When my parents screamed at me for listening to that “Commie music” in the Sixties, I swore I’d never do that to my kids.
I did, of course, but here’s another chance. And it turns out there is a plan behind the mostly unintelligible lyrics and aggressive posturing of rap and hip-hop performers. I learned that this week in a chat with Brad Rothwell, producer and band member of Supernova Fieldtrip, an Island band getting some buzz this season.
Supernova Fieldtrip, featuring the growly Mr. Rothwell (aka hrwells), the wildly-costumed Mike Rebello (aka mikey powerz), and Josh Robinson-White (aka jrw) appear at The Lampost in Oak Bluffs on June 24 to benefit the MSPCA. Supernova DJ Mingo will push the vinyl before the set begins at 10 pm.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Rothwell, 29, took a break — sort of — from his amped stage persona to discuss rap, hip hop, and its place in our galaxy. He understands the history and purpose of the genre.
“I listened to a lot of rock and heavy metal as a kid. Then in the early Nineties, the New York hip hop scene exploded, and the artists were all making it themselves. That’s where it started — East-Coast based, New York Nineties hip hop.
“There were a lot of new, interesting rappers with things they thought were important to say. A new form of communication. The record industry got scared and took it over, hijacked it, really. They created artists, put out artists like fast food. But there was no soul there, they used people from Nickelodeon and Mickey Mouse. Just rapping about your car and money is stupid, not relevant. Dumbing us down.
“I mean, maybe it still works, getting a record deal, but the record labels are limping right now. You don’t need a record label. With the internet, you can promote yourself,” he said.
As he explained it, the essence of a rap band is the idea of individual viewpoints coming together as a single entity. For example, “Mikey powerz raps about cars and money and stuff and it’s good. He’s good at it, but it’s not all he does.”
Rap music begins with the beat, which inspires the theme, the lyrics, and the “hook” or verse, a fairly disciplined process. “No,” he laughed, “It’s not like Eminem on the bus in [the movie] ‘Eight Mile.’ Mr. Rothwell spends a lot of time creating beats and the group listens to them, or brings their own beats, then write what a beat inspires in them.
“The beat drives the lyrics. If I’m making a slow melodic beat, that won’t produce party lyrics, but if it’s full of energy it can be a dance track, I can keep it loose,” he said. “I don’t want to sound preachy, jam my ideas down their throat, and in a club no one cares about that right then. In a club, political views are obnoxious, not what fans are there for,” he said
Both Mr. Rothwell and Mr. Robinson-White are also making solo CDs with Mr. Rothwell’s slated for early to mid-July release, but the men are staying together as a band, he said. The band has five music videos available on YouTube with “Twist a Bone” the most listened to track with 6,659 views as of Tuesday. The videos are visually arresting and professionally executed by Islanders Mike James, Chris Laursen, and Mr. Rothwell.
What are his views? Listen to his voice. Hear any familiar strains? “More social issues than political. What direction are we going in? Is this what we really want? Doesn’t seem so right now. My new CD has a track called ‘America’ with the lyric ‘it’s not political, it’s strictly analytical.’ Look at what’s going on.
“You can see the changes even from when I was a kid. We’d go to the soccer field or a park and play in a group. Now it’s straight home and into the chat room, alone.
“There doesn’t seem as much unity as there was. Probably it’s our fault. It’s up to us how we use these electronic tools to keep us together. Facebook is good if it’s used right. I can keep in touch with friends in Europe. Ten or 20 years ago? Maybe a phone call once a year. Now, you can make an online event. Tools bring us closer together — or you’re sitting in your room alone. You can write on a [Facebook] wall if that’s what your interest is, or you can holler to friends to bring their stuff to your house and get together,” he said.
The music, Mr. Rothwell says, is not about fame or fortune. “I bang nails for a living and I pay my bills. I don’t care about money and stuff. That’s not what life is about.”
Mr. Rothwell seemed aware of our generational difference. “Hey, come by on Friday even if you don’t like the music,” he said. “It’s worth it just to see mikey powerz’s outfit.”
Supernova Fieldtrip, Friday, June 24, 9 pm–1:30 am, The Lampost, Oak Bluffs. Feat. DJ Mingo.
Jack Shea, of Vineyard Haven, is a regular contributor to The Times.