Upper Echelon
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Upper Echelon

Perth Amboy, New Jersey, United States | SELF

Perth Amboy, New Jersey, United States | SELF
Band Hip Hop Avant-garde




"UE: "Tragedy 2 Triumph" Album Review"

By naming their group Upper Echelon, members Caliph and Tunde set the bar high for my expectations of this album. A group that decides to speak about raising the level of lyricism and freeing hip-hop from “the shackles of radio” needs to put out a product that supports that claim. UE wants to use Tragedy 2 Triumph as their epic. They are looking to create not just an album but an extended narrative poem detailing the many different facets of life. In doing so, they want to elevate the language in the lyrics and to do so in a dignified manner.

In trying to attain the results mentioned previously, UE realizes that they must put forth a valiant effort. The first step towards achieving their goals is music quality. Rather than looking to enlist any number of popular beat makers, UE keeps all of the production in-house. Whether it is the vested interest in the finished product or just the simple fact that Caliph and Tunde know what sound they are looking for, the production on this album is almost flawless. The artists make a conscious effort to display more than their ability to make hot beats. They want to create an experience. When listening to this album, one can begin to feel the amount of effort put into each song. It is almost as if the listener were in the studio with them.

Content-wise, this album covers a myriad of topics. UE looks to display multiple sides of their personalities and lives. They do a good job delivering a product that shows their ability to be well-rounded in regards to subject matter. There is a little something for everyone on this album. Introspective songs, party songs, street songs, real life songs...this record has it all. Tunde and Caliph are quality lyricists who have the innate ability to metamorphose their talents to fit any style of song.

Overall, Tragedy 2 Triumph is a quality album with very few missteps. It is a great introduction to the group’s talent. Not to equate them with Outkast because their style is totally different, but I do see some similarities between UE and the beginning stages of that famous Atlanta duo. With Upper Echelon, we have two talented emcees covering real subject matter. While one artist currently seems to have a more commanding presence, I see both emcees demanding attention if they can continue to grow together. So, if UE can build upon this album, I believe they will be successful in their quest to change/elevate the game.

- Steve Mack
- Okayplayer.com

"Upper Echelon :: Tragedy 2 Triumph:: Album Review"

The New Jersey duo of Upper Echelon consisting of Caliph and Tunde represents "a higher level of awareness in our music and ultimately in our state of mind." After many individual, independent releases of their own, the two come together in "Tragedy 2 Triumph" to narrate the accounts of two separate lives, two stories, two missions and how they eventually come together to initiate a merging art form.

Upper Echelon shows their many talents with tracks that run the gamut of subject matter both reflective and lighthearted. There is a track for every kind of listener whether it is about continued existence or good-humored amusement. "Tragedy 2 Triumph" exemplifies the profound lyricism and poetry of Caliph and Tunde of UE with their use of words and intelligence to tell a story of their journeys past and present.

Instead of "Tragedy 2 Triumph" should have been called "Burning Star," a metaphor used continuously throughout the album to instill the positive message to try and reach astronomical heights as epitomized in "Show Me the Way":

"Life is a beautiful thing or it can be a terrible thing
It's all about choice
Your perspective on the whole thing
That's the beautiful thing about being human
Free will
A star in the sky doen's get to decide whether or not it wants to shine, but you do
So what do you choose?
Do you want to be a burning star or a black hole?
The world is a ferocious stream
That's filled up with lost souls and broken dreams
And few dare to challenge the current
A balance the torrent
Instead most go with the flow... downstream
So those childhood dreams now seem so unattainable
So out of their grasp
That they no longer reach for 'em
That hour has passed
The warrior been turned into a coward at last
And the devil does its victory dance
And the world is once again cheated
And God is defeated
Complacency... that's the demon in disguise"

Resuming the theme with an upbeat, the positive awareness of survival is also seen in tracks such as the "Look Alive" featuring Kurayjus, to encourage the truth about staying both aware and alert. It features a hype, yet classic rock feel packed full of electric guitars and horns to revert back to an eclectic experience. Heavy drums and guitar are featured in "Morning Glow" as sped up lyricism feeds the amplified energy in the track. Over a simple beat with horns and hard doubled up bass, the struggle to build the impossible into something possible, while looking beyond the misfortunes in "Tragedy" features the singing of Natalie Desir.

The album features many sampled tracks such as a twist to A Tribe Called Quest's "Award Tour" in UE's "Back in a Year" and modifies the lyrics to a new "World Tour" instead. It describes a year full of defiance while touring the world. While on tour and passing through ATL, Tunde's clever and humorous approach of beginning a lyrical sequence rather than speaking while leaving a message on a voicemail to an unsuspecting "Bernadette" is imaginative as he says:

"You probably got a man by now I'm sure
But I was still hoping you'd be open to the idea to explore
The idea of me swooping you off the floor
For just one night then I'm back on my tour
I'm staying in room 112 by the pier
Don't call me back just come right here
I let the front desk give you the clear
If you don't see me now I'll be back in a..."

Another sampled amusement is featured in "Heatwave" reminiscent of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas' 1963 hit "Heat Wave." With a mixture of old and new school flair with organs in the background, the track embodies the once classic song into a type of hip hop enlightenment to reveal the heat that comes with UE's progression in music.

UE touches upon highlighted, poignant moments in the album that cover the past and the future including "Things R Changing." Caliph remembers his mother "Midiah" who has passed and shows how life has transformed into something remarkable with the rise of his music and birth of his son. On the other side of spectrum Caliph dedicates the bonus track "Hey Son" to his child as the legacy of his family lives on through him.

Upper Echelon has successfully embraced the story of "Tragedy 2 Triumph" through the wide array of unmatched tracks and beats as I can honestly say that I cannot compare them to any other artists. With their fresh, new style and lyricism to amaze the masses, the variety of tracks includes insightful, yet witty wordplay, the trials and tribulations of an artist, and audible sounds created from their own brainchild. Their expedition through the album becomes an integration of a known familiar territory for each. With this in mind, the end to numerous tragedies and the beginning of many triumphs for UE has commenced.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10 - RapReviews.com

"UE: Independent Threat"

It’s been a while since any hip hop has come out of the Garden State. With Redman on indefinite hiatus, and the much delayed new project from Joe Budden without a release date at press time, Jersey is looking pretty lean on the hip hop front. Enter UE. Short for Upper Echelon, the duo of Caliph (a.k.a Sphinx) and Tunde (a.k.a Poet Laureate) attempt to ascend to the top of the rap heap and move New Jeruz back to the forefront. With their CD Tragedy 2 Triumph, released in 2006 on their own Upper Echelon Entertainment label, UE provides a breath of fresh air in a polluted and diluted rap game.

From the clashing cymbals and mellow keys of the opening “UE Creed”, the listener is brought into their outlook on life and hard work put in to achieving their goals. Entirely self produced (13 tracks by Tunde, two by Caliph) Caliph and Tunde display amazing chemistry as witnessed on “Morning Glow”. This standout celebratory cut features Caliph’s rapid fire flow: “I woke up early with a glow in the morning new state of mind new flow for performing/ and put on a little show for myself that’s equivalent to putting on a show at the Garden… and I’m coming for the key to the throne I seen a whole lot of pain and a whole lot of starving”, set to a backdrop of double time percussion, synthesized horns, signature cymbals and an effectively sung hook courtesy of guest vocalist Deacon.

UE utilize witty wordplay, a variety of subject matter and, most importantly, are unafraid to have fun with their music bringing a refreshing golden age era sensibility to the current landscape. Other exemplary cuts like “What’s It Going To Be”, where studio gangsters get blistered with lines like: “wearing camouflage don’t make you soldiers…wake up and smell the Folgers you a gangsta rapper with a make-up artist”, the deceivingly titled, ‘hood report “When Them Guns Blow” with Menace II Society sampled opening, and the title track display UE’s range showing that the only tragedy is that the duo has not tasted mainstream success.
- Rap Fanatic Magazine

"An Interview with Upper Echelon"

Upper Echelon is one of five bands performing at Arcadia's Spring Fling during Woodstock on Saturday, April 18, at Kuch Field. The music begins at 12 and ends at 6 p.m. View a complete schedule of events at www.arcadia.edu/springfling.

Nina Simone. Nas. Anthony Kedis. Andre 3000. Robert Plant. These are a few of the songwriters who inform the craft of Tunde Akinrolabu and Caliph Herald of Upper Echelon, the award-winning hip-hop duo out of New Jersey. The group won critical acclaim along with a series of major N.Y.C. artist showcases following the release of its 2006 debut album, Tragedy 2 Triumph, a cinematic record full of intricate rhymes, memorable choruses and eclectic beats.

The gregarious emcees embody the do-it-yourself attitude of independent music: They are label heads, beat makers and producers, marketing gurus, art directors. And they are constantly evolving. Caliph, who grew up two doors down from legendary Def Jam recording artist Redman in Newark, N.J., admits that even as the first album was just reaching the ears of fans, he and Tunde were already thinking about how to create a more organic sound for the follow-up record. While Tragedy 2 Triumph relied heavily on samples, Upper Echelon's sophomore effort, Speaker Magic (slated for a 2009 release on Upper Echelon Entertainment), will feature original compositions from the two artists.

I sat down with Tunde and Caliph to discuss the birth of Upper Echelon, the mixtape hustle, Anthony Kedis and T-Pain, whether or not a signature New Jersey sound exists, and their upcoming album. - Purnell Cropper

"Breeding Ground: UE Duo of Melody"

By Spiridoula “Speed” Zis

With a distinct name like Upper Echelon, the duo from New Jersey, better known as UE , offers a unique and eclectic sound of instruments and melody, influenced by the music’s Motown Era.

Winning, among many awards, the Underground Music Award for Best Duo of 2007, UE members Caliph and Tunde, strive to be recognized for their own music production, unique sound, along with their musical live show performances.

With their latest album release, Tragedy 2 Triumph, both members reflect on their personal accounts of tragedy, struggle and overcoming
obstacles they have faced. In their track "Things R Changing," track Tunde
and Caliph speak on their own evolution, while still maintaining the
entertainment and performance appeal on the track "Heat Wave."

AllHipHop.com: Where did you guys get the name UE from?

Tunde: We are looking for something that represented what we were all about, what we were trying to do. Our whole ideology when we go into the studio, we came up with Upper Echelon and it means a ‘higher level’.

AllHipHop.com: Both of you used to be solo artists. What made you want to link up and form a group?

Tunde: We started off solo artists and met each other at Seton Hall University, just going to different ciphers and battles. Back then I was a solo artist working with a producer in New Jersey and Caliph was pretty much doing he’s own thing. When Caliph met there was a certain chemistry that we had with him, kinda like a ‘ying and yang chemistry’. We just automatically bounced and decided to come out with Upper Echelon.

AllHipHop.com: You guys do all of your own production. Tell me about your process of creating a track from the ground up.

Caliph: Off the Tragedy 2 Triumph album, the way it really worked was just about digging in the crates and listening for that certain sound, something would match our sound. We’ll take something from Motown Era music, but we still like to feel like we got our own sound. That just comes from us sitting down with records and records and finding it. It’s not just coming off of records, it’s coming off of records we feel match our sound.

AllHipHop.com: If you had to put a label on that sound, what would you call it?

Caliph: [Laughs] Good Music. We give our best and our all into every song. So, if I had to put a label on it. ‘Good Music.’

Tunde: To add on to that, I would say we’re very musical. We’re more musical, some artists are focus on beats, but we focus on melody and music, which gives a variety of different instrumentations. A lot of which that has been created by live instruments with a unique twist and you get melodies that stick out.

AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like that is a sound that missing in the game right now?

Tunde: Yea, absolutely. I feel like nowadays, the sound people are going for is real synthetic. I don’t have anything against synthetic instruments. I just know, personally, that we don’t go for a lot of fake sounds if it sounds like they are coming straight out of a computer. We want people that listen to our music to feel like they can imagine a band behind us.

Caliph: We keep that musical feel to our music, because we gear all of our music to be preformed live. A lot of artists don’t think about their live show. Ultimately, we wanna be able to rock the crowd with a live band behind us. We make all of our music like that. Our ultimate goal is to live onstage.

AllHipHop.com: Do you enjoy performing live more than creating in the studio?

Caliph: I don’t know. I think I like both for different reasons. When I get to sit down and make music I’m diggin deep in my soul for that sound and when I’m onstage I’m giving it more life… I’m transferring this energy to other people to use. It feels good for two different reasons.

Tunde: Exactly. That’s a good question because when you’re going through the recording process your really writing music to really satisfy yourself and when you’re performing to the public your really putting yourself out to the crowd. When people getting into the energy that you created, it gives you a sense of satisfaction but, I can’t really choose one over the other. They’re both on the same plane.

AllHipHop.com: I noticed a lot of your lyrics have been based on positive messages. Is this something that you’ve done purposefully, as far as your lyrical content having a message?

Tunde: Yea, we believe that you can be positive and its still make good music. While you have people’s ears it’s always good to throw in certain content and a certain message. That’s what makes your music more valuable. If you gear the music towards not really saying anything, then the music is going to be disposable. When there’s a message behind it and substance behind it but, it doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining.

AllHipHop.com: Do you guys write based on personal experiences?

Caliph: I would say about 90% of this album is our experiences. On the title track of the album, “Tragedy 2 Triumph”, we feel like it’s the pillar of this whole album, because it shows that we came from this tragedy to this triumph. It’s all our personal experience, our highs and our lows, our everyday life. We’re not gangstas, we’re not drug dealers, we miss our parents that passed away, I have a son, our family, going out, having fun.. You hear about all of that. Life isn’t just one thing its multifaceted and you hear all about that. It’s a very personal album.

AllHipHop.com What does the title Tragedy 2 Triumph mean to you personally?

Tunde: We came up with that title, cause it pretty much shows how you can create a triumph out of a tragedy. Most people that are successful in this lifetime, usually reach their success out of a struggle or some type of tragedy. Those are always the always the most successful people. Success is really that journey from struggling to triumph. About three and a half years ago my father passed away, it was shocking and very hard. And then Caliph’s mother passed away around at the same time and everything just kinda came to a standstill. The only inspiration to pick up music again came from wanting to spill out emotions of the tragedy that had happened. So out of that tragedy, came such a successful album and that is our triumph..

AllHipHop.com: What’s some of the pros and cons of working in a group setting?

Caliph: There’s really only pros. I say that because he might see an area where I might be lacking at and I would love to say ‘vice versa’. But when I’m slipping, he pickin’ up, when he slippin’, I’m pickin’ up.

Tunde: Basically, as a solo artists, sometimes you need that ear to tell you whether the verse or beat is really hot. Sometimes as artists you think something is hot because you’re so involved in it so, basically what we do is check and balance each other with each other.

AllHipHop.com: What are you guys doing to create mainstream buzz for yourself or do you feel like you don’t need it?

Caliph: No, we definitely need it. We consider ourselves “commercial artists”, we don’t consider ourselves “backpack rappers.” We got a lot of love for Motown, Rock, R&B, and even alternative music. So, we do everything we can. We just did another showcase out in Virginia and trying to spread the UE movement everywhere. So, we definitely don’t want to be local artists or confined one genre and one region. We really want to be international.

Tunde: Here’s the thing about us and our struggle, when we make our music we gear it towards being universal. We make a conscious effort to appeal to a mass amount of people. The struggle is, that our music really doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out there. As universal as it is and as many people that are feelin it, once you listen to it, you see that it really doesn’t sound like most of the hip-hop that’s out there right now. So, when it comes to really getting it out to mainstream, or taking it to radio and DJs or to A&R sitting down to it, most are just listening to what’s on the radio right now. We don’t sound like anything that’s on the radio right now, but I guarantee you, if we were on the radio, people would gravitate towards it. What we’re trying to do is reach the people first. Once you have the people on your side, the industry has to move towards you, regardless. We’re doing as much as we can, if its radio shows, showcases, publicity, anything we can to get the people.

AllHipHop.com: A lot of artists do showcase in the hopes that they’ll be discovered. Is that your ultimate goal to get a record deal out of it, or is it just a platform to perform for your fans?

Caliph: Our goal is to be on a major label. Right now we’re just paying our dues. Anybody that has made it and sustained a long meaning full career has paid their dues in one way or another. A lot of people that have been one hit wonders, haven’t paid their dudes. They just got in cause they paid somebody or knew somebody or didn’t have the talent and perseverance to back it up. So, we grinding, and once we start shining, we’re gonna be shinin for a long time.

UE’s MySpace Page is www.myspace.com/uehome - Allhiphop.com




What do you get when you take an enormously witty, attention commanding Emcee and pair him up with a profound, truth-biting, heart-wrenching lyricist? I'll tell you what you get...The best of both worlds AKA Upper Echelon. Coming off a 20+ date NACA affiliated College Tour, UE's ability to entertain the listener without sacrificing substance in their music is parallel to none. They have found that fine line balance between having Commercial Viability and Artistic Integrity. Their love for other genres of music enables them to pull in fans that do not traditionally listen to Hip Hop music while maintaining the hearts of core Hip Hop fans. Currently, UE is working on a Creative Mixtape called "We Own the Sky." Their remake of Florence and the Machine's "You've Got the Love" is already receiving international attention and will be featured on "We own the Sky".