After nearly 20 years of friendship and close to a decade of collaborating in the hip-hip group Mic Company, Asheville-based producer/vocalist Cliff B. “MOTHER HOOD” Worsham and Tennessee producer/illustrator Joey “Joe Grisly” Metcalf focused their attention on a long-discussed project.
The two met through the hardcore and punk scene, and hit it off after their bands shared a bill at Downtown Rafters in Metcalf’s home base of Johnson City, back when Worsham says they “were just pups.”
“At the time, there was not a huge scene for hardcore here in Asheville or in Tennessee, so to meet a group of like-minded people was so refreshing,” he says. “Joey was always the funniest dude I have ever met. We instantly clicked.”
Worsham then turned his attention to beat-making and electronic music with RBTS WIN and as a producer for various rappers. Several years later, Metcalf bought his first sampler and formed Mic Company with James the Gentleman in 2011.
“I reached out to [Cliff] for a beat for Mic Company’s first EP, and it fit so flawlessly that we immediately asked him to be a part of the group,” Metcalf says. “Both his vocals and beats are top-tier, so I’m always more than honored to work with him.”
The group remained active, including the 2012 collaborative EP Vapors with RBTS WIN, but throughout their musical partnership, Worsham and Metcalf often spoke of making a duo project with beats that harkened back to the 1990s. Metcalf calls that time a “golden era” for hip-hop and R&B, when producers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier, and such groups as The Pharcyde, Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest banged through his and Worsham’s respective bedroom speakers.
Snow day magic
In late 2019, after years of Metcalf sending his ’90s-style beats to Worsham, he invited his pal up to Johnson City with the offer of creating in the same room. As the temperature dropped and snow began to fall, Metcalf played what he refers to as “a little piano sample.” Worsham loved it, and a few hours later, “Maybe I Didn’t” was born.
“It was dope to just sit there and write as he chopped samples and created the beat on the fly — something I had never really done outside of my own studio and my own production,” Worsham says. “It really just got the juices flowing, and we were able to create a couple of songs before everything went to shit.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the duo’s work flow shifted back to remote collaborating with Metcalf making instrumental tracks and sending them to Worsham — an arrangement that proved wildly productive in the wake of their Tennessee sessions. In Metcalf’s words, Worsham “has his ways of making my simple shit work for his grand vision,” while Worsham says producing comes “effortlessly” to Metcalf, and it’s “truly inspiring” to watch him create.
The fruit of this remarkable symbiosis is Isolation, a tantalizing nexus of hip-hop, R&B and soul that was released on Nov. 20 but originally slated for spring 2020. With the laid-back piano and chill horn cues of “Maybe I Didn’t” starting the collection off strong, the resulting tracks find Worsham’s suave, Stevie Wonder-like vocals and existential musings pairing exceptionally well with Metcalf’s steady grooves, tasteful strings (“Did You Escape?”) and syrupy smooth electric piano (“Hope You Didn’t Forget It” and “Love Maker”).
Rounding out the collection is “My Grind,” which Metcalf describes as “a forgotten Mic Company track that we kept in our pocket for just this sort of occasion.” The song includes a verse from bandmate/rapper James the Gentleman, which Worsham says “fit the vibe of the tape” and “felt like it really needed to see the light of day.”
“My Grind” was going to be the EP’s lone guest appearance until Worsham, who was having trouble writing a second verse for “Hope You Didn’t Forget It,” submitted the track to local hip-hop artist Philo Reitzel, who was mixing and mastering the album. Upon hearing the one-verse version, the enterprising Reitzel took it upon himself to contribute a fiery set of bars, then asked Worsham for permission to do so. After his longtime friend approved, Reitzel comically said, “Good, ’cause I already did it,” and sent over the impressive results.
“It was just perfect for the vibe of the song. He really killed that verse and brought to life the message I was initially trying to convey,” Worsham says. “The dude is a limitless source of talent. Not only does he drop a song a week with his Freestyle Friday videos, but he’s got heat in the vault that y’all will hear eventually. Love that dude.”
While Worsham and Metcalf are disappointed that they weren’t able to have a proper release show or proceed with an intended tour, they felt it was important to go ahead and share Isolation — especially since they agree that a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy isn’t going to return anytime soon.
“Times like these call for art. You just have to put it out there with the hopes that it will move someone,” Worsham says. “I know that without music right now, I’d be so damn lost. I’m so grateful for everyone who is putting out their art in these times. It’s so needed.”
Thanks to the artists’ pandemic perseverance, Metcalf has a new beat tape called Dreadful Sanctuary that he notes will be released “sooner than later,” and he’s also “always working on new material” with his bands Godsize and The Whiskey Valentine. Meanwhile, Worsham plans to follow up his excellent 2019 solo album, In My Feelings, with Happy Sad, which he says “will hopefully see the light of day in 2021,” along with a new EP from RBTS WIN, plus a 7-inch and an EP with his acclaimed Spaceman Jones and The Motherships project alongside lyricist Davaion Bristol.
“Shows fund all of this, so it’s been hard to navigate that side of it,” Worsham says. “But we aren’t stopping at all. We have to keep pushing this art. Really, it’s all we know.” motherhood.bandcamp.com