First in funk

Urban Grind — Atlanta’s foremost rock/rap band — never troubled itself with the dilemma that seems to irk so many other rhythmically cross-pollinated groups today: how to avoid media-induced entrapment in a single musical style when their sound makes fervent use of so many.

Instead of worrying about how they might be misrepresented, this savvy crew simply created their own category.

Hip.a.delic funk (which is also the name of their debut CD, co-produced by DJ Hurricane, of Beastie Boys fame) mixes rock — both psychedelic jam-style and the harder stuff — with freestyle rap, a brew Urban Grind occasionally thickens with the torchy stylings of backup singers Dia and Divine.

But the band, notes rapper Paco during a recent phone interview, is hardly a newcomer to this perhaps-inevitable genre:

“We’re pioneers of [the sound], especially in Atlanta. We started our own sound, hip.a.delic funk, [so that] we wouldn’t fit into any category they tried to put us in,” he explains, pointing out that the band has been shaping its determined diversity since the early ’90s.

Paco shares rapping duties with Woodstock and Brotha G; the group is completed by guitarist William Sullivan, keyboardist John, drummer Tuesday, and bassist Blue.

“We’ve got our own style,” he continues, “and what we’re doing is different. When we started out it was a lot of rap, and then it grew into a little bit of everything. We fill [the gap] from hip-hop to funk, and from rock to rap.”

Funky bassist Michelle N’degecello; hard-rockers Stuck Mojo; the Beastie Boys — unlikely stagefellows, perhaps. Yet Urban Grind has played with all these acts, further cementing their status as a cultural binding agent. As for other bands trying out the rock/rap thing, the Atlantan is cautiously encouraging:

“Some of them are cool, and [others], like some of the ones on MTV, are wack. But I can’t be down on the next hip.a.delic band, especially if they’re workin’ it, [because] it’s their turn. That’s how I feel about the music business … everybody has a turn. That’s why it’s taken us this long to get where we are.”

Even with so many members, however, creative dissension within the band is rare, claims the rapper.

“We’re all on the same level: We all have the same vibe.” And songwriting, he says, is a collaborative process: “Everybody has a job to do, and everybody knows what [that job] is. It just works.”

The results of this hectic fusion are madly compatible: In “Westside”, head-thumping funk gets splattered at the end with pure punk rock, while the emotional groove of “Do As You Live” bears witness to the band’s more introspective side.

“That’s sort of like a religious song,” says Paco. “Well, not exactly a religious song, but [the theme is] ‘reap what you sow’; ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ … basically, how you live is how you’re gonna die.”

Or, as the lyrics tell it: “I do as I live, I do as I die/I do what I got to do in this life to survive./And why must I, why must I?/I guess it’s just the song in me … “

The band is now at work on a new CD and hatching plans to spread the hip.a.delic sound beyond their tried-and-true Southeastern circuit.

“I want to reach everyone, worldwide,” Paco declares passionately. “Everyone partying together, black and white … I don’t want to limit myself to nobody.”

But the first common denominator in an Urban Grind performance is unflagging intensity.

“Our shows are very energetic,” says the rapper; then, with a laugh, he amends: “Very, very energetic … the music definitely makes you move.”

On-stage surprises may include crazy costumes — plus a whole lot more. As Paco teases, “There’s no telling what we’re going to do … everything you can imagine, and more.”


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