on Bringing Live Energy into Hip-Hop

July 1, 2018
By Mark Berman

With the massive overhaul the Music League site has gone through recently, we’ve had to hold off on publishing a few interviews that happened in the meantime. Now though, we can continue to bring you conversations with SoCal acts that deserve a lot more buzz. Take for example San Diego alternative hip-hop outfit Parker Meridien. We originally talked to emcee Parker Edison, aka Jack King, back in April. Their album Fists Like Gotti comes packed with layered, elastic flows and a truly dynamic live rhythm section. It recalls the jazzier side of 90’s boom-bap, without coming off the slightest bit stale. Fans of anyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Aesop Rock should take note. We talk about this and much more with King below:

How do you like to describe Parker Meridien’s overall sound/themes/ideas to someone that asks? What’s your elevator pitch?
Parker Meridien’s sound is pure rap with the energy of a live band. Anthemic hooks. Off kilter content and a fair amount of theatrics. It’s sophisticated boom-bap.
Going into that “live band” element, one of my favorite things about the album is the bass guitar driving a lot of the grooves. Which, from what I gather, you’ve just recently added to the mix.

What has that change done for your writing process?
Bassist John Rieder brings a noisy element to the sound. He deepens our bag of tricks. It’s rap, so we sample/add all kinds of ingredients from all kinds of odd places. “40 Foot Tall” was a hook Hubbard wrote, and John added an overdriven part in the middle section, which really pushed it to another level.
Speaking of “40 Foot Tall,” in that first verse you show some real versatility in your flows.

What rappers did you take inspiration from during the making of this record?
A lot of this record started off as rap tracks that we expanded so that they work live. The musicality smoothed out a lot of the rough edges. To balance it out, the verses are extra grimy. “I’m from a place where the bullet shells sit like acorns / Five-O buzzing like a dopeboy’s pager.” I wanted the lines to be able to stand up in street cyphers. Like something off a DJ Clue tape. Foxy Brown. Ras Kriss. LOX freestyles. Even a semi-romantic track like “Long Distance Runner” has hood references like “drunk as double-cups” (a reference to down-south lean drinks).

Do you see that live rhythm section adding some energy to your shows?
The energy triples because of the group dynamic. Sometimes quadruples. Sometimes it’s synchronicity. If one of us is in a mood, the others can amplify it. If I’m vexed or something, John or Nate might tap into that. It can change the whole vibe of the performance. The crowd ends up getting a version that even we’ve never seen.

I imagine this also makes it easier for you guys to blur genre lines as far as who you land on bills with…
Definitely. To a degree we’re trying to blur the lines of how and where cats consume rap music. We’re doing clubs, but we also want to bring our set to unorthodox places like Sleep Bedder, the MOPA and university libraries. There are elements of performance art in our stageshow.

Without spoiling too much, what kind of performance art?
Last year we used a screen to create shadows at the loft. I changed outfits onstage at the Casbah. We’re not doing David Byrne stuff. We do straight-ahead shows. But when we’re playing in a different setting, we try to bring something different.

What do we have to look forward to from Parker Meridien for the rest of 2018?
Playing more shows. Hitting LA and Arizona. Releasing a DVD. Working on new material. Some interesting stuff.

Check out Fists Like Gotti now on Bandcamp & catch them live if they’re in your area.

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