When High Five came together in 2012, the collective comprised solo artists who pooled their talents and resources in order to create something bigger than their individual efforts — a creative model not unlike that of Minneapolis’s Doomtree.
“That’s a very similar format to what we have in that they’re a collective and they come together to work on stuff, and they have their other projects, yet they’re all affiliated,” says Just Say Plz, who, together with D.H. Lawrence, produces beats for the group.
Inspired primarily by ’90s hip-hop like that of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Leaders of the New School, High Five has come up in Denver’s competitive hip-hop world by adhering to an older ethos, whereby an artist’s street cred and ability, more than hype and Internet fame, form the basis of his or her success. Those principles apply not only to the music, but also to the way in which the collective operates within the scene. According to the group, the results have been a mixed bag in terms of gaining recognition and opportunities; the members feel that unity, even in terms of mutual interests, is lacking in Denver.
“I recently read an article that talked about how in the late ’80s or early ’90s, club owners would latch on to talented bands and would pay the bands to entertain people; they wouldn’t depend on the bands to bring people,” says rapper B. Rex. “Now the dynamic has shifted, and how do we pack our clubs? Latch on to Internet artists and pack the venue based on kids who think they’re all going to be stars and have their shot at their dream and hustle tickets. [The artists] are not going to get any of it, but they’re going to be satisfied with [just getting on stage].” He adds, “I hate to tell people I’m a rapper, because you walk down the street and a bunch of people tell you they’re a rapper and here’s their mixtape.”
The cover of High Five’s latest self-titled EP features a boombox — a symbol of another era of hip-hop, when the mixtape was a literal cassette rather than a digital playlist.
“The boombox signifies a time we remember when we still had cassette tapes,” explains rapper Question. “It signifies the golden era of hip-hop.”
Although inspired by earlier eras of the genre, High Five avoids sounding merely retro by fusing many ideas from disparate influences. For example, Just Say Plz only began making hip-hop shortly before High Five started; prior to that, he’d been playing experimental guitar-based rock. But while hip-hop subgenres proliferate among fans as well as in the music press these days, High Five doesn’t fit easily into any of them.
“Every time someone’s put a label on us, it hasn’t set well with me,” says rapper Crimsen.
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“I would say a lot of our sound is underground, or you can deem it ‘backpack’ — but we don’t want to box ourselves in,” adds Question.
High Five’s view of the whole as being greater than the sum of its individual parts may seem quaint in the contemporary landscape. But maintaining that guiding principle may also allow the group to implement some quality control over its eclectic musical vision as it expands its audience.
“We want to go where there are a hundred hipsters and rock out,” Question says. “Or go to the east side, and a hundred Crips will rock out.”
With Homeboy Sandman and Rhythm Progression, 8 p.m. Wednesday, December 2, Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, 303-297-1772, 16+, $8-$12.