It Sounds Great on Green Street -- by Nathan Rothstein, June 2006
America is having problems with their boys. They are causing violence, under performing in school, and hiring strippers for their frat parties. As our young century develops, war in Iraq fails, and our men in power disgrace themselves everyday in Washington, people are searching around for some sort of inspiration.Where are the young men that are excelling and being creative? Where are the boys that know that Charlie Parker used to hang out with Jack Kerouac instead of being able to name the 50 Cent/ Ja Rule beef? If you are around the Boston area, you may not have to look far. For the rest of the country, good luck! These young men are walking around the same streets Paul Revere once rode on and they have gathered on the same green where the shot heard around the world occurred and hundreds of anti-Vietnam war protesters were arrested in 1971. And they are not just walking and talking, they are making great music.
In their first full album, recorded in a Lexington, Massachusetts upstairs room (not even a basement), these suburban boys have made an outstanding hip hop album.
There are many pieces to Green Street, but the biggest are A-Live (Aniruddha Sanyal) and Renaissance (Max Schneider). A-Live is the rapper, and both of his parents were born in India. R3n or Renaissance is the producer, and made sure to tell me that he is not a dj. But like many artists that have talent, they have been surrounded by it all their life. The album is constantly featuring young guests that add superb vocals or musical talents. In many underground hip hop albums, the beats become generic, the hook is a couple of DJ'ed scratches, and the words are lost because of excessive adverb use. Yes, Green Street has that, but they also have a little more.
Fifteen years ago, a couple young men from Brooklyn made a hip-hop album laced with jazz. In "Low End Theory," A Tribe Called Quest changed the way America viewed hip hop. It took the greatest aspects of musical history and made it their own. The rappers were confident, yet intelligent. Fast forward a decade and a half (skip over all the crap that has come in between, mixed with the great) and you get a couple young men sampling the Blue Note sound, and making it their own. They are not from Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Bronx, Compton, College Park, GA or Houston, but they have the same passion for music that Dr. Dre had when he took Parliament and made it G-Funk. Music is always evolving and this album is turning away from 20 inch rims and into the essence of life.
Even though they may have not figured out the latest neo-liberal economic policies or counted to ten backwards with their eyes closed, Green Street may have hit a note with fans that will spread much deeper than blue. When I met the boys in their studio (an upstairs room covered with hip hop, jazz and basketball posters) on a rainy summer night, they were eager to express their love for music as they quickly showed me a closet full of jazz and hip hop records. With eyes wide open, with a type of sincerity often lost when someone creates something great, they explained to me how, in a matter of two months, they had made a wonderfully pleasant, almost superb album. There was no musical background for Renaissance, except for the Jazz records his dad played as a child. Instead, he spent hours upon hours playing around with computer programs, trying to find the right technique. As the beats started to develop, A-Live brought his book of rhymes and began rapping. After each song was created, they re-worked it, and when they deemed it good enough, they put it on their my space website (myspace.com/greenstreetrecords). Within weeks, hip hop fans and artists noticed their unique talent and knowledge of the music. Rappers from Toronto and Cleveland were excited enough to put a verse together for their album, and Phonte from Little Brother makes a complimentary phone call that is featured for one of the hooks on the tracks.
The album excels with the help of two very talented musicians. On "Wrong Turn" and "To The City," another Lexington high school student, Ken Ross, plays guitar and lends his beautiful vocals to the album. On "Wrong Turn," Malcolm Campbell begins the song with an extraordinary electrical piano solo, and Ross complements the keys with strong guitar licks. It quickly embeds itself into the ears of anyone who hears it, so much that they have sold almost 200 copies in its first week. With nobody promoting them, or any record deal in the works, it is a completely grassroots movement.
With their canny use of the internet, they are quickly spreading their Green Street vibes, and hoping everybody will join them for the type of lifestyle they and everybody else should be on, on Green Street.