On his new album, Outside the Box, Larry “Po’folk” Williams dishes out an impressive amount of variety. Over the course of 11 tracks, the Asheville-based hip-hop artist works in a mix of the dance-friendly club bangers and lyrically rich head-nodders for which he’s become known, while also making room for silky smooth R&B numbers and even a lullaby.
“About the only thing I didn’t put on there was a country song,” Williams says with a chuckle.
The record’s eclectic nature stems from the diverse fan base that the artist has built up in recent years. After establishing himself as a rapper in the early 2010s, he began exploring his interests in R&B/soul and released the EP The Lounge Singer in 2020. He feels the album helped open up his musical side in tandem with his passion for spitting rhymes.
“I tapped into that grown-up type of vibe, singing cool, classy-type songs, but then I didn’t want to get away from my hip-hop side,” Williams says. “I’m older now. I don’t have a stigma of feeling like I have to make trap music or anything like that. I make so much different music — you can’t just call me a rapper.”
In approaching the range of musical styles, Williams says the beat talks to him, sparking ideas that allow him to hear a song’s chorus and overall style. If an instrumental inspires him to that extent, he knows it’s a good fit and starts writing the song from there, rather than penning a track first and then picking a beat.
“I’m going to make a sandwich with it — I’m going to complement it,” he says. “I’m not going to try and work against it.”
Likewise true to the album’s title is Williams’ selection of collaborators. Though he didn’t intentionally exclude local producers, he feels that looping in creators outside of Asheville wound up best serving the project. Through the power of social media and music websites, he worked with producers in the U.K., South Korea and across the U.S., including several beat-makers in North Carolina.
“A lot of times, the young people who make beats are from the ’burbs, and they’ve got all the good equipment,” Williams says. “It’s all about tapping in to new sounds. If we stayed in our same area, the sounds would all sound the same.”
The main exception is Asheville-based vocalist Mia Faith, who has a star-making turn singing the hook on album standout “Tell Me Why.” Williams describes Faith as someone who has some singing experience but doesn’t pursue music professionally. A mutual friend connected them, and while Williams says the vocalist was somewhat nervous in the studio, he believed in her abilities and helped guide her to a memorable take.
“She was so happy,” Williams says. “It showed me what I can do with somebody.”
Formerly known as the indie-pop trio Hoo:Lumes, Asheville-based artists Sophia Darby, Collin Demos and Drew Sencabaugh took a break from playing music together in 2019. But following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they re-formed with a renewed focus and energy.
“As everything seemed to slow down, we found ourselves writing and playing music together in a way that felt fresh and exciting and different from how we had done so before, so we thought we needed a new name to introduce our new chapter,” Demos says. “Wild Array feels like a name that’s truly boundless. Plus, it’s actual words that people know, which is always nice.”
In seeing that recharged vision through, the trio decided on a concept album of sorts under the title That Night.
“The priority was to feature songs that were about nights that we carry with us. Nights that remain in our memory for a while, whether that is because of friends, love, loss, heartbreak or whatever it may be,” Sencabaugh says. “Sonically, we were excited to take songs wherever we felt they needed to go. Because of that, yes, the record is varied sonically and stylistically, but it is my hope, and I think all of our hopes, that the stories of different evenings tie it together for listeners.”
Crafting these more ambitious works, however, wasn’t easy. Though Demos says all three musicians have “an expressed desire to be a larger band that incorporates more electronic, energetic and soundscaped elements,” none had the skill set to easily achieve that dream.
Enter producer Mike Johnson (Midnight Snack; Slow Packer), whose synthesizers gave Wild Array the sonic textures that the trio craved. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he also plays trumpet on the track “Sun of a Gun.” Sencabaugh applauds Johnson’s willingness to give any idea a shot. And the fact that the collaboration occurred amid a major public health crisis is even more cause for celebration, he adds.
“We had songs we were excited about and eager to use some time last summer and fall to record, but we weren’t sure if recording was even going to be possible,” Sencabaugh says. “But thanks to Mike and his ability to find safe solutions to recording during the pandemic, he made it happen. There’s no way to understate his role on this record.”
Translating this newly expanded sound to the stage is a challenge that Wild Array is looking forward to tackling. Demos says they’re having a blast pushing themselves to play new instruments, and with help from “a few new friends,” they’ll be back in front of audiences before long.
Many local hip-hop fans know Davaion “Spaceman Jones” Bristol and Cliff B. Worsham, aka “Mother Hood,” for their consistently stellar work as Spaceman Jones and The Motherships. For their latest project, The Chariot, the duo grows to a trio with the addition of Maximiliano “Kingdom Kome” Kuper — a transition so seamless that one would be forgiven for thinking their self-titled debut was their fifth or sixth album instead of their first.
A native of Argentina, Kuper grew up in Miami and ran a successful label in his 20s, focusing on artist management and music production, which led to crafting scores for video games and TV shows. After experiencing one too many frustrations with the music industry, he took a step back and committed to making the kind of music he wanted to create. That decision coincided with a move to Asheville in 2011, where he says he experienced “a little bit of culture shock” from the different pace of life. But establishing friendships with Bristol and Worsham soon helped him feel right at home.
“I linked up with Davaion early on, just kicking it. Mother Hood as well. I just embraced those guys, and it was kind of like a natural flowing chemistry,” Kuper says. “They brought me out a couple of times at shows, and then we just started vibing on the same interests.”
Kuper looped in Bristol for a guest verse on his 2019 track “God Exists” and rapped over a Mother Hood beat on his 2020 bilingual album, Doble Filo. From there, they began work on a full-length project and hit the studio with a batch of new Worsham instrumentals for inspiration. The blending of two gifted, complementary voices, going back and forth over tracks by one of the Southeast’s top producers is nothing short of game-changing for the Asheville hip-hop scene. And while some of it was created piecemeal and methodically, much of it was more impromptu.
“At this point in my career, I try to just go off of emotion and feeling. I don’t like to overthink it. So, honestly, a lot of it was freestyle,” Kuper says. “Just us in the studio together, going off ideas. Sometimes, if you capture that moment and that essence, that’s what music is — that feeling.”
In choosing a name for the collaboration, the three artists turned to their overlapping interests in spiritualism, esoteric studies and higher planes of consciousness — particularly Kuper’s and Bristol’s connection to the tarot. The more they worked together, the more the symbolism of the chariot felt like the perfect representation.
“In the tarot, the chariot can mean many things, but it’s a driving force,” Kuper says. “The way I see it, Mother Hood is the chariot driver that sits in the front. Me and Spaceman are the two sphinxes that sit side by side. And we’re kind of this vehicle that is channeling progression and shifting the consciousness, sonically.”
Though each group member will continue pursuing solo projects, all are committed to making The Chariot a long-term collaboration. Kuper says the familylike mutual respect among the three friends provides a strong foundation from which they’ll all look to build through festival appearances this year and a growing discography, all in the hopes of elevating the local and statewide scene.