By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
In a tiny, cramped bedroom studio in east Denver, producer/MC Solpowa scrolls through beats on his computer while his cohort, MC Fist of Fury, aka Shunfist, alternately scribbles on a notepad and quietly recites the lines of verse he's just penned. The warm smell of colitas hangs in the air, and a vintage shot of Bob Marley keeps watch over the space, which is sparsely adorned with patches of sound insulation, faded press clippings and old show fliers. It's hard to believe that with only a minimal amount of outboard gear, this makeshift studio has produced some of the hottest hip-hop and R&B tracks to come out of Colorado.
"I got the best software I could, the stuff all the big boys use," Solpowa says. "I am really meticulous about the sound, though."
"It's all about creativity," Shunfist adds. "As you can see, it's not a big studio or nothing like that. It's nothing fancy. Earlier, if you were here, you would've seen everybody just talking, throwing out stupid ideas, saying funny shit, making each other laugh. That kind of stuff makes you sit down, relax and write. You're hearing all these dope-ass beats, and you're like, ŒThat's tight. That's tight. That's tight.' Then all of a sudden you'll hear this one beat, and something gets in your head, and you sit down and start writing."
The casual environment has certainly cultivated an endless wellspring of creativity. For proof, look no further than Tha Revolushun, RRAAHH Foundashun's third and most stellar release to date. Whereas the act's previous discs, Mt. Airophat and Reincarnashun, deftly showcased the MCs, whose individual styles vary dramatically from the forceful yet refined deliveries of Keo and Shunfist to the laid-back flows of Solpowa and Dent (Jose Valenzuela, Darius Vega, Derrick Rice and Adam Linnabary, respectively), the recordings themselves were a bit unvarnished and the beats less sophisticated. On Revolushun, however, it's clear that the group has begun to tap into its full potential, with production to rival the rhymes.
Listening to the aptly titled Low Budget Soulcompilation, which was released around the same time, you get the sense that RRAAHH Foundashun has barely scratched the surface. An exemplary 21-track effort, Low Budget spotlights a diverse array of the area's top MCs in a way that's remarkably cohesive, especially considering the number of artists involved. While there are plenty of exceptional tracks, the ones that stand out most belong to the Foundashun and its secret weapon, King Mississippi, an unparalleled -- and thus far criminally unheralded -- vocalist. Solpowa, who helmed the entire project, says the Low Budget sessions were pretty characteristic of how the RRAAHH crew operates in the studio.
"We're all family, man," Solpowa notes. "We all record here. Nobody's tied to a contract or anything. We just kind of freelance. Everybody's their own MC. Nobody has to be slave-whipped -- ŒGo out there and do this,' or ŒGo out and do that.'"
"I think the biggest thing is that we learn from each other," Shunfist elaborates. "I think that's what some cats don't do; there's too many egos. Thing is, within the family, we're not afraid to break each other's egos down. It's for the better, and everybody knows that. If Sol is telling me, 'Yo, man, that shit's wack,' I'd better come correct; I'd better go back in the lab and start studying. It's just constructive criticism all the way around. I think that's what makes the music so good."
That and Solpowa's undeniable Midas touch when it comes to beat-making and production. "Nothing would go down," Dent enthuses, "without this cat daddy Sol P, man."
Sol, however, humbly deflects that sentiment. "I'm always looking for beats from different producers," he states. "I can't be the best producer in the world, you know what I'm saying? You always need help from other cats. It's like, shoot, I'll take a beat from anybody if it's good. I ain't ever going to be just like, ŒMy beats are the shit. I can't listen to nobody else's shit.' I like to deal with a lot of different cats, because I learn from everybody. Somebody might know something better than I do. I'm always trying to learn."
"He's like the architect," Shunfist adds. "The rest of us are like the engineers. And the other cats that come in are the workers. We get everybody organized and then go out there and put that work in. We start from the ground up, and the next thing you know, you've got something built."
That's exactly how the RRAAHH Foundashun was poured. The original collective, which included Solpowa, Hood (Jamie Kennedy), and Pioneer and DJ Shuntastic (brothers Lamont and Damion Williams), came together in 1993 under the name New Breed. In 1996, when a deal with a local imprint fell through and Hood moved to New Mexico, the remaining members linked up with Keo (aka Life the MC), a labelmate whose deal also failed to materialize. Around that same time, Solpowa ran into former schoolmate Shunfist, and the newly rechristened act added him to the fold. "We all looked at each other and were like, ŒThis is it, right here,'" Shun recalls. "And then we spent every day together in the studio after that."