ISWHAT?!
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ISWHAT?!

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States | INDIE

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States | INDIE
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"Gli outsiders del Torino Jazz Festival 2013"

Se le commistioni tra rock e jazz sono ormai affare consolidato – dal culto jazzcore figlio illegittimo del punk più evoluto tecnicamente alle locande italiane del prog meticcio – così come i punti di contatto con l’elettronica intelligente più lontana dalla doppia cassa (vedi le ottime evoluzioni di Four Tet e Flying Lotus), anche la comunione tra jazz e rap ha offerto negli anni frutti prelibati. Il vestito “total black” in comune tra funk, soul e rap conduce a litorali jazz, spesso dal mood stradaiolo e con spiccata attitudine unplugged.
Proprio questa formula – non troppo abusata – in bilico tra l’acoustic groove dei The Roots e il positivismo funkadelico dei De La Soul fa degli Is What?! una realtà piuttosto interessante nel panorama dello street-jazz a stelle e strisce, direttamente da sobborghi di Cincinnati. Liriche più sociali che politiche (si va dal rispetto del diverso alla musica come linguaggio universale), verve da stand-up-comedian e una innata predisposizione al beatbox fanno di Napoleon Maddox un frontmen validissimo, una dinamo del ghetto caricata a flower-hip hop, sapientemente stemperata dai dialoghi estremamente “classy” di sax, contrabbasso e batteria. Peccato per il contesto che – pur premiando in ottica di pubblico il trio americano- non rende giustizia all’impronta stradaiola del combo: il raffinato crossover emerge poco nella vastità di piazza Castello e Napoleon avrebbe bisogno di un plotone di indignados sotto palco, insomma del contatto col pubblico al quale la strada abitua e che – tra la distanza effettiva dello stage e il problema della lingua – viene un pò a mancare. Probabilmente, su un palco “off” le arringhe dalla Bottega di Paul degli IsWhat?! sarebbero state dinamite; ci accontentiamo di scintille per le orecchie più attente, per uno dei momenti più interessanti della line up del mainstage della Grande Festa Jazz del 1 maggio. - Outsiders Musica


"Gli outsiders del Torino Jazz Festival 2013"

Se le commistioni tra rock e jazz sono ormai affare consolidato – dal culto jazzcore figlio illegittimo del punk più evoluto tecnicamente alle locande italiane del prog meticcio – così come i punti di contatto con l’elettronica intelligente più lontana dalla doppia cassa (vedi le ottime evoluzioni di Four Tet e Flying Lotus), anche la comunione tra jazz e rap ha offerto negli anni frutti prelibati. Il vestito “total black” in comune tra funk, soul e rap conduce a litorali jazz, spesso dal mood stradaiolo e con spiccata attitudine unplugged.
Proprio questa formula – non troppo abusata – in bilico tra l’acoustic groove dei The Roots e il positivismo funkadelico dei De La Soul fa degli Is What?! una realtà piuttosto interessante nel panorama dello street-jazz a stelle e strisce, direttamente da sobborghi di Cincinnati. Liriche più sociali che politiche (si va dal rispetto del diverso alla musica come linguaggio universale), verve da stand-up-comedian e una innata predisposizione al beatbox fanno di Napoleon Maddox un frontmen validissimo, una dinamo del ghetto caricata a flower-hip hop, sapientemente stemperata dai dialoghi estremamente “classy” di sax, contrabbasso e batteria. Peccato per il contesto che – pur premiando in ottica di pubblico il trio americano- non rende giustizia all’impronta stradaiola del combo: il raffinato crossover emerge poco nella vastità di piazza Castello e Napoleon avrebbe bisogno di un plotone di indignados sotto palco, insomma del contatto col pubblico al quale la strada abitua e che – tra la distanza effettiva dello stage e il problema della lingua – viene un pò a mancare. Probabilmente, su un palco “off” le arringhe dalla Bottega di Paul degli IsWhat?! sarebbero state dinamite; ci accontentiamo di scintille per le orecchie più attente, per uno dei momenti più interessanti della line up del mainstage della Grande Festa Jazz del 1 maggio. - Outsiders Musica


"Napoleon Maddox e Mike Stern: il fascino del jazz contemporaneo"

TORNO - Con una poderosa ondata di jazz contemporaneo si è conclusa il 1° maggio nella città sabauda, la seconda edizione del jazz festival, che ha fatto registrare un grande successo di critica e di pubblico. Napoleon Maddox e Mike Stern, (ultimi della serie di artisti stranieri), sono saliti sul palco di Piazza Castello accompagnati dalle rispettive band, e hanno regalato al pubblico due ore di intenso jazz intriso di rock, funky e rap, un’ampia panoramica sulle potenzialità di un genere musicale troppo spesso visto come elitario e di difficile comprensione. Invece, Stern, e Maddox in particolare, hanno saputo creare nel corso delle loro carriere un nuovo linguaggio jazzistico in grado di parlare a un pubblico molto più ampio delle tradizionali platee cui l’ambiente ci ha abituati. La nuova avanguardia del jazz non potrà non tenere conto dei sentieri tracciati da questi artisti e le loro band, le cui contaminazioni hanno ampliati i confini di un genere che dal 1948, con Ricasso di Coleman Hawkins, non ha mai abbandonato il gusto della sperimentazione.

Primi a salire sul palco, poco dopo le 20 - quando l’atmosfera del megaconcerto finale è stata sufficientemente surriscaldata da Roy Haynes -, gli Is What?!, band di Cincinnati capitanata da Maddox, che scagliano in faccia al pubblico tutta la spigolosità urbana dell’America contemporanea, attraverso una batteria (suonata da Hamid Drake), aggressiva e forsennata e l’uso dei tape-loops, che riproducono un sottobosco sonoro che ricorda una caotica strada del Bronx. Un viaggio nelle contraddizioni dell’umano sentire, si passa facilmente dall’edonismo alla disperazione, attraverso i testi impegnato di Maddox. Uno su tutti, Homestay, che affronta il tema del bisogno di un luogo dove sentirsi a casa, attuale in America con le migliaia di sfratti seguiti alla bolla dei mutui, ma leggibile anche a livello psicologico, come bisogno di pace e comprensione. L’intro del sax accompagnato dalla batteria sputa fuori un’amarezza che sfocia in rabbia, a differenza della pacata riflessione che invece scaturisce dalle note di Haynes (ammirato appena un’ora prima); ne risulta un jazz di strada, al di fuori delle raffinate atmosfere contemplative dei club, ma non per questo meno suggestivo e interessante.

Angus Thomas strappa al contrabbasso amplificato, suoni saturi e pesanti, che quasi sono grida di battaglia, mentre il tenor sax di Erik Sevret è graffiante, e conferisce al sound un’inaspettata, esasperata patinatura, in linea con certa iconografia degli anni Ottanta. Maddox inscena frequenti siparietti con il pubblico, il concerto diviene performance teatrale d’atmosfera metropolitana, che porta sul palco l’esuberanza del leggendario Brat-Pack, e surriscaldata da un sapiente uso delle luci stroboscopiche, che cambiano rapidamente colore e angolazione, a suggerire un’atmosfera à la Studio 54 (o il Chernoble, se preferite). Alla fine, meritati applausi per una band che si fa portatrice del sentire delle giovani generazioni, alla ricerca di una direzione tra precarietà e falsi miti.

Ma l’apice della serata si tocca poco dopo, quando salgono sul palco Mike Stern e Bill Evans, accompagnati da due musicisti che definire semplici spalle sarebbe riduttivo: il bassista Tom Kennedy e il batterista Dave Weckl, navigati protagonisti della scena jazz contemporanea. Dalla ruvidezza virata sul rap di Maddox, si passa alle sonorità più melodiche del gruppo di Stern; appena il tempo di sistemarsi sul palco, e già la sua chitarra incendia l’atmosfera, traendo dalle corde una dolcezza urbana, che evoca tramonti scintillanti fra i grattacieli del Queens, o ancora la primavera a Long Island. Il jazz è poesia, che le contaminazioni con il rock, il blues, il bebop, il funk, rendono ancora più concreta e corposa. Stern non lesina assolo e virtuosismi, e frequenti dialoghi con il sax di Evans. Questi, in completo bianco e bandana blu, sfodera un’energia sorprendente, che annusa meticolosamente, fino a distorcerla, ogni singola nota jazz, facendole assumere connotazioni afro e blues insieme.

Nel concerto, ci si ritrovano gli Aerosmith seconda maniera e un po’ di Oldfield, nonché la Costa Est dei Feelies - nella spigolosità grigio acciaio di certi tratti di chitarra -, senza dimenticare Coltrane e il Davis del periodo “elettrico” (fu lui, infatti, ad aprire la strada dal jazz al rock). Un melting pot musicale che è un importante punto di riferimento per il futuro della scena jazz e non solo. Una performance che ha affiancata, ai virtuosismi di Stern e Evans, la regolarità della sezione ritmica affidata a Kennedy e Weckl: il primo ha mostrato una stupefacente padronanza dello strumento, alternando inflessioni tipicamente blueseggianti per passare con disinvoltura a momenti lirici di estremo intimismo, adattando a ogni brano la giusta atmosfera. Weckl, da parte sua, è il metronomo del gr - You & News Blog


"Torino Jazz Festival 3"

(english translation)

The combination with the next group(right After R. Haynes) - Is What? - Has also allowed us to compare the style of Haynes, all played on the cymbals, with the opposite, much on the drums, thanks to another "giant" of the instrument, the much younger Hamid Drake. In support of rhymes by Napoleon Maddox, Drake proves to be a relentless groove machine. Is What? is probably the best group/project throughout this Torino Jazz Festival, as well as the supreme synthesis of what can actually be the "jazz" Maddox and Associates summarize all black music, focusing on the word as much as content (with lyrics often involved, timely and pungent) than as a form, as a pure sound (up to the beatbox of the leader). The square, which also largely had no idea who this "rapper" from Cincinnati, Ohio, danced in the crowd all together.
- Giornale Della Musica


"Torino Jazz Festival 3"

(english translation)

The combination with the next group(right After R. Haynes) - Is What? - Has also allowed us to compare the style of Haynes, all played on the cymbals, with the opposite, much on the drums, thanks to another "giant" of the instrument, the much younger Hamid Drake. In support of rhymes by Napoleon Maddox, Drake proves to be a relentless groove machine. Is What? is probably the best group/project throughout this Torino Jazz Festival, as well as the supreme synthesis of what can actually be the "jazz" Maddox and Associates summarize all black music, focusing on the word as much as content (with lyrics often involved, timely and pungent) than as a form, as a pure sound (up to the beatbox of the leader). The square, which also largely had no idea who this "rapper" from Cincinnati, Ohio, danced in the crowd all together.
- Giornale Della Musica


"ISWHAT"

With an ethos founded upon the connections between hip hop, free-jazz, rock and soul, Cincinnati based, renegade trio ISWHAT?! formed in 1996 with a direct focus upon live performance. Combining the vocalist and beatboxer Napoleon Maddox with saxophonist Jack Walker and bassist Matthew Anderson, their first album Landmines dropped in 1999.

More releases landed and in 2006 the line-up received expansion pack number 1; Joe Fonda replaced Matthew on bass, Claire Daly arrived with baritone sax and Hamid Drake took up drums. Continual artistic development has now led to an ever changing organic live set-up with members including; Chris Walker, Anthony Lee, Eddie Bayard, DJ Apryl Reign, Benjamin Sanz, Flip Barnes, Cocheme'a Gastelum, Brent Olds, Jeremy Cunningham, Rashawn Murph, Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake and Champion Battle DJ SPS (phew...!)

2008 saw projects develop to include visual art and new methods of composition, resulting in the Nu Takes EP. With Napoleon Maddox still at the forefront, ISWHAT?! recently released the below video to fall in line with their UK tour and Big Appetite album launch, described by Napoleon as more than a collection of delicious audio treats. It's a diary, a chronicle of overconsumption, real cautionary tales about lust, desire, greed and hunger.
- I LIKE MUSIC


"Napoleon Maddox"

We did an interview in April 2006, exactly five years ago. Since this time, many things have changed for you. Recognition is increasing, especially in France. What's happen ?

What happened since our first interview... I just keep working and planning ... practicing ways to improve my art and connection with people I meet... finding ways to be excited about life and touch people... sometimes its fun... and sometimes its hardwork...

When you started the music in Cincinnati, can you imagine that one day you could play with Archie Shepp ?

When I started... I think at that time I thought of the future but I was living so much more in the moment... I am sure I didnt anticipate 90% of what has happen since I seriously pursued music... sometimes I wish that I was more impulsive as I was back then... but contemplation and impulse are a tricky balance.

During the interviews, people often ask you how to make the transition from hip hop to jazz. You became an "official intermediary" between these two music !

To me its not necessary to make a transition from Hip-hop to Jazz .. the first time I heard Maceo Parker was on a Hip-hop record... the first time I heard Dizzy Gillespie was on a hip-hop record... etc. The disconnect people make between the two expressions is not about music really... the disconnect is about social status.

Why Nina Simone ? What was the audience of these concerts Riot called Nina ?

Nina Simone as an artist seemed to maintain a repetoire of music that she could ALWAYS perform with conviction... whether the song is about Love, social justice or personal struggles... her songs always mean something to hear .. and so it DEFINITELY touches the audiences... The audiences at theses A riot called Nina concerts are great because they recieve us.. and accept the give of Nina Simone thru us... even as we give new direction and birth to her songs by completely changing them... this project is intended NOT to be a safe, easy, predictabe tribute... It is something more natural and honest than that... and the audiences recieve that... and many people have told me they discover new parts of Nina Simone because of that

We talk a lot of about "métissage" in music. But should not we talk of contrast ?

We should talk about our feelings and how it contributes to the music... and then how the music contributes to our feelings... the mix and the contrast of sounds in music is as natural as the mix of elements in the atmosphere that keep makes it possible for us to breathe...

Someone who has never listened jazz wants to listen hip hop : which album ? Vice versa ?

Hip-Hop : Gang Starr No More Mister Nice Guy. Jazz : any Thelonius Monk album with an aggressive version of Epistrophy on it.

Quelques mots à propos de ces deux titres ? L'un par Kool & the Gang .. l'autre par Kenny G ...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRu2-v1Adnk et www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHFWqk08tNY
I am sure you know which I prefer... but its all about context... I know that there are creative people that can take the sound of the Kenny G record, sample it... and change the way we hear it forever... I dont know who it will be ... but I know this is one of the beautiful things about Hip-hop ... but Jazz was already doing this kind of thing before the development of Hip-hop (taking melodies from anywhere and putting them in a new context) .. so we are back to the beginning.
- Macro (English translation)


"Napoleon Maddox"

We did an interview in April 2006, exactly five years ago. Since this time, many things have changed for you. Recognition is increasing, especially in France. What's happen ?

What happened since our first interview... I just keep working and planning ... practicing ways to improve my art and connection with people I meet... finding ways to be excited about life and touch people... sometimes its fun... and sometimes its hardwork...

When you started the music in Cincinnati, can you imagine that one day you could play with Archie Shepp ?

When I started... I think at that time I thought of the future but I was living so much more in the moment... I am sure I didnt anticipate 90% of what has happen since I seriously pursued music... sometimes I wish that I was more impulsive as I was back then... but contemplation and impulse are a tricky balance.

During the interviews, people often ask you how to make the transition from hip hop to jazz. You became an "official intermediary" between these two music !

To me its not necessary to make a transition from Hip-hop to Jazz .. the first time I heard Maceo Parker was on a Hip-hop record... the first time I heard Dizzy Gillespie was on a hip-hop record... etc. The disconnect people make between the two expressions is not about music really... the disconnect is about social status.

Why Nina Simone ? What was the audience of these concerts Riot called Nina ?

Nina Simone as an artist seemed to maintain a repetoire of music that she could ALWAYS perform with conviction... whether the song is about Love, social justice or personal struggles... her songs always mean something to hear .. and so it DEFINITELY touches the audiences... The audiences at theses A riot called Nina concerts are great because they recieve us.. and accept the give of Nina Simone thru us... even as we give new direction and birth to her songs by completely changing them... this project is intended NOT to be a safe, easy, predictabe tribute... It is something more natural and honest than that... and the audiences recieve that... and many people have told me they discover new parts of Nina Simone because of that

We talk a lot of about "métissage" in music. But should not we talk of contrast ?

We should talk about our feelings and how it contributes to the music... and then how the music contributes to our feelings... the mix and the contrast of sounds in music is as natural as the mix of elements in the atmosphere that keep makes it possible for us to breathe...

Someone who has never listened jazz wants to listen hip hop : which album ? Vice versa ?

Hip-Hop : Gang Starr No More Mister Nice Guy. Jazz : any Thelonius Monk album with an aggressive version of Epistrophy on it.

Quelques mots à propos de ces deux titres ? L'un par Kool & the Gang .. l'autre par Kenny G ...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRu2-v1Adnk et www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHFWqk08tNY
I am sure you know which I prefer... but its all about context... I know that there are creative people that can take the sound of the Kenny G record, sample it... and change the way we hear it forever... I dont know who it will be ... but I know this is one of the beautiful things about Hip-hop ... but Jazz was already doing this kind of thing before the development of Hip-hop (taking melodies from anywhere and putting them in a new context) .. so we are back to the beginning.
- Macro (English translation)


"Napoleon Maddox en Cinq Collaborations"

Il est le MC du groupe de hip-hop ISWHAT?! et un grand artisan des mots qu’il manie à sa guise. Son flow étonne autant que les productions free-jazz qui l’accompagnent. Napoleon Maddox est un grand monsieur qui a accompagné de grands artistes. De La Canaille à Public Enemy, voici l’univers de l’empereur de Cincinnati. Carte blanche. - Sourdoreille


"Napoleon Maddox"

- How would describe your work as an artist, as a vocalist/beatboxer, prolific composer, musician, lyricist, poet, rapper, master collaborator?
What experiences led you to these creative spaces, brought out this range of self-expressing, and how did these experiences lead to the formation of ISWHAT?!

Yes.. at times I am all of these vocalist/beatboxer, prolific composer, musician, lyricist, poet, rapper, master collaborator ..and sometimes several at the same time. I work primarily as a songwriter, music producer and performer. The music I create is a self styled blend related to Hip-hop, Jazz, Rock and other forms of contemporary and improvised music.

I think the moment I realized as a teen that all my favorite artists were very original and seeking ways to make personal statements in music ... that was the moment my path was set. ISWHAT?! has been a series of steps along that path … I wanted to have a Hip-hop band that was adventurous as the Hip-hop I grew up on and was not a duplication of anything already being done .. and yet understood the spirit history and foundation of Hip-hop culture …

- Your musical ambitions fuses the realms of hip-hop with free-jazz, integrates rock and soul, honors those who have come before while also engaging the critical terrain of our cultural, political, and social perspectives - in terms of where we are at as a society, in terms of community, our concept(s) of freedom(s), our concepts of resources, of agility and resilience, our humanity – was this an always an objective?

Yes .. again the artists that touch me the most seemed as much activists as artists ...
I really find it more difficult to write or create in a without a connection to the culture, politics or social perspectives that impact me on a personal level.
In fact when something touches me personally it almost seems as if the experience or the feeling does the creating, I am just adding detail.

- How do you gage success throughout your endeavors, what are those things that you have found most challenging, either on a personal level or professionally ?

When I see that people are touched by my music that’s the moment I recognize it as personal success. It’s professional success as I’m able earn the income to pay my bills and continue to invest in personal success.

- An angle of your work is also reaching out into the community, mixing medias and mediums, encouraging greater self-expression, creating access points - essentially learning and participation. What are some of initiatives you have led, programs you have conceived, some of the challenges and obstacles, and those things that are thrilling and eye-opening!?

There have been so many thrilling and eye opening moments...

I think one of the greatest was the expansion of my project, A Riot Called Nina to include about 65 young people from the north-east suburbs of Paris. A Riot Called Nina celebrates and honors Nina Simone without becoming a “tribute” ... this liberates the artists involved, empowering them to make the expression of Nina Simone more personal and relevant. When you add the pure expression of young people to such an objective AND top it off with the great teachers they had working with them … BREAKTAKING!

I will never forget when I heard their version of “Ain’t Got No” ... I was really moved because the meaning of the song was doubled ... hearing these children that are far from know privilege singing such a liberating song with so much conviction. I am really grateful to have been a part of that moment in time and in the lives of these people.

- Do you feel as though you have tapped into a purpose, a passion, a vocation?

I think I have fulfilled my purpose at different points in my life... I also think that a life of meaning is as full of seemingly small purposes as it is full of great purposes... There have been one on one conversations away from the stage,.. some are quiet with more meaning than a crowd of thousands. Of course concerts and shows are meaningful; I don’t get on the mic or record my voice without having something to say, but somehow it seems conviction enough that change for the better happens in a quiet place of the soul ... No matter how loud or violent a force is that pushes us to that quiet place, willful submission to become whole is found when we answer that Still Small Voice … So I think my purpose has more to do with listening, feeling, relating, touching and being touched... and less to do with rapping and beat-boxing.

- What is your current mission – do you have one?

My current mission is to create music that competes with pop music through creativity and passion instead of yielding to the gimmicks rampant in mainstream urban music at the moment.

- Is this your life’s work, mission, and/or both?

Yes, I can’t imagine myself living without creating some sort of sound, writing songs or poetry.. I think I will always do it in one way or another. I find that I am opening - InterViews with Carolann Gleason


"L’homme est son pire prédateur"

Questions à Napoleon Maddox MC, rappeur et beatboxer de Cincinnati


Approche iconoclaste réflexive : donner du sens à son art est l’axe moteur des multiples campagnes musicales de Napoleon Maddox, MC, rappeur et human beatbox de Cincinnati, Ohio, en concert ce soir à Paris (1). De sa rencontre avec le saxophoniste et flûtiste avant-garde jazz Jack Walker naît, dans la deuxième moitié des années 90, le groupe Iswhat ?! Au sein de cette nébuleuse à géométrie variable qui inclut Hamid Drake, polyrythmicien ailé, s’invente une esthétique hybride aux échos sociaux de la rue, que la sortie de Things That Go Bump in the Dark (le 1er octobre chez Almost Musique) ravive sous la plume à gratter du vocaliste soul scratcheur.

Que sous-entend le titre de ce quatrième album :«Les choses qui vous prennent de court dans l’obscurité» ?

Nous l’avons choisi car c’est une phrase qui évoque le mystère. En référence à l’album, cela signifie que quelque chose est en train de se profiler que nous ne soupçonnons pas, mais que quelqu’un connaît. Même si, pour l’instant, tout est calme et se passe comme si de rien n’était, la destruction menace. L’obscurité, c’est l’inconnu. Il est souvent question d’ours et d’autres animaux indomptés dans le disque, cela renvoie à cet aspect sauvage, sachant que la nature humaine reste le pire prédateur pour l’homme.

On entend des tirs et les paroles d’un enfant sur WTF, quelle est la teneur de ce morceau ?

Cette chanson est inspirée de l’histoire de Valentino Achak Deng, émigré soudanais de 8 ans qui a fui son village suite au conflit opposant le nord au sud du pays et le génocide qui s’ensuivit. WTF veut dire «What the fuck !» (quel bordel !)

Multipliez-vous toujours les projets, à l’instar de ce vibrant hommage à Nina Simone imaginé avec Sophia Domancich et The Boxettes ?

Je viens tout juste de terminer le prochain album de Roy Nathanson, avec lequel j’avais déjà travaillé lors de deux projets présentés en France. Notamment au festival Banlieues bleues, Subway Moon, avec des jeunes de Seine-Saint-Denis et de New York, ainsi que Sotto Voce, entre jazz et spoken word. - Liberation


"L’homme est son pire prédateur"

Questions à Napoleon Maddox MC, rappeur et beatboxer de Cincinnati


Approche iconoclaste réflexive : donner du sens à son art est l’axe moteur des multiples campagnes musicales de Napoleon Maddox, MC, rappeur et human beatbox de Cincinnati, Ohio, en concert ce soir à Paris (1). De sa rencontre avec le saxophoniste et flûtiste avant-garde jazz Jack Walker naît, dans la deuxième moitié des années 90, le groupe Iswhat ?! Au sein de cette nébuleuse à géométrie variable qui inclut Hamid Drake, polyrythmicien ailé, s’invente une esthétique hybride aux échos sociaux de la rue, que la sortie de Things That Go Bump in the Dark (le 1er octobre chez Almost Musique) ravive sous la plume à gratter du vocaliste soul scratcheur.

Que sous-entend le titre de ce quatrième album :«Les choses qui vous prennent de court dans l’obscurité» ?

Nous l’avons choisi car c’est une phrase qui évoque le mystère. En référence à l’album, cela signifie que quelque chose est en train de se profiler que nous ne soupçonnons pas, mais que quelqu’un connaît. Même si, pour l’instant, tout est calme et se passe comme si de rien n’était, la destruction menace. L’obscurité, c’est l’inconnu. Il est souvent question d’ours et d’autres animaux indomptés dans le disque, cela renvoie à cet aspect sauvage, sachant que la nature humaine reste le pire prédateur pour l’homme.

On entend des tirs et les paroles d’un enfant sur WTF, quelle est la teneur de ce morceau ?

Cette chanson est inspirée de l’histoire de Valentino Achak Deng, émigré soudanais de 8 ans qui a fui son village suite au conflit opposant le nord au sud du pays et le génocide qui s’ensuivit. WTF veut dire «What the fuck !» (quel bordel !)

Multipliez-vous toujours les projets, à l’instar de ce vibrant hommage à Nina Simone imaginé avec Sophia Domancich et The Boxettes ?

Je viens tout juste de terminer le prochain album de Roy Nathanson, avec lequel j’avais déjà travaillé lors de deux projets présentés en France. Notamment au festival Banlieues bleues, Subway Moon, avec des jeunes de Seine-Saint-Denis et de New York, ainsi que Sotto Voce, entre jazz et spoken word. - Liberation


"Things That Go Bump In The Dark"

Qu’il rende hommage à Nina Simone avec Sophia Domancich ou participe à un album d’Archie Shepp, Il y a longtemps que Napoleon Maddox impose son flow unique, profond et traînant sur la scène du jazz et des musiques improvisées. Avec IsWhat ?!, le hip hop du rapper de Cincinnati s’inscrit dans la veine vivifiante de Pharoahe Monch ou de Common. Cette influence est particulièrement sensible sur « Meant Somethin’ » grâce à un écho léger sur la scansion languide et une soul hypnotique d’où s’échappe une flûte pleine de groove.

Accompagné, comme sur son album précédent, de compagnons prestigieux tels Hamid Drake à la batterie ou Jack Walker aux saxophones, il livre avec Things That Go Bump In The Dark une œuvre plus sombre et plus directe, au groove toujours aussi flamboyant. La production dure et soignée met mieux en valeur la synergie entre les boucles hip hop et les instruments live (« Get Up In The Night ») sans pour autant tomber dans l’écueil du « rappeur qui fait du jazz ». Maddox a trouvé le son idéal pour poser ses textes ciselés et très politiques qui feront songer à Saul Williams et surtout à Ill Chemistry. Ces groupes parlent le même langage, mais il y met néanmoins une dose de jazz supplémentaire. « WTF », par exemple, parle d’enfance et de génocide dans l’Est de l’Afrique. La polyrythmie que Drake développe au contact des samples renforce le propos acide. La forme soutient le fond avec cohérence ; un bon album de hip hop s’en tient d’abord à cette recette... - Citizen Jazz


"The New iswhat?! Album is Called things that go bump in the dark"

things that go bump in the dark is the new full-length release by Cincinnati’s iswhat?!, a hip-hop band that has toured the US and Europe and performed with major jazz artists, among them Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake and Hamid Drake. It’s a fine record, and I’m happy to report that, along with being available as a CD or a download, this full-length release had come out on vinyl. Locally the CD and LP are available at Shake-It and Everybody’s; online you can buy it on cdbaby and iTunes.

If you’ve caught ishwat?!, chances are you’ve seen Napoleon Solo Vox fronting a trio. On things that go bump in the dark band members change and band sizes fluctuate with each song, and others artists share some of the vocal duties. My sense is that Napoleon is still the mastermind behind the music, but, like Kip Hanrahan, he constantly shuffles musicians in order to make the words and music come to life.

More than half the cuts feature Hamid Drake, who happens to be one of the best drummers in the world. He’s also one of the most versatile, and he’s as comfortable laying down a hip-hop groove as he is playing avant-garde jazz with Ken Vandermark or Peter Brotzmann.

Also noteworthy are the contributions from core ishwat?! member Jack Walker, whose saxophone and flute playing add color, texture and a jazzier vibe to the proceedings. His contributions sound all the sweeter against Napoleon’s consistently provocative wordplay.

This is music that gets inside you. At times it seems like a stream-of-consciousness collage that ties together seemingly random thoughts and melodies like the ones that go through your head during the day. Maybe they’re not so random at all; maybe they can tell you something.

If you gravitate toward colorful music, a nice groove and lyrics with depth, check out things that go bump in the dark. Along with making interesting music, Napoleon has helped bring some superb (and very unlikely) concerts to town; good to know the muses are being kind to him. Here’s some ishwat?! concert footage that quotes from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir:” - Gaslight Property


"The New iswhat?! Album is Called things that go bump in the dark"

things that go bump in the dark is the new full-length release by Cincinnati’s iswhat?!, a hip-hop band that has toured the US and Europe and performed with major jazz artists, among them Archie Shepp, Oliver Lake and Hamid Drake. It’s a fine record, and I’m happy to report that, along with being available as a CD or a download, this full-length release had come out on vinyl. Locally the CD and LP are available at Shake-It and Everybody’s; online you can buy it on cdbaby and iTunes.

If you’ve caught ishwat?!, chances are you’ve seen Napoleon Solo Vox fronting a trio. On things that go bump in the dark band members change and band sizes fluctuate with each song, and others artists share some of the vocal duties. My sense is that Napoleon is still the mastermind behind the music, but, like Kip Hanrahan, he constantly shuffles musicians in order to make the words and music come to life.

More than half the cuts feature Hamid Drake, who happens to be one of the best drummers in the world. He’s also one of the most versatile, and he’s as comfortable laying down a hip-hop groove as he is playing avant-garde jazz with Ken Vandermark or Peter Brotzmann.

Also noteworthy are the contributions from core ishwat?! member Jack Walker, whose saxophone and flute playing add color, texture and a jazzier vibe to the proceedings. His contributions sound all the sweeter against Napoleon’s consistently provocative wordplay.

This is music that gets inside you. At times it seems like a stream-of-consciousness collage that ties together seemingly random thoughts and melodies like the ones that go through your head during the day. Maybe they’re not so random at all; maybe they can tell you something.

If you gravitate toward colorful music, a nice groove and lyrics with depth, check out things that go bump in the dark. Along with making interesting music, Napoleon has helped bring some superb (and very unlikely) concerts to town; good to know the muses are being kind to him. Here’s some ishwat?! concert footage that quotes from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir:” - Gaslight Property


"We speak to hip hop vocalist, beatboxer known by the stage name NapoleonSolo"


Cincinnati, Ohio, USA based Napoleon “NapSolo” Maddox of the band isWhat?! has shared the stage with the likes of The Roots, KRS ONE, Bilal, Foxy Brown to Archie Shepp to Antibalas.

The renegade hip-hop trio, focusing on live performances, but instead of only saluting rap pioneers, ISWHAT?! connects Hip-hop with free-jazz, rock and soul in a unique way.



CN: What are you main influences?

NapoleonSolo: I think I am mostly influenced by parts of history and current events that effect my life this is what I write about and the artists that I appreciate the most always deal with this some how



CN: What’s your typical day like?

NapoleonSolo: Well it depends on what type of work I am doing at that moment in my life if I am on tour. There is a lot of travel and I spend hours on trains, planes and autos this can be real good time to bond and connect with my band we talk about ideas on politics, art, music & legends & tell jokes etc.

Then the first thing we do when we arrive is find out how much time we have to rest and eat … because the travel can be tiring but also we want to be very sharp , look good, sound great and feel good on stage then after we eat or rest a while in the hotel . We go to sound check and it also involves a lot of waiting but you get accustomed to that. It’s just a part of the life in between sound check and the show I always look for the best place to sign autographs & sell T-shirts, CDs and vinyl.



CN: What made you guys start?

NapoleonSolo: All the original guys of ISWHAT?! . The 3 of us, we were friends before we got started in the band. We were in different groups and I wanted to do something that was creative and edgy and just doing a live hip-hop band was not original enough for me so I wanted to make it equal raw Jazz and Hip-hop / poetry with no drummer .

Just bass, sax & voice and I would do all the drum parts as a beat-boxer.

So we began…

The biggest influences were Charles Mingus, Gang Starr, Boogie Down Productions, Elvin Jones &

Sonny Rollins or Coltrane.



CN: How did you feel when Landmines came out? It was your first album

NapoleonSolo: It was an EP. The first vinyl & CD we did it was really dope cause we did everything in such an indie / underground way. It was pure and we started doing opening performances for big acts like The Roots, Bilal, Foxy Brown and rock bands too… we would sell a LOT… a LOT of CD’s cause our show was so different and the CDs were not expensive we sold them for like $5 and maybe vinyl for $7



CN: “You figure it out” is my favourite from you guys, what led to the making of that & what was the experience like?

NapoleonSolo: The first full length CD. It’s very interesting to me to see how people respond the catalog.

Especially that album”You Figure It Out” I knew it was a good album when we made it but it surprises me that so many people choose it as a favourite.

Making that album was a unique challenge because we had to figure out how to translate years of live performing into ONE album and at the time the shows we did were full of even more improvisation that they are now so the energy for a studio album would be really different than what we could do on stage but we had to find a way to capture it or accept the compromise, apparently we did ok.



CN: You on tour a lot, favourite place so far?

NapoleonSolo: Tough question, Sardegna, Italy is downright incredible! Just awesome…

Wild life … beautiful women … great food. When I say wild life I’m talking about nature not me being wild … hahahaha.



CN: Favourite collaboration so far?

NapoleonSolo: Maybe with my brother Hamid Drake, he plays in ISWHAT?! Too, but he has his own band that is a Free Jazz / Roots Reggae band its REALLY FRESH !!! called Bindu Reggaeology

I sing and do spoken word in that band and of course beatbox, the musicians are incredible…

So when they play wild improv and then switch to classic reggae its killer and Hamid knows ALL the reggae breaks and rhythms.



CN: Any plans for coming to Africa?

NapoleonSolo: I’ve been to Morocco … but man… I’d LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to come to South Africa and to Senegal and Tanzania.

I mean I would l love to come to any place in Africa where I could survive.

I know it’s rough in some places and the people that are born & raised there, struggle to deal with it . So I won’t pretend I can deal with it. But yes South Africa is seriously on my mind and it’s been discussed on our tour schedule before but it just never happened finally…



CN: You do workshops, clinics and masterclasses about Hip-hop and Human Beat-boxing. Tell us about that?

NapoleonSolo: That is something I love to do because my secret weapon is not all that I know and all that I have seen (i HAVE learned a LOT of course). But that is not the secret weapon.

The key is being able to study the group of individuals you are meeting wit - Creative Nestling


"Napoleon, Dynamite"

Long gaps between albums aren’t unusual for IsWhat?!

In fact, it took Napoleon Maddox and his Cincinnati-based genre-defying Hip Hop/Jazz/Rock/Soul collective three years after their 1996 formation to drop their auspicious debut, Landmines. Nearly everyone who contributes to IsWhat?! is also engaged in other creative projects, as well as day jobs and family commitments — from the full-time core of the band (frontman/beatboxer Maddox, saxophonist/flautist/vocalist Jack Walker, drummer Hamid Drake) to a coterie of vastly talented regulars who drift in and out of the group’s orbit (including bassist/graphic designer Brent “Killa-O” Olds, saxophonist Cocheme’a Gastelum, Cincinnati turntablist/producer Tobe “Tobotius” Donohue and Jazz giant Archie Shepp, who has used IsWhat?! for his backing band).

Given the “collective” spirit of IsWhat?!, extended periods of inactivity are natural.

So when the question arises over lunch at Panera in Clifton about the four-year span between IsWhat?!’s last acclaimed album, 2009’s Big Appetite, and its exquisitely powerful new disc, Things That Go Bump in the Dark, Maddox offers a slightly unexpected answer.

“Besides touring Big Appetite, trying to get (the new) record done,” Maddox says of the time between releases. “Any time you’re doing something that you want to matter, it’s not an overnight process. It didn’t really seem like four years.”

Maddox began writing and recording Bump in the Dark within a year of the release of Big Appetite, so the new album represents a relatively solid three years of effort and, as Maddox likes to describe his albums, the latest chapter of his — and the band’s — lives.

Like IsWhat?!’s previous releases, Bump in the Dark is a triumphant musical hybrid, blending Maddox’s consummate skills as an MC/beatboxer with Walker’s impeccable Jazz chops and sonorous narration and Drake’s percussive mastery. Add in the contributions of close to 20 other utility members of the IsWhat?! family and Bump in the Dark stands as the pinnacle of Maddox’s efforts to organically combine the visceral groove of Hip Hop and the cerebral flow of Free Jazz, with distinct elements of Rock and Soul flavoring the proceedings.

“It’s always been a ‘write-as-we-produce’ kind of process,” Maddox says.

“Me and Jack will hook up and have a session or just talk and get some stuff down, and then I’ll head over to Tobe and he’ll say, ‘I think this is what you’re talking about, Nap.’ ”
“And he’ll say, ‘More or less,’ ” Donohue says with a laugh. “Napoleon has a real interesting mode of production. When he comes with ideas, it could be anything from a simple breakbeat loop to a really complex jam session that he’s going to nip and tuck little pieces out of. Even though it’s work in a digital world, it’s still a real analog process from his standpoint. The way he and Jack come up with stuff is not always the same writing methodology. It can come from different ways and there’s no expectation; you come up with a few things and play with it, it’s all real malleable. It’s a fun, surprising process.”

Hip Hop certainly lends itself well to the digital domain’s cut-and-paste mindset, but the fluid nature of Jazz might seem to be a harder fit in the context of IsWhat?!. Walker and Maddox have ready answers to the question of how the group melds the two concepts.

“No problem for me,” Walker says in the resonant voice at the center of so many great IsWhat?! tracks. “Music is music. I travel all kinds of genres. Jazz cats will ask me, ‘Why doesn’t this fit with that?’ And I say, ‘It does fit with that. It’s creativity. You’ve got to make it work.’ In my mind, it shouldn’t be a problem. If cats can’t make it work, I back off, you know?”

“For me, and for all of us, we have to make efforts to divorce (Jazz and Hip Hop) from each other,” Maddox says. “They’re so united and so married, it’s more natural for them to be connected than not connected. It’s a common question in interviews, ‘How did you come to merge these two?,’ and it’s like, ‘How did you come to not merge them?’ I’m not saying that in an aggressive, accusatory way, but it’s kind of, ‘Doesn’t everybody?’ ”

The short answer is “everybody doesn’t,” certainly not in the manner that Maddox has developed for IsWhat?!.

Take musical influences, for example. Maddox, rather than relying on his predecessors for specific stylistic cues or reference points, tends to view music on a whole as a feeling and he works to duplicate that feeling in his own unique fashion. Likewise, his inspiration for writing songs is equally global in scope, something certainly augmented by the band’s consistent European touring presence. IsWhat?! spends far more time playing live shows and festivals overseas than in in the States, developing a particularly strong fan base in France.

“Around the time the album was getting finished, it was 2012 and there was a lot of talk of, ‘This is it — when 2012 rolls around, it’s curtains,’ - CityBeat


"ISWHAT?! interview in French"

Dans les chroniques que je lisais à propos de «You Figure It Out», votre premier album, on faisait toujours référence à Iswhat?! en tant que trio. Or, aujourd’hui la presse ne mentionne plus que ton nom (Napoleon Maddox / chant, beatbox, machines) et celui de Jack Walker (sax / flûte). Qu’est-il arrivé à Matt Anderson (contrebasse)? Il ne fait plus partie du groupe?

Non, Matthew est parti suivre ses propres aventures. Désormais, nous avons différents bassistes, tout aussi excellents, dont Joe Fonda qui a déjà joué aux côtés de quelques grands noms du jazz comme Billy Bang, Anthony Braxton & Dave Douglas.

«You Figure It Out» est sorti en 2004 (distribué en France en 2006), pourtant on trouvait déjà un remix du titre «Parachutes» sur l’album «Optometry» de Dj Spooky en 2002. Tu peux nous expliquer comment Iswhat?! a commencé?

Nos premiers concerts datent de 1996, et en 1999 nous avons sorti un premier EP, «Landmines» sur lequel apparaissait déjà «Parachutes». Nous avons monté le groupe car nous étions tous des amis de longue date et nous collaborions déjà sur divers projets depuis des années. On a simplement eu envie d’aller plus loin ensemble…

J’ai l’impression que ce nouvel album est plus hip hop que le premier. Peut-être à cause de la production qui est plus clean, ou parce que vous vous êtes tout simplement améliorés dans l’art de trouver des boucles qui tapent… C’était un choix de départ ou ça s’est juste trouvé comme ça?

Je pense que c’est dû à plusieurs raisons… D'une: on a effectivement beaucoup appris en terme de production et d’écriture après l’enregistrement de «You Figure It Out». De deux, pendant la tournée qui a suivi la sortie de ce premier album, on a eu l’occasion de voir et d’entendre des tas de manières de sonner hip hop presque inexploitées, ce qui nous a forcément donner des idées… Et… De trois: les amis avec qui on a choisi de travailler sur «The Life We Chose» ont incroyablement multiplié les possibilités de faire les choses!

Je crois savoir que tu es un gros fan de Public Enemy. Je ne sais pas si tu partageras mon analyse, mais j’ai l’impression que, depuis deux ou trois ans, de plus en plus d’artistes recommencent à se réclamer de ces groupes old school, ce qui n’était plus trop le cas pendant une dizaine d’années (grosso modo 1994-2004). Est-ce qu’on doit y voir un regain de conscientisation politique dû à la situation économique et politique internationale? Ou c’est juste moi qui délire?

Je pense qu’il y a malheureusement de moins en moins de fans de Public Enemy et des autres légendes old school. En tout cas, aux Etats-Unis… Je pense que c’est dû au fait que beaucoup de groupes de rap mainstream aux Etats-Unis ne sont pas du tout emprunts de l’histoire de ce mouvement… Je crois en revanche qu’il y a effectivement de plus en plus d’artistes qui émergent ces derniers temps et qui tentent de sortir les gens de leur léthargie. Mais il n’y en a pas encore assez! C’est peut-être différent en Europe. Peut-être qu’il y a plus de disciples de Public Enemy ici… Je l’espère pour vous!

En même temps, ces groupes (Public Enemy, Paris…) continuent de sortir des disques, pas plus mauvais que d’autres qui plus est, mais dans une relative indifférence générale (médiatique et commerciale)… J’ai l’impression que c’est un cas d’école bien particulier au hip hop. Contrairement au rock, au reggae ou au jazz, les fans de hip hop sont un peu hermétiques aux héros de leur mouvement. Est-ce que le hip hop doit forcément être un truc de jeunes, par des jeunes pour des jeunes?

Je pense que le problème du mouvement hip hop tient dans ses acteurs, qu’ils soient jeunes ou vieux. Le hip hop vit une crise parce que les gens qui le soutiennent vivent une crise. Une crise identitaire, une crise morale, une crise politique… Comme tu l’as dit, il y a encore du très bon hip hop qui sort aujourd’hui. Mais le public de masse est aujourd’hui essentiellement gavé de produits marketés «labellisés» hip hop, et les gens qui nous vendent ça sont des spécialistes du marketing, ils savent donc tout à fait comment vendre par la même occasion des voitures, des marques d’alcool ou des fringues à travers le hip hop. Beaucoup d’artistes acceptent de collaborer avec ces grosses compagnies, même s’ils savent que ça finit par tuer la musique. Il n’y a aucun mal à se faire bien payer pour ce que tu fais, mais tes convictions devraient être plus fortes que la tentation de vendre ton art au rabais… Beaucoup d’entre nous sont encore rongés par les petits vices de la vie. L’éthique et les idéaux ont donc fort à faire comparés à la promesse de gagner un million de dollars. Les artistes ne sont pas différents de l’individu lambda… Le public cherche souvent à s’identifier à un artiste pour se donner un style ou du caractère, mais comme les deux sont souvent aussi paumés l’un que l’autre… Ou du moins, que les deux essaient de s’en sortir comme ils peuvent…

Dans «The Life We Chose», vous faîtes une reprise live du « - Bokson dot net


"show review"

ISWHAT?! with Hamid Drake at The Dame: How often do you get to experience a genre-breaking band twice within a month's time with two different lineups? Chalk that up as a perk of having the jazz/funk/hip-hop brigade ISWHAT?! as a Cincinnati neighbor. Three weeks ago, the band played Charles Mingus compositions and sampled beats with New York bassist Joe Fonda at The Icehouse. This time, drummer Drake -- who has performed in Lexington with such free jazz pioneers as Peter Brotzmann, William Parker and Roy Campbell -- sat in with a beefed-up horn section that had ISWHAT? mainstay Jack Walker blending alto sax and flute with Cincinnati tenor sax man Eddie Bayard. This might have seemed a more rudimentary journey for Drake, who was content to lock into rock steady grooves behind beatboxer/rapper Napoleon Maddox. A more expansive view of his percussive vocabulary was on display during a 20-minute opening set in which he designed Eastern and improvisatory rhythms as accompaniment for a dance by Mecca co-founder Teresa Tomb. But Drake also helped ISWHAT?! through a crisp shift in group dynamics. While he added calypso flavor to Casket and a rugged reggae groove to Cool Hands, much of the set reflected a more instinctual, jam-friendly feel. Walker and Bayard punctuated long instrumental sections that had the horn savvy of a vintage soul band while Maddox's physical beatboxing kept this joyous music on the move. - Lexington Herald-Leader


"ISWHAT?! interview in French"

Dans les chroniques que je lisais à propos de «You Figure It Out», votre premier album, on faisait toujours référence à Iswhat?! en tant que trio. Or, aujourd’hui la presse ne mentionne plus que ton nom (Napoleon Maddox / chant, beatbox, machines) et celui de Jack Walker (sax / flûte). Qu’est-il arrivé à Matt Anderson (contrebasse)? Il ne fait plus partie du groupe?

Non, Matthew est parti suivre ses propres aventures. Désormais, nous avons différents bassistes, tout aussi excellents, dont Joe Fonda qui a déjà joué aux côtés de quelques grands noms du jazz comme Billy Bang, Anthony Braxton & Dave Douglas.

«You Figure It Out» est sorti en 2004 (distribué en France en 2006), pourtant on trouvait déjà un remix du titre «Parachutes» sur l’album «Optometry» de Dj Spooky en 2002. Tu peux nous expliquer comment Iswhat?! a commencé?

Nos premiers concerts datent de 1996, et en 1999 nous avons sorti un premier EP, «Landmines» sur lequel apparaissait déjà «Parachutes». Nous avons monté le groupe car nous étions tous des amis de longue date et nous collaborions déjà sur divers projets depuis des années. On a simplement eu envie d’aller plus loin ensemble…

J’ai l’impression que ce nouvel album est plus hip hop que le premier. Peut-être à cause de la production qui est plus clean, ou parce que vous vous êtes tout simplement améliorés dans l’art de trouver des boucles qui tapent… C’était un choix de départ ou ça s’est juste trouvé comme ça?

Je pense que c’est dû à plusieurs raisons… D'une: on a effectivement beaucoup appris en terme de production et d’écriture après l’enregistrement de «You Figure It Out». De deux, pendant la tournée qui a suivi la sortie de ce premier album, on a eu l’occasion de voir et d’entendre des tas de manières de sonner hip hop presque inexploitées, ce qui nous a forcément donner des idées… Et… De trois: les amis avec qui on a choisi de travailler sur «The Life We Chose» ont incroyablement multiplié les possibilités de faire les choses!

Je crois savoir que tu es un gros fan de Public Enemy. Je ne sais pas si tu partageras mon analyse, mais j’ai l’impression que, depuis deux ou trois ans, de plus en plus d’artistes recommencent à se réclamer de ces groupes old school, ce qui n’était plus trop le cas pendant une dizaine d’années (grosso modo 1994-2004). Est-ce qu’on doit y voir un regain de conscientisation politique dû à la situation économique et politique internationale? Ou c’est juste moi qui délire?

Je pense qu’il y a malheureusement de moins en moins de fans de Public Enemy et des autres légendes old school. En tout cas, aux Etats-Unis… Je pense que c’est dû au fait que beaucoup de groupes de rap mainstream aux Etats-Unis ne sont pas du tout emprunts de l’histoire de ce mouvement… Je crois en revanche qu’il y a effectivement de plus en plus d’artistes qui émergent ces derniers temps et qui tentent de sortir les gens de leur léthargie. Mais il n’y en a pas encore assez! C’est peut-être différent en Europe. Peut-être qu’il y a plus de disciples de Public Enemy ici… Je l’espère pour vous!

En même temps, ces groupes (Public Enemy, Paris…) continuent de sortir des disques, pas plus mauvais que d’autres qui plus est, mais dans une relative indifférence générale (médiatique et commerciale)… J’ai l’impression que c’est un cas d’école bien particulier au hip hop. Contrairement au rock, au reggae ou au jazz, les fans de hip hop sont un peu hermétiques aux héros de leur mouvement. Est-ce que le hip hop doit forcément être un truc de jeunes, par des jeunes pour des jeunes?

Je pense que le problème du mouvement hip hop tient dans ses acteurs, qu’ils soient jeunes ou vieux. Le hip hop vit une crise parce que les gens qui le soutiennent vivent une crise. Une crise identitaire, une crise morale, une crise politique… Comme tu l’as dit, il y a encore du très bon hip hop qui sort aujourd’hui. Mais le public de masse est aujourd’hui essentiellement gavé de produits marketés «labellisés» hip hop, et les gens qui nous vendent ça sont des spécialistes du marketing, ils savent donc tout à fait comment vendre par la même occasion des voitures, des marques d’alcool ou des fringues à travers le hip hop. Beaucoup d’artistes acceptent de collaborer avec ces grosses compagnies, même s’ils savent que ça finit par tuer la musique. Il n’y a aucun mal à se faire bien payer pour ce que tu fais, mais tes convictions devraient être plus fortes que la tentation de vendre ton art au rabais… Beaucoup d’entre nous sont encore rongés par les petits vices de la vie. L’éthique et les idéaux ont donc fort à faire comparés à la promesse de gagner un million de dollars. Les artistes ne sont pas différents de l’individu lambda… Le public cherche souvent à s’identifier à un artiste pour se donner un style ou du caractère, mais comme les deux sont souvent aussi paumés l’un que l’autre… Ou du moins, que les deux essaient de s’en sortir comme ils peuvent…

Dans «The Life We Chose», vous faîtes une reprise live du « - Bokson dot net


"ISWHAT?! brings jazz hip-hop with bite"

The Cincinnati-based combo ISWHAT?! combines hip-hop and jazz in a lean, mean and politically potent mix that doles out as many inspiring aphorisms as angry rants. On their latest record, last year’s The Life We Chose, core members — rapper Napoleon Maddox and saxophonist Jack Walker — are joined by upright bass, drum machines, Maddox’s beat-boxing and various electronic touches to create “organized arrangements that contained both hip-hop and improvised music,” as Maddox describes it, “. . . with a little more bite to it than a lot of the so-called jazz-hip-hop that we had been hearing so far.”

Bite it’s got. “Profane words don’t burn like the truth/ I get a grip on reality, then I relay the news,” Maddox raps on “Front”; “The hood is self-hating . . . Blow up then bottom out/ You know what I mean,” he says on “Circus,” a scathing take on mainstream hip-hop. “Cocaine business controls America,” he raps on “Ill Biz” — “Ganja business controls America/ Illegal business controls America/ ’Cause George Bush controls America.” (Maddox hastens to add that the song refers to George H.W. Bush, father of the current president.)

All the while, Walker blows memorable hooks to help the medicine go down.

The connection between hip-hop and jazz is threefold, Maddox says — there’s the tradition of improvisation and the ability to absorb different musical forms. But “it’s not only musical . . . it’s a social connection,” Maddox says. “Both hip-hop and jazz are music that came from the youth generation of African-Americans that’s been shared with other people . . . and has done a lot to connect different communities. . . .

“Both musics were more or less villainized by the mainstream media, but after a while the practitioners kept . . . developing the music until people could see ” that ‘This is something to be reckoned with.’

On the title track, Maddox shouts out equally to the hood and to the society that enables it. “So you a boxer with a broken nose/ Hands up! This is the life we chose.” And that call to responsibility is central to Maddox’s aesthetic.

“One of the things that I hear a lot of over the years is, ‘hip-hop is gonna do this’ or ‘hip-hop is gonna do that.’ . . . And I think it’s important for us to remember that hip-hop, or jazz, can’t do anything that the people aren’t doing. . . .

“Hip-hop doesn’t have any hands or voice or body without the body and the voice of the people. And people have to take responsibility for the shape and condition of hip-hop; people have to take responsibility for the shape and condition of our lives.”

It doesn’t escape Maddox’s attention that the shallow, negative portrayals of African-American life in mainstream hip-hop (which he calls “big business pimping the hood”) are at platinum-selling status. It also doesn’t escape his notice that it’s largely because white people are buying the music. “Because of capitalism and racism . . . of course the images of negative hip-hop have gotten a boost, because it’s what certain people want to hear and want to see. . . . But if the negative music isn’t supported and bought and sold, no matter how much it’s pushed, it can’t succeed.”

The responsibility cuts both ways, he says — to artists and audience.

“I think the artists hear that all the time: ‘You have to be responsible.’ . . . That statement has lost its teeth and conviction, because the artists who are making meaningful music don’t get support.” On the other hand, “It’s like a twisted novel. In some way the public is being held responsible, because the monsters that we help create by supporting certain things, we have to live with those monsters. And the music will either continue to deteriorate, or it’ll grow in a different direction. Or there will be a revolutionary response to such debased creations. . . . But hopefully the public will see.”

Maddox says it’s hard to tell whether his messages are catching on, since most people coming to the group’s shows are already inclined to agree with the point. But if he’s preaching to the choir, “The choir’s growing because people see that the church service is more important. . . . The Roots made a really strong album, and a growing number of artists are saying things, and it’s harder and harder to stay asleep. You have to choose a side.”

- Providence Journal by Rick Massimo (MAY 10, 2007)


"ISWHAT?! brings jazz hip-hop with bite"

The Cincinnati-based combo ISWHAT?! combines hip-hop and jazz in a lean, mean and politically potent mix that doles out as many inspiring aphorisms as angry rants. On their latest record, last year’s The Life We Chose, core members — rapper Napoleon Maddox and saxophonist Jack Walker — are joined by upright bass, drum machines, Maddox’s beat-boxing and various electronic touches to create “organized arrangements that contained both hip-hop and improvised music,” as Maddox describes it, “. . . with a little more bite to it than a lot of the so-called jazz-hip-hop that we had been hearing so far.”

Bite it’s got. “Profane words don’t burn like the truth/ I get a grip on reality, then I relay the news,” Maddox raps on “Front”; “The hood is self-hating . . . Blow up then bottom out/ You know what I mean,” he says on “Circus,” a scathing take on mainstream hip-hop. “Cocaine business controls America,” he raps on “Ill Biz” — “Ganja business controls America/ Illegal business controls America/ ’Cause George Bush controls America.” (Maddox hastens to add that the song refers to George H.W. Bush, father of the current president.)

All the while, Walker blows memorable hooks to help the medicine go down.

The connection between hip-hop and jazz is threefold, Maddox says — there’s the tradition of improvisation and the ability to absorb different musical forms. But “it’s not only musical . . . it’s a social connection,” Maddox says. “Both hip-hop and jazz are music that came from the youth generation of African-Americans that’s been shared with other people . . . and has done a lot to connect different communities. . . .

“Both musics were more or less villainized by the mainstream media, but after a while the practitioners kept . . . developing the music until people could see ” that ‘This is something to be reckoned with.’

On the title track, Maddox shouts out equally to the hood and to the society that enables it. “So you a boxer with a broken nose/ Hands up! This is the life we chose.” And that call to responsibility is central to Maddox’s aesthetic.

“One of the things that I hear a lot of over the years is, ‘hip-hop is gonna do this’ or ‘hip-hop is gonna do that.’ . . . And I think it’s important for us to remember that hip-hop, or jazz, can’t do anything that the people aren’t doing. . . .

“Hip-hop doesn’t have any hands or voice or body without the body and the voice of the people. And people have to take responsibility for the shape and condition of hip-hop; people have to take responsibility for the shape and condition of our lives.”

It doesn’t escape Maddox’s attention that the shallow, negative portrayals of African-American life in mainstream hip-hop (which he calls “big business pimping the hood”) are at platinum-selling status. It also doesn’t escape his notice that it’s largely because white people are buying the music. “Because of capitalism and racism . . . of course the images of negative hip-hop have gotten a boost, because it’s what certain people want to hear and want to see. . . . But if the negative music isn’t supported and bought and sold, no matter how much it’s pushed, it can’t succeed.”

The responsibility cuts both ways, he says — to artists and audience.

“I think the artists hear that all the time: ‘You have to be responsible.’ . . . That statement has lost its teeth and conviction, because the artists who are making meaningful music don’t get support.” On the other hand, “It’s like a twisted novel. In some way the public is being held responsible, because the monsters that we help create by supporting certain things, we have to live with those monsters. And the music will either continue to deteriorate, or it’ll grow in a different direction. Or there will be a revolutionary response to such debased creations. . . . But hopefully the public will see.”

Maddox says it’s hard to tell whether his messages are catching on, since most people coming to the group’s shows are already inclined to agree with the point. But if he’s preaching to the choir, “The choir’s growing because people see that the church service is more important. . . . The Roots made a really strong album, and a growing number of artists are saying things, and it’s harder and harder to stay asleep. You have to choose a side.”

- Providence Journal by Rick Massimo (MAY 10, 2007)


"Album Review: Is What?! - You Figure It Out (Hyena/Sin-Drome)"

The challenge of the title tagged across Is What?!’s album cover is only the start of the provocation offered by this trio of hip hop jazzers. Though even before you start figuring out their melange vibe, the question that arises is: who are these dudes? Fronted by MC Napoleon Maddox, Is What?! is completed by Matt Anderson on upright bass and Jack Walker on the sax and flute. They’ve come straight out of Cincinnati, not known as a hotbed of hip hop, but creativity flourishes in strange places.

The album opens with the appropriately enigmatic ?! Interlude that flings you crash bang into the eclectic trio’s style. MC Napoleon human beat boxing is layered over turntable dynamics and African-style chanting, which is reminiscent of the opening of Wyclef’s Year of the Dragon. It’s enough to enchant as the sonic feast moves on to Parachutes, a lyrical lecture on the subject of misogyny. Or as Napoleon puts it a “Public service announcement for all my dawgs / Living like dogs / Acting like dogs”. Lyrically, Is What?! are firmly on the backpack shelf. Try this on for size: “Calling women chickenheads / Telling them to open their legs / Boy you need to open your head / What would you do if your mom never had you?”

When rhyming, Napoleon’s flow is easy and his voice seems to wedge naturally between the powerfully aggressive bass, the soaring flute and the truly hypnotic sax of Jack Walker, who has got to be one of the oldest dudes to be in a hip hop band. Napoleon’s beatboxing skills, which have won the praise of the beatboxing meister himself, The Roots’ Rahzel, work seamlessly with the turntablism and mean drumming courtesy of guest Hamid Drake on tracks such as Concussion and Can’t Get In.

The sound of You Figure it Out defies easy labelling. The trio bear all the signs of hip hop – the MCing, scratch tricks and deft production – but the jazz impulse is everywhere. The most obvious nod to these roots is in their reworking of Charles Mingus’s Fables of Faubus, where they update Mingus’s civil rights era lament with Napoleon’s beat boxing wizardry. Is What?! also breathe their own style into Mingus' seminal Haitian Fight Song on a track called Trust. Such innovation runs through the entire album. Individual musical abilities are showcased and fused differently on each track. Each sound and style is riffed into many different possibilities. In doing so, Is What?! touch the very essence that informs hip hop as a genre.


Writer: Jessica Ramakrishnan - Know The Ledge


""THE LIFE WE CHOSE" Review"

by Marisa Brown

Although Iswhat?! are technically a hip-hop group, their style, and really, their overall vibe and appeal are much more closely rooted to the bop and free jazz tradition than they are to the South Bronx. "A Mingus-type tune for Jurassic Monk blues," MC, producer, and beatboxer Napoleon rhymes in "Profiles" over a line from Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and featuring drums from Hamid Drake. Napoleon uses his words as much for their rhythmic qualities as he does for their meaning, employing a slam poetry-esque technique in telling stories and criticizing the government. There is somewhat of a political agenda on The Life We Chose, but it's more social consciousness than conspiracy theory. This of course means that Iswhat?! run the risk of becoming overly theatrical, but Napoleon's rhymes are intelligent and provocative enough, rarely blaming individuals (an exception being George Bush in "Ill Biz") but focusing instead on situations, to prevent that from happening. So while the two minutes of a wailing mother over her murdered son on "Circus" may be rather dramatic, it's hard to argue that it's not also powerful and affecting. Where Iswhat?! really stand out, however, is in their music. Most of the songs use Jac Walker's sax (generally tenor), a bass, and some kind of beat, be it live, electronic, or beatboxed by Napoleon, a skill he shows off especially well on the two fantastic live cuts, "Kashmir" and "Pilgrimage," the latter of which is, along with "Mooch," solely instrumental. "Casket" is swinging and organic, and yet smoothly blends in synthesized elements thanks to Ming + FS' production, creating something spontaneous but polished at the same time. The only spot on which they falter is in the techno-influenced "Front," which, while not bad per se, contrasts dissonantly with the rest of the songs on the album, because what really separates Iswhat?! at their best from other hip-hop groups is their dedication to jazz — the horn solos, the loping bass — and their energy and professionalism. When these are all allowed to really come through, Iswhat?! are as exciting and innovative as anything else out there.
- All Music Guide


"Album Review: Is What?! - You Figure It Out (Hyena/Sin-Drome)"

The challenge of the title tagged across Is What?!’s album cover is only the start of the provocation offered by this trio of hip hop jazzers. Though even before you start figuring out their melange vibe, the question that arises is: who are these dudes? Fronted by MC Napoleon Maddox, Is What?! is completed by Matt Anderson on upright bass and Jack Walker on the sax and flute. They’ve come straight out of Cincinnati, not known as a hotbed of hip hop, but creativity flourishes in strange places.

The album opens with the appropriately enigmatic ?! Interlude that flings you crash bang into the eclectic trio’s style. MC Napoleon human beat boxing is layered over turntable dynamics and African-style chanting, which is reminiscent of the opening of Wyclef’s Year of the Dragon. It’s enough to enchant as the sonic feast moves on to Parachutes, a lyrical lecture on the subject of misogyny. Or as Napoleon puts it a “Public service announcement for all my dawgs / Living like dogs / Acting like dogs”. Lyrically, Is What?! are firmly on the backpack shelf. Try this on for size: “Calling women chickenheads / Telling them to open their legs / Boy you need to open your head / What would you do if your mom never had you?”

When rhyming, Napoleon’s flow is easy and his voice seems to wedge naturally between the powerfully aggressive bass, the soaring flute and the truly hypnotic sax of Jack Walker, who has got to be one of the oldest dudes to be in a hip hop band. Napoleon’s beatboxing skills, which have won the praise of the beatboxing meister himself, The Roots’ Rahzel, work seamlessly with the turntablism and mean drumming courtesy of guest Hamid Drake on tracks such as Concussion and Can’t Get In.

The sound of You Figure it Out defies easy labelling. The trio bear all the signs of hip hop – the MCing, scratch tricks and deft production – but the jazz impulse is everywhere. The most obvious nod to these roots is in their reworking of Charles Mingus’s Fables of Faubus, where they update Mingus’s civil rights era lament with Napoleon’s beat boxing wizardry. Is What?! also breathe their own style into Mingus' seminal Haitian Fight Song on a track called Trust. Such innovation runs through the entire album. Individual musical abilities are showcased and fused differently on each track. Each sound and style is riffed into many different possibilities. In doing so, Is What?! touch the very essence that informs hip hop as a genre.


Writer: Jessica Ramakrishnan - Know The Ledge


"ISWHAT?! TLWC review"

by John Book

It was Nice & Smooth who once talked about combining the old and the new, and one of the endearing things (if any) about hip-hop music is that it used to acknowledge the old in the hopes of creating something new. These days it’s more “every man for himself” and admitting you want to be revolutionary, when actions truly speak louder than words.

The Life We Chose is not only those actions, but reactions to what has come and gone in the music. ISWHAT?! are a project consisting of Napoleon Maddox on rhymes and jazz musician Jack Walker. Together with other musicians and DJ’s in the studio they’ve created something that is on the adventurous and dare I say daring side of hip-hop, not unlike some of DJ Spooky’s projects in the past. There’s a jazzy vibe throughout the songs courtesy of Walker, who throws out hints of John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, and Pharoah Sanders in his sax playing. Napoleon is one of those guys who writes and rhymes with intellect, being careful and select with his words and precise in his flows, bringing into mind such sages as Black Thought, Mos Def, and Phonte.

The title of the album explains things briefly, as these songs are in the hip-hop key of life, exploring personal and world problems, social equality, the state of the world, and the unpredictable world of the music industry. For those who miss a time when jazz and hip-hop were joined at the hip, this revives that feeling that has never really left, it just found a nice home in some out of the way venue in an obscure funky alley somewhere.

- OKAYPLAYER


"Record REVIEW"

Review:
Every artistic genre, in order to survive over a long period of time, needs to be dynamic. In the case of hip-hop music, the ability to change with the times, and perhaps just as important to be a force powerful enough to change the times is essential to avoid the type of musical stagnation that we as a culture have been in danger of seeing for quite some time now. With record companies who all too often push for a certain formula for their official album releases, it is always refreshing when an artist or a group come along and tries something new. In the case of Iswhat?!, a progressive and little known hip-hop/jazz duet out of Cincinnati, Ohio, we have a group who not only has a style that is unique in and of itself, but who is not afraid to push the limits of contemporary hip-hop to places where it hasn’t gone too often in the past. With their second official release, The Life We Chose slated for release this August, Iswhat?! is attempting to continue building the momentum that they hope will carry their message to the masses.

I have to admit right off the bat that this album was probably the most difficult album that I have had to grade since I started writing reviews a little over a year ago. I found myself going back and forth, back and forth between how I would compare The Life We Chose to other contemporary and more industry typical (even the underground shit can be very similar in sound) hip-hop albums that have dropped over the past few months. How could I possibly rate this album in comparison to stuff that really sounds vastly different from the style that Iswhat?! brings to the table? This lead me to the near decision of not even doing an album review, but instead, to do a spotlight on the artist, thus saving myself the agony of having to make a decision on a final rating. Ultimately, however, by debating back and forth with myself, I essentially answered my own question. There is no comparing The Life We Chose to the other albums that I have reviewed, because the type of hip-hop music that I am used to reviewing is so different from what Iswhat?! brings to the table on a majority of their tracks, that it would be unfair to them if I tried to grade their album against other artists based on a purely hip-hop standpoint. Instead, I decided to break from The Blueprint and grade this album purely from a musical standpoint with no stereotypes on my part as to what a hip-hop album should sound like, etc.

For those of you who aren’t aware, as I’m sure many of you aren’t, Iswhat?! is a group made up of lyricist/emcee/poet Napoleon Maddux and multifaceted jazz artist Jack Walker. What essentially separates their work from that of just about everybody else in the game is the jazz influence in their music used in combination with what can only be described as a poetry slam approach to the art of emceeing and a strong beat box influence. For the most part, on The Life We Chose, the results of the merging of two distinct art forms from two different eras works extremely well musically. While your average hip-hop listener will have to get used to the off-beat delivery of Napoleon, who will most likely have to refine this delivery somewhat if Iswhat?! Is to garner a significant amount of mainstream success, his style is his style and the power of his words lie in his message. Perhaps nowhere is Napoleon’s ferocity felt more than on the hook for my favorite joint on this album “Ill Biz”. Borrowing the format for the hook from ironically one of my favorite Boogie Down Productions joints of all-time, “Illegal Business”, Napoleon reminds us very clearly who fucked up America, and his lyrical salvo is pointed at none other than our own President George Bush. In a day and age where so many artists are afraid to put themselves out there creatively and politically, this is a welcome and poignant moment. Napoleon also puts forth a strong effort on the album’s title track “The Life We Chose” and “Circus” which are both politically tinged pieces, and his beat boxing is superb on the old school throw back sounding joint “Pilgramage” which features a horn riff and a beat that sounds like something our old school favorites would have spit fury to. Strangely enough, this is one of the album’s best tracks, and it doesn’t even feature any lyrics. I told you this album was about pure music.

With Napoleon providing a majority of the lyrics in his spoken word manner on The Life We Chose as well as most of the production either in more conventional hip-hop sounding beats or Rahzel type beat boxing, which is also very prevalent on the album, one must wonder where jazz artist Jack Walker fits in. The answer: everywhere. Jack with his mastery of mostly the tenor sax but also the flute, provides the punch to every raw beat that he jams to. With the sound of the sax on songs like the intro track “Kashmir” and “Profiles” sounding eerily reminiscent of some of Da Beatminerz early Black Moon work (of course that was s - Hip-hop Co-op


Discography

"Things That Go Bump in the Dark" - OSNR Records (2013)

"Big Appetite" - OSNR (2010)

"NuTakes" - OSNR / Hyena Records (2008)

"The Life We Chose" - Hyena Records (2006)

"You Figure It Out" - Hyena Records (2004)

"Landmines EP" - self released (1999)

Photos

Bio

The Cincinnati duo probably knew taking the name Iswhat?! would make people ask lots of questions over their chosen name. And I have to admit that the group remains an enigma in this era of sharply defined boundaries.

A group that changes in shape, orbiting around core musicians (founders / players) MC Napoleon Maddox and saxophonist Jack Walker, Iswhat?! has been around since the mid-1990s. Their first album You figure it out (2004) a sort of a spacio-temporal rendezvous between Charles Mingus and Public Enemy in a graffiti covered Harlem basement in Harlem intrigued jazz fans aficionados as well as the hip-hop community. Two other disks (The Life We Chose in 2006 and Big Appetite in 2009) and several prestigious collaborations with (with the likes of) Archie Shepp, Chuck D (Public Enemy), DJ Spooky, Fat Jon (Five Deez) and DJ Spinna make it clear: Iswhat?! disregards categories to cultivate a polyvalent vision of music, a new blend of music beyond boundaries. The duo inherit the traditions of Great Black Music, like their forebears Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Stetsasonic, John Coltrane, The Last Poets, Doug E Fresh, Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron and Boogie Down Productions...

For in addition to knowing how to rap, sing, beatbox, and make futuristic beats, Napoleon Maddox is also an incredible story-teller/writer, with a pen as sharp and versatile as a Saul Williams or a Mos Def. His somber stories can also often be interpreted as metaphors for the rap game, or for humanity in its broad sense where each of us must struggle daily against our base instincts so that brother does not turn on brother. Or to quote a proverb: so that man should be more than a wolf for man.

Yet again, Iswhat?! will raise more questions than answers. But this is what happens when we look ahead rather than back.

Band Members