You have to go on "a far" trip from Philadelphia to find the second coming of The Roots, an Atlanta-based live band designed to create quality hip-hop music, much like the Illadelph crew.
AFAR, consisting of Jahah (the MC), Doron (Piano), Marc B. (Guitar), Demuze (Bass), and Che (Drums), does not take any potential fans on an unnecessary ride: They are patterned after The Roots, and they readily admit that. Armed with all the elements of a live band, however, AFAR chooses to formulate themselves slightly differently than the recent Roots crew, who have gone more into straight hip-hop (see: "The Tipping Point"). The obligatory emcee Jahah, equipped with slick rhymes, plays as just a part of the band as they journey through an introduction album poised around positive vibes and even more positive hip-hop music.
Several tracks on the self-titled "AFAR" are merely tracks from Jahah's sensational second album "Mama's Only Son," which is not a bad start for the group. The classic "Oohh Remix" and an original version of "Oohh" both grace the album, as Jahah uses just the simple sound of "oohh" to exhibit the first moment of falling into love or attachment to a person. The remix to "Oohh" actually works better for the song, but the original gives the track a more lively and energized feel. "No Time To Front" also appears from Jahah as he raps, "I rock hard like a white boy playin' guitar, Got it locked doin' time behind 16 bars," over, ironically, the guitars of Marc B. amongst the other instruments.
However, AFAR saves their best group efforts for their own album, as the upbeat and uplifting "Movin On" features Jahah spitting, "I write for all gods, queens, fiends with no dreams, Out of work brothers who struggle to stay clean." The feel-good lyrics and a mixture of drums, bass, and piano bring the track to life and provide a positive attitude.
"Mic Check" demonstrates the epitome of a live band within hip-hop as DJ Rasta Roots joins the band in a track that commences with the piano, drums, and scratching all going on at the same time creating simply lovely music to the ear. And "A.F.A.R." sticks with much of the same as Jahah takes off running with, "Start up like dot-coms except I won't fail, So I stay online without DSL, Or cable modem, and the heads still connect, So my future looks better than a million dollar check." The continuous and different instrumental patterns keeps things moving within the song and also even out the pace of Jahah and allow the track to be infused with freshness in intervals.
Even the inspiring "Still Standing," despite the very "Hate Me Now" Nas and Puffy-esque yelling over the megaphone by Jahah, stands still and tall as a winning combination of live band plus emcee to create head-nodding hip-hop music.
Not all of AFAR works out as planned, as the instrumental-only "Dream On" is soothing but probably not created for the average hip-hop fan. And "ATL Anthem" comes off as about as rowdy and crunk as this down-South act gets, but the anthem stance on songs rarely works outside of the immediate city that it is intended for anyway and can be excused as just a treat for their hometown.
While the early Roots crew is certainly incomparable, other live band hip-hop acts are certainly not absent from the current spectrum of the music. This Atlanta-based band proves that the addition of instruments into hip-hop music can make for one hell of an amazing ride. If The Roots are what you crave, don't search Philly or anywhere near. Look at AFAR.