Figureheads
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Figureheads

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This Madison-based hip hop group’s last EP, “Configurations,” was an adventurous journey into glitchy, electronica-based beats and intelligent, philosophical rhymes. Emcee Jer 1’s precise flow and impressive mic presence really separated the groups from a lot of other underground hip hop. “Life and Depth” is another five song EP. While similar to “Configurations” in its sound, it also showcases the group’s growth and a few new elements. Most noticeable is emcee PegLegGreg’s presence. While staying in the background on the first EP, PegLeg takes center-stage this time around, sharing mic duties with Jer 1. The two compliment each other beautifully; PegLeg has a focused, straightforward flow and deeper voice that contrasts well with Jer 1’s fiery, agile rhymes. This EP is also more melodic, with PegLeg singing some hooks and bridges. While most rappers probably shouldn’t sing, PegLeg pulls it off nicely, especially on “Undermind” and the title track. The two emcees, along with the amazing producer Dave “Tracksmith” Olson, are also an incredible live act starting to make a name for themselves in Madison. “Life and Depth” is available now. Check out www.figure-heads.com for more information.
-el guante (Madison Observer May, 2006)
- Madison Observer


A lot of hip-hop artists talk about giving back to the youth, but few actually follow up with serious actions. Enter the Figureheads. The Figureheads are a Wisconsin-based hip-hop group that has dedicated its last two albums to children and adolescents, creating songs that reach kids with real-life messages of understanding and hope.

The group, made up of three youth educators with backgrounds in therapy, mentoring and community service, is being recognized by educational programs all over the country for their ability to connect with kids through music. With an educational book and two highly-revered CDs already in circulation, the Figureheads have helped give rise to Kiddo Publishing, a non-profit which publishes resources that encourage and facilitate dialogue between children and adults.

With a recently completed album on its way for adults as well, the Figureheads continue to build their brand of positive conscious hip-hop. Luckily, emcee Jeremy Bryan took some time out to answer a couple questions, and here’s what he had to say:

What is your personal definition of hip-hop?

A movement towards self-expression for a new generation (mostly of the politically oppressed) manifesting in graffiti, breakdancing, emceeing, deejaying and more.

If you had to pick your top 5 MCs of all time, who would they be? How have they influenced your music and direction as a group?

1.
1. Common
2. Treach (Naughty by Nature)
3. Tupac
4. Notorious B.I.G.
5. El-P

Each MC has had a different influence: Common has always inspired the positive poetic side of what I do, Treach influenced me as one of the first MCs I obsessed over at a young age (memorizing lyrics and stuff), Tupac spoke to the prophetic power of hip hop, Notorious B.I.G. spoke to just raw genius and depth in the music, and El-P hit me with the abrasive and brutal but beautiful and poetic stuff…all of which I try to incorporate into my music.

You create music aimed at children, teenagers and adolescents. What do you try to teach them? Why have you decided to take this approach with your music?

It isn’t our primary aim to “teach” them anything, but rather to awaken them to their potency as intelligent beings, to encourage their search for meaning…also we’re trying to help them process the craziness of life as a kid.

We decided that most artists we know give lip service to mentoring the next generation but nobody was really stepping up to the plate…too focused on their own little thing…so we swallowed our pride and said “we’re gonna write stuff specifically for the young even if we risk our street credibility”.

Plus, we were working with a lot of kids with significant challenges and experienced the lack of resources to help them on their journey. Most music they listen to has nothing to do with their real lived lives…it just feeds a fantasy world that won’t help them and will probably do the opposite.

Your first album, “You Come Too,” was aimed at young children. What was the message of this album? How was it received? And what made you decide to make it into a book?

We were just messing with our version of kid’s music and the message became something like “here’s some ideas on how to express your energy as a kid in positive ways,” stressing the connection we all have to one another beyond race and culture. Plus we were just telling stories of our work with kids with special needs and inner-city youth.

It was received really well by young (K-3rd grade) audiences and teachers. 5th graders and teens thought it was cool but too kiddish.

Teachers kept asking for ideas on how to use the music in the classroom and we wanted to get parents and teachers in on the dialogue of how to incorporate arts into education more.

Your latest album, “The Movement,” targets older children, and attempts to deal with issues of anger, isolation, and depression common among the youth. What is the overall message of this album? How did you come to create such an album? What experiences influenced your desire to speak directly to kids about these problems? And why do you think it is helpful for adolescents who can relate?

“You are a gift and you have a gift to share, you’re part of a movement towards justice and peace, and it’s on you to make your move.” We had matured to a point where we knew exactly what we wanted to communicate. This album is us finding our voice for kids, incorporating powerful and prophetic and fun messages through hip hop.

Mostly our encounters with youth who desperately need to feel connected, to be encouraged, to know there’s somebody on their team committed to their growth and development. Growing up listening to hip hop, it was therapeutic to hear MCs give voice to struggles and anger and whatever, so I think what we’re doing is therapeutic for a lot of kids on an even more practical level, because it’s about life in sc - HipHop Linguistics


Hip-Hop Therapy:
Greg Marshall and the Figureheads
12/07/05
MELANIE CONKLIN Wisconsin State Journal

Annie was having trouble getting up and off to school. It took the 10-year-old with cognitive disabilities a long time to get ready; often she missed the bus.

Then Greg Marshall wrote Annie a song. "Annie's Song."

Marshall was Annie's therapist. Annie's mother, Becky O'Brien, agreed a song might help guide Annie through her morning routine.

"I think her mom was expecting something recorded on a little cassette," says Marshall. Instead he drafted his hip-hop band the Figureheads into recording a studio song. "Annie's Song" was designed to not only to guide her morning routine, "it was also about showing her in a creative way how cool she is."

It worked.

"Once we started using it, the transformation was miraculous," says O'Brien, who admits she originally was skeptical of having a male hip-hop artist as Annie's therapist. She says Annie stopped constantly fighting her and cut her routine time from several hours down to a half-hour. And it helped her socially.

"All of a sudden it was this visible bridge between her and other kids - this song," says Marshall. It also gave Marshall the idea of writing hip-hop music to help kids. Thursday, the Figureheads will release their 15-song album, "You Come Too," in a huge stage show - complete with dancers - at the Orpheum Theatre.



Marshall never guessed that Annie was the first step on the path to becoming creative director of Kiddo Publishing, which is producing the album. He's now looking to change the educational world while helping fund a growing Madison non-profit group that assists kids with special needs.

A new plan

After the song worked its magic for Annie, Marshall went to his boss Andy Paulson, the head of Integrated Development Services and Andrea Dearlove, the executive director of Imagine a Child's Capacity, its not-for-profit off-shoot. He played the song. Then he asked to be allowed to write such songs as part of his job.

"I felt like a fly on the wall witnessing this spectacular thing," says Dearlove. "Andy asked if I had goose bumps. I did."

Paulson's response, recalls Marshall, was this: "I want to switch you to salary with benefits. And you just do what you do."

Later Marshall came back with yet another request. He'd spoken with his band mates in the Figureheads and they were also interested in making hip-hop music for kids. They felt it was their calling. And Paulson took on all four of them, employing them to create and perform music as their jobs.

"I went out and talked to Annie's family and found it really made a difference for her," says Paulson. "Her mom told me, 'This is a different girl I have now.' It really showed the power of the music.

"Already there's national interest in the music. The band sent a demo CD to 5,000 educational professionals, drawing the attention of a record label and an international expert in the field of educational curricula.

Julie Guy, director of the Music Therapy Center of California, told them it was the best children's music she's heard, and offered to help them spread the word about it. The risk could have a huge pay-off if the music takes off - all proceeds from the concert and record go to ICC. Right now it's a non-profit funding a band. But the goal, agree Paulson and Marshall, is that the situation reverse itself.

"I want Kiddo Publishing to have a large part in funding ICC," says Marshall. "We want to create materials and resources. We want to help parents who are exhausted, who haven't gone out to eat in 10 years because they are afraid of what people will say. Too often those hiding in corners are the kids with special needs."

Greg's story

Marshall bonded with Annie, in no small part, because he too has struggled. He describes Annie's life as "feeling like trying to put together a puzzle without all the pieces." He was missing a few pieces of his own.

As a high school student in Lodi, Greg Marshall fell in love with hip-hop music, which he says was not accepted in his community. He and a friend began rapping and performing, and, as he puts it, "at that time the nastier you were the better." He admits that philosophy extended to his personal behavior as well: "I just indulged myself in what I wanted."

It's hard to envision this from the soft-spoken 25-year-old who often utters philosophical words of wisdom one might expect from an elder.

Some of those words came out earlier this year when Marshall gave a talk to an all-school assembly at the school he graduated from seven years ago. Mostly, however, it was raw emotion. It's not the first time he's spoken about how he overcame a lot of self-destructive habits: drugs, alcohol, bad grades, bad relationships.

But this particular day, he did something unplanned.

He was talking about how society defines greatness versus what he believes truly makes someone great: cultivating gifts - Wisconsin State Journal


Some artists inject social justice issues into their art; others actually get involved in activism on top of their music. Few, however, are able to fully integrate music and action into something that is both musically
engaging and tangibly helpful to the community. Kiddo Publishing, a venture by local hip hop group the Figureheads, is the first example that I have ever seen of music that goes beyond talking about problems and actually tries to solve those problems in practical, real-world ways. Anyone who follows my writing or knows me personally probably knows about the Figureheads, a hip hop group who I almost constantly assure people is going to be “the next big thing” out of Madison. Composed of vocalists Jeremy “Jer One” Bryan and Greg “Pegleg” Marshall, producer Dave Olsen and drummer/artist Casey Kashiemer, the Figureheads have bided their time in the shadows of more well-known Madison hip hop acts, waiting for the right moment to start performing and, if my predictions are correct, take this city by storm. Their debut EP, “Configurations,” sounded like hip hop from 2050, full of glitchy, electronica-influenced beats and mind blowing rhymes, at once challenging and accessible; deep yet never overly abstract. Jer One is one of the most technically adept
emcees you’re likely to find—not just in Madison, but anywhere. The most stunning thing about the EP, however, was that it was simply a teaser, a warning shot preceding a
coming barrage of great music.
While the Figurehead’s full length LP
is still a ways off, the group’s side project, Kiddo Publishing, just released a five-song teaser for another upcoming full length
(“You Come Too,” slated for this December). Kiddo’s mission is something very unique, and goes to show how the Figureheads are more than just a hot hip hop group; they’re four people with a vision. Kiddo is music specially designed for children with learning disabilities. The music is used “to creatively introduce things like regulation and educational activities, as well as social stories to aid in daily living skills.” For example, one of the songs on the Kiddo demo is called “Push the Walls.” The song is intended to aid in transitioning from one activity to another, maintaining a calm mood and adjusting a child’s energy level by
literally pushing against the walls. Another is called “Sky Writer,” and promotes symbol awareness and strengthens symbol imagery. Still another is called “Born For a Reason,” and attempts to give children affirmation and encouragement. Listening to the Kiddo demo, I cannot help but get the feeling that this is something
very special, something that transcends simple musical talent by fusing that talent with a positive, real-world-applicable message. A
number of musicians do good work, whether by playing fundraisers, donating money to causes or whatever, but rarely is the music and the mission intertwined this closely. In the demo’s extensive liner notes, Marshall talks about the inspiration for the project, the time he spent as a line-therapist working with—and befriending—a girl named Annie: “Annie was having trouble making sense of her morning routine. Connecting all the steps involved with getting ready for school was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces… Annie’s song was written to help Annie make sense of her mornings. I wanted to create a song that would help her in practical, observable
ways, but I also wanted to creatively
show her how amazingly cool she is. We succeeded. Things aren’t perfect, but Annie isn’t late for the bus anymore and it takes her thirty minutes to get ready instead of an
hour and a half… That one relationship, that one song, was the seed that has grown into
the vision of Kiddo Publishing.” The goal of Kiddo is to publish music,
as well as literature “ranging from children’s books to resources for parents, teachers and therapists.” On a deeper level, however, Kiddo is about forming real relationships with kids, not only helping them through
music, but learning from them as well: “In our society, where many have learned to see the developmentally disabled as a nuisance or even a hindrance, we at Kiddo see them, the otherly-abled ones, as a unique part of the community. We see people who possess gifts that must be sought out in real-time relationships.
We see a new generation with
much to teach us about our priorities and values.” Proceeds from the CD sales will go to Imagine a Child’s Capacity, the not-forprofit
parent of Kiddo Publishing. The fulllength Kiddo album will be released Dec 8 at the Orpheum in Madison. For more information
on the project, please visit www.
kiddopublishing.com. For more information on the Figureheads, check out www.figure-heads.com.
“Really cool stuff for really cool kids”


by el guante THE MADISON OBSERVER

- Madison Observer


Discography

Configurations, Life & Depth, Self-Titled, Freedom Music (upcoming)
Singles: "Specks of Light" and "If" receive steady play on local radio (88nine radio milwaukee)

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Bio

Figureheads is composed of 3 artists from the Midwest: MC Jer1 (Milwaukee), Peg-Leg Greg (Madison) and The Tracksmith (Minneapolis). Fusing a passion for hip hop music and electronica, they created a unique sound that has bridged the gap between genres and generations. After their experimental debut 'Configurations' dropped in 2003, they began creating music for a broader audience, kids included. They now have albums crafted for many audiences in both the education and entertainment scenes and have performed for over 300,000 people in the last 3 years as well as moving 25,000 units independently. With music for pre-K through high-school, they run a nonprofit that creates and performs award-winning (Parent's Choice Gold Award 2007 for best album) original hip hop music for youth as well as teaching music production and songwriting in schools (www.figureheadsinc.org). All the while they have continued creating for the college and club scenes, winning the Wisconsin Area Music Industry Award (WAMI) two years in a row for best hip hop act in the state and receiving consistent local radio play for their single "Specks of Light" on 88nine Radio Milwaukee (www.radiomilwaukee.org). After a total of 8 releases (the latest being "Fire in the Soul," a CD for teens and beyond) they are set to debut what is shaping up to be their magnum opus: "Freedom Music." Stay tuned.