After a long string of rock (in its various forms), this seems like a good time for a change of pace. The Higher Concept formed in upstate NY in 2003, and when I came across them back in December, it was immediately clear this group isn’t hip hop in the sense that has become conventional. To quote from their website, hip hop’s
audience is confused through no fault of its own. Marketing strategies and money-hungry record label executives have purposefully blurred the lines between Rap and Hip-Hop in the public mind – people don’t know the difference, and frankly, most don’t care. Not unlike the confusion surrounding Punk and Hardcore, the masses assume they’re one in the same. The reality is that Hip-Hop (a cultural movement) predates Rap (a vocal style) and has much farther reaching implications, fusing music, dance, visual art and fashion with positive messages about overcoming adversity and pursuing ambitions. Commercial Rap has an opposing agenda, having devolved into a bling’n’booty-centric frenzy that’s more low brow entertainment than it is music.
Hear hear. Being that I’m not immersed in the hip hop world, but in the worlds of rock specifically and guitar-playing generally, the notion of a musical style being one component of a wider cultural movement is unusual and intriguing.
Which makes me wonder: what does the rock world have to offer that can be considered part of a larger cultural movement? Jam-rock has more or less devolved into drum-and-bass-and-drugs (was it ever about more than that?); folk has failed to attract a new generation and at this point is scarcely more than an artifact; many contemporary punk rockers seem unable to tell the difference between minimalism and rule-rejection and, um, mindless crap. Indie might be the closest analogue on today’s scene, but I don’t know if anyone is completely sure what it is, let alone whether you can talk about it as a coherent category. All of which is to say: maybe rockers can learn something from hip-hoppers like these.
But I digress. The lyrics of What Makes You Different, a bonus track off the group’s newest release, Life’s Good, reflect the honesty, maturity, positivity, and genuine artistic impulse that characterize hip hop and are regrettably – and blatantly – absent from mainstream rap. This song is about coming to terms with the superficiality and classlessness that too-often drive young people’s relationships, and the gradual realization that the “numbers game” doesn’t satisfy whatever it is that many people raised at pop culture’s teat seem to think it will. Nothing revolutionary, to be sure, but told in personal and compelling ways by wordsmiths IB Profyn and Matty J.
This acoustic version of What Makes You Different (containing only two of the verses – you can stream the full tune below), says their manager, is “an ode to THC’s dedication to live instrumentation in the new music they’ve been creating, which is very evident on Life’s Good and has helped enhance the overall sound of THC.” The guitarist you see here, Doug Atkins, is a member of their live band, The Contraband (clever name, eh?).
Apparently this video was a pretty spontaneous project, shot on a whim in The House of Dream studios on Staten Island. Check it out. To learn more about the group, visit their website. And buy their album here.