Brooklyn’s Pitchblak Brass Band swings by the Pour House tonight for what promises to be one of the best hip-hop shows you’re likely to see this year in the Holy City. One of the big reasons for that: the guys in Pitchblack — including Charleston native T.J. Robinson— not only know how to hold a mic, they’re all crack musicians. Robinson, for one, is both a tuba player and MC.
We sent a few questions over to the Chanell Crichlow (sousaphone/MC) and Robison to talk about their live show and the challenges of rapping and playing an instrument. Here’s what they had to say.
City Paper: Chanell, you handle both the tuba and MC duties. Can you tell us about the challenges of handling both, the thrill of doing it?
Crichlow: It’s a lot of fun to be playing tuba and MCing, I like switching off and working harder to get better at both. The challenge mostly comes in the band’s arrangements and compositions, trying to figure out how to write a part without a bass line so that I’ll be able to rap. I really want us to take on the challenge when it comes to this and really explore new and interesting ways to incorporate different textures and moods. Who knows, maybe something really special can come out of it. It gets really trill when all of sudden the audience sees me rap for the first time. I think the reaction is surprised and then “whoa, that’s sweet” — I dunno if it’s more surprising because I’m a woman or that I’m doing it while a sousaphone lays on my shoulders. It’s pretty exciting to me that we have such diversity in our rap styles. We have something mostly everyone can relate to and I love being part of that and hopefully opening up people’s eyes to something different.
CP: One of the more disappointing aspects of a typical hip hop show is that even when the MCs are among the best, when the music is pre-recorded, it always sounds flat and there’s no unity between the music and the MC. How does have a live band overcome this?
Robinson: I think that a live band a lot of times overshadows a pre-recorded track simply because of the interaction between the audience and the craftsman. If you get to see the instrumental aspect live, you can sometimes better appreciate the virtuosic aspect of the music. Pre-recorded tracks are only a little more than a century year old, and live music with musicians has been in human history for thousands of years. That’s what I think brings out that connection with the audience — it’s all about culture. Now that’s not to say that pre-recorded tracks are obsolete or anything like that because some amazing things have been done. It’s just a different experience. For example, when you are listening to a studio track on headphones, it’s all about the music connection with solely your emotions. When it’s live though, the artists are speaking with you, you are speaking with them, and the whole crowd interacts with each other. We humans are social tribal creatures and want to be apart of something. Live music encourages you to participate with everyone. And sometimes when you have both prerecorded or electric sounds with live music, if it’s done right, you can really create something special. I think we all crave a desire for the human element in a lot of the things we do.
CP: The debut album, which is pretty badass, is chock full of instrumentals, which’ll really go over well with the Pour House crowd — they’re a hippie dancing lot. Anyhow, why are straight instrumentals important to the band, when you guys could very well have lyrics on every track.
Robinson: All good songs with vocals from whatever genre tend to always have good music, or at least something very interesting sonically. Sometimes the music is more memorable than the actual lyrics. You can’t build a house without a foundation, and I think that having a pure instrumental is a way to get people to really vibe with the rhythmic aspect of the music. Some of my favorite times growing up listening to music would be where when the beat would ride out in the end after the vocals and you get to hear all of the inner workings of the music. And of course sometimes you just want to dance! The variety in the music allows people to appreciate it from different perspectives.