If you ask the three members of the Procussions what's missing from today's hip-hop, they'll tell you straight up: substance. "Everything seems to be really stale," says MC Resonant, who pulls double duty as DJ for the Colorado Springs-turned-L.A.-based hip-hop combo. "If you're not a super battle-rhymer, then you're a jiggy dude or you're a gangster. If you look at other genres of music, they write about anything and it's not uncommon."
These days, most rap artists take a formulaic approach. On any given album, there's the club song, the gangsta track and cuts celebrating the conspicuous consumption of women and money. But the Procussions -- Resonant, Mr. J and Stro the 89th Key -- aren't most rap artists.
"One thing that lacks in hip-hop writing is just everyday stuff," Res says. "A lot of songs are really fabricated. It's like, 'I'm so bad, I can do this.' Or 'I got so much money, I can do this.' Or 'I got so many women... And you know, 99 percent of it is not true. It's fantasizing.
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"I think hip-hop, as far as the songwriting, needs to kind of grow up," he continues. "And that's what I would like to see the Procussions do. If we can make our mark on hip-hop, I would like to be seen as the guys who took rhyming -- 'talking over beats', as they say -- and started creating deeper songs that people can dig on."
The Procussions have done a lot of growing up. The act was formed in 1998, after two opposing breakdancing squads decided to squash their collective beefs and join forces.
"There were two crews in Colorado Springs: SOL, the crew with me, Stro and my cousin Q, and a different crew called TSF, with Vice Versa, who also used to be in the Procussions, and Mr. J," Res recalls. "In hip-hop, there is this whole macho thing going on as far as 'We need to be the best breakdancing crew.' Well, they had the same idea. So it was going on for a year, where we would go to the clubs every weekend and we would dance against each other. We looked around and realized that we were the only ones doing this, so we were like, "This is kind of stupid. We need to build and help each other instead of beefing all the time."
Starting out at local hip-hop nights and open-mike freestyle sessions, the new act immediately turned heads. But the turning point came through Resonant's association with a hip-hop specialty show on the University of Colorado's flagship station, Radio 1190. Res co-hosted Basementalism with Mike "Adict" Merriman -- who would later release the group's debut full-length, ...Iron Sharpens Iron, on his fledgling Basementalism label and become the act's manager -- and things started to happen for the Procussions.
"I was going to school in Denver, and Mike was going to school in Boulder," Res remembers. "We decided to take over the show and make it an established show and try to build the scene in Colorado. From there, we met all the promoters who wanted us to help promote their concerts."
One such promoter, Francois Baptiste of 3Deep Productions, put the act in opening slots for many of the shows that he was producing in the area. "The first he gave us was in 1999 with Black Sheep and Das EFX," says Res. "We were all very nervous. Francois thought we did good, but we thought we could do better."
Memories of their first Denver show are bittersweet for another reason. Resonant's cousin Q, who was active in the Procussions at the time, passed out on stage during that performance. "It came out later that he was diagnosed with MS, and that is when he decided to concentrate on his spirituality and health," says Res. "We still consider him a member of the Procussions; he's just on a break right now."
The reconfigured group went on to open for and tour with some of the more respected artists in hip-hop, including Common, the Pharcyde, Xzibit, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Run-DMC and Ugly Duckling, among others. And the buzz grew. When the Procussions released two twelve-inch singles -- "All That It Takes" and "Leave Her Alone" -- they got a big push from a heavy hitter in the hip-hop underground, Beni B, president of the Bay Area-based ABB Records.
"'All That It Takes' was actually the first song that was released," says Stro, a classically trained musician who plays guitar, piano, trumpet and drums. "We released that on our own, before we had anything to do with a label. We decided to put the single out and see what happened. Basically, off the strength of that single -- I'm not sure exactly who in ABB's offices heard it, but somebody heard it, and they took it to Beni B -- he gave us a call, and they decided they wanted to distribute the single. So we started that relationship, and that opened up a lot of doors."
"All That It Takes" peaked at number nine on the College Music Journal charts and landed in the Top 10 and Top 20 spots on the Urban Networks and Insomniac charts, respectively. Meanwhile, "Leave Her Alone" climbed to number four on Rap Attack's DJ charts.
The success of those singles helped pave the way for the trio's debut ...Iron Sharpens Iron, whose name refers to Proverbs 21:17. "Iron sharpens iron -- as in one brother sharpening another in conversation," Stro says. "We like to think of it as a type of thing where we make conversations and interactions with other people and we make each other stronger."
The trio hopes that 'Iron is strong enough to shatter the stereotypes of how a hip-hop record is supposed to sound. "Just in the way we make music, we get into a whole lot of different types of music," says Stro. "If you listen to the album, you can pick up on everybody's influences. We switch from being something more laid-back to something that's more heavy and more rocking to something that's just straight hip-hop."
This range is obvious on "Introducing." Mr. J brings a maniacal, energetic, Beastie Boys-like flow to the cut; Res's voice sounds as deep as the lyrics; and Stro's tasteful musicianship and laid-back, jazzy witticisms make it clear why he calls himself a "freedom-of-soul merchant."
On "We Gotta," whose adept production wouldn't sound out of place on a Pete Rock and CL Smooth record, the outfit raps about the need for self-motivation to achieve your goals. "We felt like we needed a bit of motivation," says Stro, "and that's pretty much a song where we were self-motivating ourselves."
They soon self-motivated themselves out West, where they realized they'd have to go to reach the next level. "We decided that the next step in our career -- so we could do this seriously and actually do music for a living -- was to move to L.A.," says Resonant.
Even though they still claim a die-hard allegiance to Colorado, they maintain that the best way they can get recognition for their home state is to succeed in the entertainment capital of the world. "We felt that Colorado needed to be represented on the map, and we wanted to represent who we are," Res says. "We are all Coloradans. Once Colorado gets on the map, through everyone's help, things will happen so you don't have to go to L.A. or New York."
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Initially, though, the move eighteen months ago was a reality check. "When you get out here, you realize that everybody was born with a microphone and a voice to rap," says Res, with a laugh. "You come out here, and you see that the local artists are the underground superstars. So it was basically like jumping out of an airplane with no parachute: You've got to learn how to fly really quick."
Fortunately, the Procussions got a boost from "superstars" in the area. "Ugly Duckling was probably one of the biggest helps of all the people we did meet at shows," says Stro of the act they'd opened for back in Boulder. Other influential people have been won over by the group's forward-thinking raps. Carmelita Sanchez, co-host of the "World Famous Wake Up Show" with Sway, Tech and DJ Revolution, which airs on L.A.'s Power 106 as well as San Francisco's 106 KMEL, calls herself a fan of the group. "She has been extremely helpful, as well as a bunch of other radio stations," says Res. And in three of the last four issues, URB magazine has given the guys positive press for their record and live performances.
The Procussions are on the verge of getting it on in a major way, of becoming one of the first Colorado hip-hop acts to become widely known outside the region. "It's really important that we keep our seed in Colorado and we keep our roots here," says Mr. J. "It's almost reassuring everybody that this is Colorado hip-hop. This is a group from Colorado that makes music with all our inspiration and everything we derive from Colorado, and we take Colorado elsewhere and then we come back home. It's all about friends and family. It's a big deal to us."
Welcome home, boys.