Organic Flow and Will Smith have beef.
“I shouldn’t say that,” said Organic Flow’s emcee Liam Bird. “I like Will Smith alright.” But personal tastes regarding Bad Boys II aside, Organic Flow, one of CU’s latest arrivals to the hip hop scene, advertises their music as “the end of the ‘jiggy’ era.”
“Basically, we’re trying to make conscious music,” said drummer Zane Ranney. Apparently “Big Willy Style” is unconscious.
Embracing the golden age of hip hop, Organic Flow seeks to recapture the eclectic, politically motivated hip hop music of old. And since their early days jamming in guitarist Mike Cantafio’s basement, Organic Flow has been doing just that.
Formed in March of 2006 in Oak Park, Ill., the band’s wonderfully eclectic hip hop/jazz/blues sound features influences from everyone from John Coltrane to Led Zeppelin, and Bill Stewart to Mos Def.
“It started with me and the guitarist and bass player just jamming. We weren’t even sure we wanted to be hip hop based,” said Ranney. “Mike mentioned that he had played with Liam in the past and he just came in and started playing with us.”
Bird joined the group as the emcee and started writing rhymes to go along with Ranney’s drums, Cantafio’s guitar and David Gillman’s bass. The quartet added a saxophonist, Kevin Swanson, whose role is currently filled by Mikael Templeton while Swanson is in Chile for a semester, and the quintet started trying to fit their varied musical styles together.
At the heart of Organic Flow are Bird’s rhymes. Politically infused and sung sharply with a cool, laid back tone, Bird takes on everything from the condition of commercial slaughterhouses in the rock guitar riffed, “Food for Thought,” to Darfur, the war in Iraq and institutionalized racism, just to name a few.
“Basically, it’s me whining on stage,” joked Bird. “We just promote social justice. I try to raise awareness through the music. If it’s something that’s important to me, I’ll rhyme about it.”
Backing Bird’s vocals are bluesy, jazzy guitar riffs, and a bass, drums and saxophone combination that invokes memories of John Coltrane, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Sly and the Family Stone.
“They have such an original sound. They have a hip hop sound – R & B, but with a jazz thing going on,” said fan William Wood.
Since their transplant from Oak Park to CU, things have been flowing smoothly for Organic Flow. The band played their first show in CU at the Taste of Nevada Street in August, almost as soon as they arrived.
“That show got us another, which got us another, and that show got us another and so on,” said Ranney. “It just worked out that way. We didn’t know we would be playing half as many shows as we are when we got down here.”
Word about Organic Flow’s original style has spread quickly, already earning the band Local Music Award nominations not only in the category of “Best New Artist,” but also “Best Hip Hop Artist,” joining local hip hop celebrities Krukid and Agent Mos on the ballot.
“It feels great! We’re just happy to be on the same list as Krukid and Agent Mos,” said Bird. “If Krukid doesn’t win, man, it’ll be ridiculous,” he added.
Perhaps the largest sign of their success will come tonight as they take the stage as headliners for The Mic Strikes Back, a hip hop smorgasbord presented by the UC Hip-Hop Congress as part of Hip Hop Appreciation Week. The show is being billed as seven hours of music for seven dollars and features such other notable artists as Jonah, Agent Mos and Krukid.
Their status as headliners at The Mic Strikes Back is only one of the signs that Organic Flow’s fan base is expanding in and around CU. The group is playing nine shows in the month of April, including one at the North Shore Hip Hop Festival in Ontario, Canada.
“We’ve played a variety of different shows and played for a variety of different audiences. We definitely have a growing fan base,” said Ranney
Organic Flow is currently working on a full-length release due out in October. So far the group has six songs completed and is looking to release the as yet untitled album with between 11 and 12 tracks. The album, referred to by Ranney as “the baby Liam is about to have,” will touch on a variety of the band’s usual political topics including the environment, feminism, and the war in Iraq. A variety of musicians and emcees, including Agent Mos, will likely make appearances.
Will Smith likely will not.