Reverb and the Verse entered the Denver hip-hop scene in 1999. Jahi Simbai, who performs as Providence “The Verse,” and Shane Etter are the founding members. They met while working in corporate engineering in Boulder. Once they began trading cassette tapes of beats and lyrics, they could not stop.
The duo tackles relatable themes like love, pain, triumph and fear while keeping the music connected to who they are as artists and pushing boundaries. Sounds like a lot to balance, right? For Etter and Simbai, it’s simple. They follow the acronym DWYF: Do what you feel. From their early formation until now, eighteen years later, they are making music that pleases themselves first and allows the rest to follow.
“We make music for us and our ears and what makes us feel something right then and there,” Etter says. “And in our wildest dreams, people might feel it, too.”
When the two began performing in the early 2000s, they entered the scene at a time when hip-hop typically had one beat and a bass line. Reverb and the Verse did not match that criteria.
“We would show up with a drum kit and a keyboard. People would look at us like we were from outer space,” Etter explains. “Our music wasn’t just rap, and it wasn’t just hip-hop. We did not have a drum machine or backup dancers. We did not fit in. But around 2003 or 2004, when electronic hip-hop became a thing, we fell into that.”
Still, audiences struggled to figure out the duo's genre as well as their individual roles.
“We were bringing diversity to people who didn’t understand what that meant,” Simbai says. “People didn’t understand that [Etter] made the beats. We got a lot of weird looks, but people saw our passion and enjoyed it. They didn’t think we were whack, but they weren’t looking to buy CDs or to find us online.”
After establishing a firm foundation and balance between beats produced by Etter and lyrics by Simbai, they opened the door for other members to join. Over the last few years, Tisha Paradis, David Blalock and Demetrius Parker, known as D-Trust, have joined the mix on drums and vocals. Reverb and the Verse have described themselves on Facebook as a “five-person duo.”
The DIY scene in Denver and a DIY ethic has played an important role in the evolution of Reverb and the Verse; they design their own cover art, write their own lyrics and refuse to follow a formula. As they tell it, Denver doesn't produce formulaic bands, and that's one of the reasons it's a great music town where creative freedom is unparalleled.
“Others feel [that growing up in Colorado] sheltered us,” Etter explains. “But we have a thirst and fire for what is outside of Colorado. I wonder if our curiosity outside of ourselves has created something you can’t pin down. Our want for escape drove our music.”
Reverb and the Verse just released their seventh album, VII. Although they have been performing and creating for the better part of two decades and have earned veteran status, they admit that they still feel like rookies and are still shocked and flattered that a larger audience enjoys their sound. They hope to maintain that “new feeling” as they go forward producing music and performing.
“I like the exuberance of being a rookie,” Simbai says. “In the big dance, excited to be there, ready to prove his or herself, and hopefully humble and confident at the same time. I want that exuberance. I never want to give it up.... I don’t want to say we’re starry-eyed, in awe of the game; we’re just respectful of the ‘process’ of growth in this business. We know what we’re doing, and we still have a lot to learn.”
Reverb and the Verse will perform at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Syntax Physic Opera.