thePhantom – “Bohemian Seduction Grooves”

By Joel Francis
Ink Magazine

“Seduction” is the key word in the thesis-length title of thePhantom’s new EP, Bohemian Seductive Grooves for the Gay Soul. But thePhantom, aka Kansas City rapper/producer Kemet Coleman, would rather have you in his head than in his bed.

The five-track release is thePhantom’s attempt to translate the urban theory he’s been soaking up as a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City into urban beats and rhymes. Dropouts needn’t worry. The vibe is more relaxed than the last day of school, with wordplay more effortless than a third-grade spelling test.

The low-key production on opening track “Midnight Seduction” sets the mood. ThePhantom’s words are set against a wash of synthesizers perfect for that late-night comedown when the energy starts to fade but sleep is still a long way off. “Downtown,” the second cut, bumps the tempo, but the rest of the album plays like lost tracks from a chill-out compilation.

ThePhantom says his master plan is to unite Kansas City’s diverse citizenry on the dance floor, a place where both blue-collar and artisans are equally comfortable. Of course if that effort creates a gathering of eligible women, thePhantom’s fine with that, too. On “Just Right” he makes the case for romance without stooping to the crass cliches common to the genre.

On December’s Destroy and Rebuild, thePhantom had an entire album to present his titular concept. Padded with a five-minute instrumental, the EP’s 22 minutes are ample time for thePhantom to gather his bohemians and gay souls, but not long enough to keep them on the dance floor. The result feels more like an outline than the conclusion. Sadly, that’s exactly what this is. ThePhantom has announced this EP will be his final project. Even so, he leaves behind a body of work worth further study.

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Jazz, hip hop collide to celebrate landmark album


Jazz, hip hop collide to celebrate landmark album

(Above:  “The Sixth Sense”  – A classic joint from a classic album.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Trumpet player Hermon Mehari of Diverse kept a copy of Common’s landmark hip hop album “Like Water for Chocolate” in his car for two years, but it wasn’t until he saw Les Izmore at the Czar Bar in January that he knew what he wanted to do with it.

The idea was as ambitious as the album Mehari wanted to celebrate: to combine the jazz chops of Diverse with Izmore’s hip hop style. Both outfits are staples of the local music scenes that rarely overlap.

“The people in the jazz scene often worry why people don’t go out, but the truth is some people don’t have a reason to go to Jardine’s or the Blue Room,” Mehari said. “Likewise, a lot of people may never have been to a hip hop show before. Hopefully this will give everyone a reason to get out more.”

Izmore frequently performs both on his own and with the Afro-beat collective Hearts of Darkness. Diverse made a big splash on the jazz scene when Bobby Watson unveiled the combo in 2008. They kept the momentum alive with a self-titled debut the following year and several high-profile shows and collaborations.

“Diverse has wanted to do a cross-genre collaboration for a while,” Melhari said. “I heard Les that night and was impressed. Could to tell from Les’ rhythms he liked all of that.”

By “all of that” Mehari means Common, Black Star, the Roots and the other members of the late-‘90s New Native Tongues movement in hip hop. The low-key faction turned their backs on the hard, gangsta stance of the moment to focus on socially conscious lyrics backed with soulful or jazz-influenced production.

“Hermon pretty much said he want to link up in the future,” Izmore said. “I was definitely interested, but I didn’t know he already had an idea. When he brought up ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ I was like hell yeah. That’s one of my favorite albums ever.”

On Friday, March 19, Izmore and Diverse will collaborate and celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Like Water For Chocolate” at the Czar Bar.

That album’s music, there’s no album with the sound like they have,” Izmore said. “That was my way into (Afro-beat legend) Fela (Kuti) because (his son) Femi is on there. That album can get you into so much stuff. You have the jazz guys, the hip hop, DJ Premier, Jill Scott. It’s a who’s who of that time. These are some of the best artists of their time.”

The “Like Water for Chocolate” roster also includes jazz trumpet player Roy Hargrove, rappers Mos Def and Slum Village, DJ Premier, Black Thought, Rahzel and Questlove from the Roots, soul singers D’Angelo, Macy Gray and Bilal and future Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo. Producer James Yancey, or J Dilla, a longtime friend of Common’s who had worked with A Tribe Called Quest, tied all the elements together.

In keeping with the spirit of the album, Izmore and Diverse will have a few friends on hand to help them out as well. Hearts of Darkness singer Brandy Gordon will take on all the female vocal parts, and Lee Langston will stand in for D’Angelo, Bilal and Cee-Lo. Local MCs Reach and Vertigone also help out.

“We will definitely keep the jazz tradition and hip hop tradition of improve and freestyle alive,” Izmore said. “We’re not going to do the album straight through, and we might even skip a song or two. We want to leave a lot of room for improv.”

As an MC who grew up with the album, Izmore said he needed little preparation for the show. Diverse had the tougher job translating and arranging the record’s sounds and textures.

“We all expected this show to be harder than jazz shows because of a lot of the intricacies,” Mehari said. “Some of the things you have to do goes against the nature of a jazz musician. Like in jazz there are usually a lot of changes, but here because of the loops you have to find ways to be creative within that repetition.”

Izmore and Diverse worked out their parts separately, then rehearsed together in the weeks leading up to the performance.

“When I first heard them I was ecstatic,” Izmore said. “I knew it was going to be a fun night, because they got it down. It doesn’t sound like jazz players doing hip hop.”

Mehari said he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction in the jazz community.

“When Diverse played a house party at 57th and Ward Parkway, people there asked me what we had coming up,” Mehari said. “I wouldn’t have expected them to get excited, but they did.”

With its socially conscious poetry, innovative rhythms and intricate rhymes, Mehari said “Like Water For Chocolate” forced him to grow as an artist. Now he’s hoping to use the album to expand the horizon’s of Kansas City’s music community.

“This is how the scene grows,” Mehari continued. “I think people are too reliant on fans. I think it’s our job as artists to take things higher.”

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Review: Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek

(Above: “Back Again” from the forthcoming Talib Kweli/Hi-Tek album.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Ten years ago, rapper Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek united to produce two of the genre’s landmark albums. Teaming with Mos Def they created “Black Star;” on their own they released “Train of Thought.”  The duo celebrated their past and future before a nearly full Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan. on Sunday night.

The set started with a new song which showcased Kweli’s dense delivery and more-words-per-breath approach. From there the evening got more familiar with “Move Something” and “Eternalists,” two of several cuts to come off “Train of Thought.”

With barely a breather in between, the songs came in rapid-fire succession: “Too Late,” “Definition,” “Africa Dreams,” “Love Language,” “Down for the Count,” “Respiration,” “Memories Live.” Each number brought a big response -– a sea of hands and chorus of vocals.

Early in the set the pair switched spots, with Kweli on the turntables and Hi-Tek prowling the front of the stage in rhyme. The performances were passable, but neither as in his element. Kweli later ceded the mic again to DJ a 10-minute medley of songs Hi-Tek has produced for others. Most of the cuts were drawn from his trilogy of “Hi-Teknology” albums.

Hi-Tek was just as accommodating as DJ, working in ample Kweli hits produced by others like’s “Hot Thing,” Just Blaze’s “Hostile Gospel,” Madlib’s “Over the Counter.” The room broke into pandemonium when Hi-Tek dropped into a loop of Kanye West’s “Get ‘Em High.” Instead of reprising the verse he cut for West’s album, though, Kweli freestyled, dropping references to the University of Kansas. It may have been pandering, but it was very effective.

For past tours, Kweli has brought backing vocalists and other onstage help. None of that was necessary this night. With Hi-Tek behind the turntables and on a riser, the MC had all the support and camaraderie he needed.

Live hip-hop is a deservedly suspicious beast. Many an MC has been cut to size by a performance that fails to replicate the studio magic and a DJ who cannot conjure the vibe. Hi-Tek’s varied samples, encompassing African rhythms, quiet storm, reggaeton and more, kept the music sonically interesting, while Kweli continually proved his microphone prowess.

The main set ended with two of the evening’s strongest songs. “Back Again” was another new song. Laced with African drums and R&B vocals it sounded like a “Train of Thought” outtake. The crowd wasn’t familiar enough to be singing along yet, but before Kweli’s next swing through town they will be. The audience had no problem, though, chiming in for “Get By,” Kweli’s biggest number and set closer.

After 70 minutes the concert morphed into an after-party. Audience members were invited onstage while Kweli and Hi-Tek played past and current hip-hop favorites. After a couple numbers, the stage was so crowded the headlining duo were barely visible.

Once the after-party started, the crowd split two ways: half took to the stage and the rest of us, faced with a drive back to Kansas City in a hard rainstorm, headed for the door.