By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
We've all seen the fierce images of the hungry lion chomping down on the harmless gazelle on the Discovery Channel. Although your emotions may cause you to cringe at the helpless animal being attacked, your instincts tell you something different: The kill is just a necessary part of the circle of life. Without it, things would be thrown off balance — a concept that the Food Chain wholeheartedly embraces.
"The Food Chain is universal," declares MC Championsoundkillablack. "We feed off of one another in a very symbiotic fashion. We feel like the source has put us here for more than just making music to make money. The food chain encompasses every aspect of life, from the sun to the sea, to the ecosystem, to a nigga sticking a gun in somebody's ribs so he can eat. We're living life as a collective to uplift the social construct. It's all through the universal language of music."
And what a collective it is. The Food Chain is something of a hip-hop supergroup featuring Championsoundkillablack and a cast of stellar producers, MCs, vocalists and DJs including Mic Coats, C1, Natalie Tatum, DJ Louiscide, Mass Prod, FL, Akil and Ike Luva.
While the concept of a supergroup is certainly nothing new, especially in Denver, there's something about this particular crew that's attracted the attention of some noteworthy people. Since forming just a little over a year ago, the Food Chain has already earned the critical stamp of some of hip-hop's most coveted acts: Rapper Big Pooh (half of Little Brother), Joe Scudda and Chaundon each appear on the group's upcoming debut album.
The funny thing is, even with the acclaim the Food Chain has garnered so far, no one really knows much about it. Out of the gate, the act peaked bloggers' interest and garnered a Best of Denver nod from this fishwrap before even releasing a project — or even creating a MySpace page, for that matter.
"There's a level of mystery to Food Chain that we like," confirms longtime producer Mass Prod, who had gained a local following in his own right before attaching himself to the collective. "[People] weren't able to draw on reps or resumés — they had to focus on the music."
And therein lies the true appeal of the Food Chain and its members: the music. It's what brought them together, and it's what they're banking on to make them one of the most respected indie hip-hop groups this side of Washington, D.C.'s Diamond District. The outfit's sound appears to be limitless, shaped by the alt-rock, jazz, soul, boom-bap and hip-hop that they all grew up listening to and admiring. With numerous genres coursing through their veins, the members' connection was as natural as the sounds they'd eventually create.
"We had been doing music for quite a while together, and in the winter of 2008, we started looking at a catalogue of songs we recorded," recalls Mic Coats. "We were kinda like a rock band. We really didn't actually decide to be a group. Outside forces decided for us."
While the members are still amazed at how everything fell into place — they've known each other through mutual acquaintances for years — they're even more impressed by how swift the reaction was after Coats secretly decided to start leaking songs they'd casually recorded together.
As soon as the group started generating a buzz, Mic Coats recalls, "we rushed to put a project together because we saw the potential." The resulting album, a self-titled ten-track effort, was released in April of last year and has gone on to sell nearly 9,000 copies with very little promotion, gaining props from celebrated artists such as Talib Kweli, whom the act has shared the stage with in the past. The unique musicality that each member brings to the table, they insist, is what makes the Food Chain work.
"You gotta come into a marriage as a whole person," notes Champ, one of the more vocal members of the group. "So the experiences we've all had have led us up to this point. We're like a powerhouse. I've never felt as confident with my music as I feel at this time, with these artists around me."
The Food Chain EP is a solid reflection of the confidence that Champ speaks of so freely. Defying any typecasting, the project swells with socio-political messages on tracks like the organic "Runnin in Place" and street tales on cuts like "City of the Snow," while club banger "I'm Feelin Myself" deftly demonstrates the collective's crafty wordplay.
With all of the early acclaim, it's only fitting that on the brink of releasing their debut album, Corpses — due out February 10 at exactly 2:10 a.m. — the members are more than a little nervous. While they describe their connection as almost spiritual and the grassroots sound of their music can't be denied, the truth is, a lot is riding on this release.
"It's been a lot of pressure," Mass Prod admits, "because we know a lot of people are watching now."
"As much as you want to tell yourself you're doing [the music] for you," adds Champ, "the truth is, we're trying to break into the game. Trying to operate with integrity and trying to appease the people looking in from the outside at the same time has been troubling at times."
Nerves aside, there is one thing these folks are certain about: their music. The music has been naturally orchestrated, without any creative contention — and although they may argue like siblings, at the end of the day they're on the same page musically.
"[Our sound] happens so spontaneously," maintains C1, adding that songs like the album's poignant "Inertia" demonstrate the depth of their sound. "It's not like we tried to create this sound. The sound is bigger than us. We get in the studio, and before you know it, one guy is in the booth and — voilà!"
Mass Prod, a veteran producer who returned from Atlanta to Denver after realizing the Food Chain's potential, describes the album as "lo-fi AM compression." In other words, don't expect to hear any songs deliberately crafted for mainstream radio or the strip club. The Food Chain doesn't even care about signing with a label, rhetorically questioning why any artist would want to "whore themselves out." That's the very reason Big Pooh, who appears on "Rich Girl," says he was eager to get involved with the project.
"I support good music," says Pooh, who has worked with everyone from Lil Wayne to Kanye West and Bun B. "We had begun a working relationship prior to the feature request, and I felt it was necessary to do my part."
Pooh reasons that coming from a place that isn't widely known for hip-hop could even play to their advantage. "I couldn't tell you what a Denver artist is supposed to sound like," he acknowledges. "By them being from Denver, I definitely believe it will help their cause to be heard. It almost parallels the beginnings of Little Brother, when people were familiar with the sound but not its coming from a certain location."
To that end, the Food Chain is aiming to kill any preconceived notions of what Mile High hip-hop is supposed to sound like with its elastic sense of musicality. In other words, the group is doing its part to help maintain balance and order within the oversaturated world of hip-hop.