Koncept & J57 - Soulspazm


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Koncept & J57 create earnest Big Apple stadium bangers that carry a deep emotional resonance while still keeping the party rockin’. They were weaned on crate digging and local deep cuts, but have always kept one foot in the mainstream. It was this deep immersion into NYC’s hip-hop scene that brought the two together. Lyrically, Koncept delivers intimately biographical rhymes that explore where he’s at now by dissecting his past. His friend and cohort J57 adds his A-game production to the mix in a sweeping tapestry of boom-bap revival, orchestral synths & clever hooks. Now, as an ambitious producer/emcee team, the young veterans are ready to take their epic, relentless sound to the masses.

Koncept, the Queens-raised emcee, made a name for himself in the underground hip-hop trenches, but these days you can find him working with heavy hitters like Ty Dolla $ign, Pharoahe Monche, Big Daddy Kane, Doomtree, Tash of Tha Alkaholiks, Brand Nubian, Royce da 5’9” and Dead Prez. J57, the Long Island-raised/Brooklyn-based producer/rapper, has just as strong a resume—he counts the legendary DJ Premier as a mentor and has assisted the hip-hop architect on songs by Nas, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, A-list work that led to his own collaborations with Joey Bada$$, Method Man, Raekwon, Mack Wilds, The Roots and countless other influential artists.

Koncept & J57 met in 2008 while working at Fat Beats, the West Village record store that was the launchpad for so many underground rap artists while it was open from 1993-2010. Later, along with four Fat Beats co-workers, they formed Brown Bag AllStars, a rap collective that impressed with its tough-guy lyricism, eventually turning heads while opening for Ghostface Killah at Atlanta hip-hop festival and proving ground A3C.

In the wake of this incendiary performance, Red Bull Music chose Koncept as part of its artist development and discovery program SoundSelect. With this platform in mind, Koncept & J57 refocused their energies on music that would resonate with a wider audience. The result is their new EP The Fuel—a riveting underdog tale told as if the duo is looking back on its legacy a la ESPN’s SportsCentury. Fired up, Koncept details his hip-hop hustle over J57’s big-statement music, the whole affair filled with ecstatic anticipation for the real-life successes on the horizon.

The Fuel challenges listeners to decipher exactly what motivates our two heroes, while Koncept grapples with the very same question. On opening track “Porcelain”—featuring Hollis of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis “White Walls” fame—Koncept remembers fallen icons Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G. and Robin Williams as he reminds himself to breathe (“Inhale it to breathe now, I’m always exhausted / My fam thinks I’ve lost it, and you think I’m awesome, which really is it?”), but as he clarifies from the jump, he’s after more than just fame. The title track, featuring Brown Bag AllStars collaborator Akie Bermiss, lands closer to an answer, hinging on an anecdotal lyric inspired by Koncept’s own single-parent family: “A woman feeds her kid full meals, having no job / and she did it with her clothes on.”

As Koncept details his inspirations in rap and life, each of The Fuel’s eight songs feels like a revelation, thanks in no small part to the vibrant sonic canvasses of J57. While still employed at Fat Beats, J57 started creating beats that sounded bigger than anything he’d conjured before—and several appear now on The Fuel. These aren’t the dusty, soul-sample-driven tracks driving your typical ’90s-rap-channeling throwback artists; they are sonic cathedrals, complete with ceremonial organs and soulful backing vocals. And they’re fit for the arms-outstretched choruses of The Fuel, hooks provided by guest vocalists like Dice Raw (The Roots), Andrew Thomas Reid, Nevaeh (an 11-year-old prodigy), Denitia, and The Grand Concourse, as well as the aforementioned Hollis and Bermiss. “It feels like you just won the league championships for your softball team,” J57 says of the EP’s pumped-up title track. “Everybody’s going crazy, and you just got Gatorade dumped on you.”

With The Fuel, these rising artists build on their underground hip-hop success, proving that in addition to being technically proficient (as they’d already displayed with Brown Bag AllStars), they’re also capable of adding a strong emotional core to their music. It’s a gift they know can take them far. “Somebody who’s a fan of backpacker hip-hop would love Koncept just as much as somebody who’s a fan of Miley Cyrus and only knows rappers from the radio,” J57 says.

“I grew up on hip-hop,” Koncept adds, “but I’m also inspired by Radiohead and The Mars Volta—good, meaningful, powerful and emotional music that just gives you a feeling. It’s what I’ve always searched for in my sound, and what I’ve finally found in these new joints with J57.”

The Fuel is scheduled to drop November 20, 2015, paving the way for Koncept & J57’s forthcoming debut LP, Flight, coming in 2016. Stay tuned.

The Fuel EP on iTunes! https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-fuel-ep/id1032831888