouted pearls of wisdom to the crowd between tracks. Additional performances included rhymes by Camp Lo; former Flipmode Squad member, Rah Digga; Mobb Deep’s Prodigy; and an outstanding display of old-school talent from DJ Kid Capri.

Following a two hour lineup and introduction, hands in the crowd rose to sign the familiar “W” as Ghostface Killah took his much awaited place onstage accompanied by Cappadonna. For the next hour, the duo commanded the attention of 10,000 fans with live renditions of their renowned hip-hop classics. As was mentioned by a few of the artists, the performance drew fans of all ages, races and social groups and for a night, 10,000 New Yorkers became one collective in appreciation for one of the most prolific hip-hop artists in the past several decades.

Ghostface_Bicartsmedia.org

Photo credit to bricartsmedia.org

Celebrate Brooklyn will continue throughout the summer with performances from a wide range of artists as well as some outdoor movies including The Muppet Movie as a sing-along event. The festival also serves as an opportunity to volunteer and become part of a movement to restore the largest park in Brooklyn. Information about volunteering, this year’s lineup and other aspects of Celebrate Brooklyn can be found on their website: http://www.bricartsmedia.org/performing-arts/celebrate-brooklyn.

Originally published June 24, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com