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[ stereo: the evolution of hiprocksoul ]


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Stereo: The Evolution of Hiprocksoul - Click to view!The song "Move On", one of the standout tracks from genre-defying collective 4th Avenue Jones' album No Plan B Pt. II (2002) likely had nothing to do with the band's saga with Interscope Records, but it might as well have. Over and over was sung words that might well have become prayer in the coming years: "Don't be comin' with no drama / Don't be comin' with that."

Interscope signed them earlier this century, no doubt enabling 4th Ave. to share the stage with the likes of Macy Gray, Black Eyed Peas, Sheryl Crow, even James Brown. But the label kept them in "touring limbo", according to a recent press release, and never released Pt. II. They returned to the indie ranks, releasing another album which featured guest appearances from Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Pigeon John, GRITS and the Peas' will.i.am before signing with Gotee not long ago.

Through it all, the band was able to develop a truly original and eclectic style dubbed hiprocksoul which, as you'd expect, is largely an amalgam of those three genres. While the band's early efforts focused on Roots-style hip-hop, their latest effort, Stereo..., finds Ahmad singing as much as he raps, and the band crafting a sound you've likely never heard before.

The album begins in earnest with "Fabulous Dramatics," in which the singer struggles with recurring memories of a previous love who simply won't leave him alone. "Unhappy Birthday" is a wholly excellent track in which Ahmad pledges unbridled love for Tena, his wife and 4th Ave.'s other vocalist: "Baby, with you gone / I won't enjoy the food / I won't enjoy the music or the songs."

"Overloaded" and "Take Me Away" are drastically different in terms of their sound—one is a smouldering ballad while the latter is a groove-heavy banger vaguely similar to Tupac's "Picture Me Rollin'". But thematically they're quite alike—the vocalists in each call upon another—either God or another loved one—to help them deal with stress and overbearing circumstances.

"Sorry," listed next on our promotional copy of the album, is another relationship-related song, but together with "Monumental Continental" is one of the set's weaker tracks. Both are less inventive and certainly less ambitious than most of the rest of the album and leave the listener wanting.

Stereo... doesn't really pick up again until "Rush," which riffs on a number of subjects before ending abruptly and giving way to "It's Over Now," a coup de grace and easily one of the album's best cuts.

This latest evidence of the evolution of hiprocksoul is sure to catch off guard those who know the Ave. only from their No Plan B days, and will turn a few heads. As a vocalist Ahmad is best when he raps, but seems to know his band and his singing voice well enough to marry them with success. Tena is perhaps under-utilized, but the instrumentalists appear to have been given a larger role and perform extremely well.

All this aside, 4th Ave. is a band to watch in the coming months, and Stereo... is an album you should probably own.
- Ben Forrest
May 2005
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