Music : Moving to a different beat: Complex Humans
Rap is difficult. An abbreviation for "rhythm and poetry," it is a form of music, and like any form of music, it doesn't follow rules, it is whatever the artists make it into.
Complex Humans, a group composed mostly of recently graduated regional high school seniors, is the Island's most prominent homegrown rap group.
For those who have never seen Complex Humans play with their live band, the Rejive Orchestra, the sight can be striking. Picture four linebacker-sized emcees with microphones in hand, bobbing their heads and imparting elegiac choruses over a beat performed live with drums, bass, guitar, sax and violin, while a DJ scratches vinyl under the rising notes of the R&B-style backup singer. The 10-person performance packs more than one might expect from a rap show.
"Having the large group gives you a bigger talent pool; when we have a finished product, we're confident with it," says Complex Humans' emcee Matt Lucier. "We want to get into the studio to make a small demo, but we're not going to force it. If it doesn't come, that's fine." The three other complex emcees are Bubba Brown, Henry Pikor, and Andrew Larsen.
In the meantime, the group seeks to perform and create as much music as possible before the members head off to college, but even then, the end of summer is not a creative death knell. Says Mr. Lucier, "The Internet is crazy. For example, a DJ could make a beat with parts for four emcees, and then email the beat to each of us, and then we could each email our verses back to the DJ and keep making songs from across the country."
Over the past weekend, the group performed two shows. The first was outside of Che's Lounge, and was played with the full band complement. Beats that were written by Deejay Hath (Tyler Hathaway) on computer were fully realized by the live instruments of the Rejive Orchestra (Mike Alberice on drums, Stuart Rodegast on bass, Will Oberfest on guitar, Tessa Wall on violin, and Lucas Emin on sax). The sound of the band pulled passersby off Main Street into the alley where unsuspecting listeners discovered that rap doesn't have to attack you, but can just as easily and effectively groove and vibe.
Like any form of music, there is nothing rap has to do and an infinite number of interpretable possibilities, it can do. The stereotypical urban rapper rolling within his reputation is not a target for emulation. Emcee Brown starts off his verse in the song "Pierced" with the line, "I don't flow to impress cats/I flow to blow off stress raps."
Mr. Brown's poise was put to the test as Saturday's show at Outerland was sparsely attended. But the group stepped up, unnerved, simply adapting their set and keeping the show moving. They demonstrated that rap is not about cheering crowds or rowdy mindsets but about expression, proposed through a microphone and married to a beat.
From locals who have become popular musicians to popular musicians who have become locals, the Island has sustained and cultivated many styles of music. It remains to be seen if Island hip-hop can continue to grow in appeal and legitimacy, but with groups like Complex Humans continuing to perform and improve, there seems to be no reason why it shouldn't succeed.
Ben Williams, a writer and rapper, is a recent graduate of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.