“The raw intensity of hip-hop is electric. You have the freedom to speak on very powerful subjects that are not normally addressed so bluntly in other genres of music. It is a tool, a voice for the unheard and overlooked, a bond that unites strangers to connect and spread love.” —Truth (Brad Kleinfelder, Celebrate the Villain)
Don’t let their laid-back, zany look fool you—independent San Antonio/Austin hip-hop duo Celebrate the Villain is serious about making music with substance and the rappers are seriously good at it. But then, you readers would never judge a book by its cover, would you? That is the hope that this pair, comprised of Brad Kleinfelder (Truth) and Sean Knox (Choice), thrives on—namely, the hope that the message will precede and take precedent over all the misperceptions and misconceptions that surround the fact that they are two young white rappers from Texas. When I broach the subject of race directly with Kleinfelder, however, he shrugs it off.
“Honestly we haven’t had one bad experience, race hasn’t been an issue or even mentioned,” Kleinfelder said, on the phone from Austin. “These topics take away from the music.”
Celebrate the Villain, officially a group for three years and now two albums, belongs to a motivational, politically minded, postmodern angst- and fear-ridden branch of hip-hop popularized by folks like Jedi Mind Tricks, Immortal Technique and Mos Def. Though the slow-flowing, darkened neon thump of the music (produced by UK collective Anno Domini Productions) provides a luxurious setting, it’s clear that, for these two, it’s all about the lyrics and forcing people to think.
“Without substance, it’s just noise to dance to,” said Knox when the discussion shifted to style versus substance. “Don’t get me wrong: We want you to dance to our music but we want you to take home something else also.”
The new record, I Guess Our Definition of Success is Just a Little Different, which CTV will release in San Antonio Saturday, upholds—perhaps even more than their 2012 debut—the duo’s stated edict ofchallenging people. Songs like “My Write to Survive” and “Organic by Nature” express longing for a freed sense of self, while “Lost” and “God Bless America” seek to hold up a mirror to our ubiquitous postmodern corruption. One of my favorite album tracks, the luminously frustrated “It All Goes Back in the Box,” actually dares to ask the question—after the beat has ebbed—“what matters?” These guys are particularly adroit at avoiding cliché while still maintaining an overtly positive tone even in their darkest ruminations. It is a tough tightrope to walk, and one that most rappers—too concerned with their images and their bank accounts—don’t even attempt.
When our conversation shifts to more explicitly philosophical topics, I can’t help but use the title I Guess Our Definition of Success is Just a Little Different as a starting point for the ultimate question: What is success? Knox’s response echoes sentiments found on the album.
“We feel a lot of people gauge success by wealth or popularity, which is nice, but we gauge it by personal growth,” he said. “Of course we want to make money and be recognized for what we do, but what means the most to us is making sure we are putting out a product we truly believe in. We are here to motivate and inspire, not just sell CDs and get Facebook fans.” A bold, and a bit perplexing, statement from a group about to release an LP that they hope will reach a larger audience than their previous effort.
Catch Truth and Choice in action, along with a host of regional hip-hop and DJ talent, this Saturday at Fitzgerald’s. Their live set, crackling with the same thoughtfully provocative energy as their recordings, is an experience to get lost in. But the real treat is in the challenges you’ll find on your way back.
9pm Sat, Jan 18
437 McCarty, Ste 101
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