The bilingual hip-hop of Blend Phonetics
Gathered in a gallery-like living room a stone’s throw from the St. Mary’s Strip, assorted members of San Anto hip-hop collective Blend Phonetics reflect on their collective journey. It was this time last year that work began on their stellar debut Transitions, placing producer Bryan Hamilton and emcees Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson and Karim Zomar on a path that would ultimately connect them with an all-star team of local musicians.
“I’ve been wanting to play hip-hop for a long time so I was ready as a bassist to tackle that,” says George Garza, bassist for Pop Pistol. “The way that we fused everything, it’s not exactly true to the recording, but it’s definitely powerful and a live representation of that. It still keeps the message in the center.”
While the genesis for Blend Phonetics can be found on Hamilton’s Welcome to Dreamland and Karim’s Bring Us Peace albums, Transitions effectively raises the bar for homegrown hip-hop and breathes life into the stagnant trip-hop genre. Over 10 tracks, Hamilton provides a lush multilayered tapestry for Blend Phonetics vocalists to float over. Sanderson and Zomar, boosted by Maya Guirao, Cayman Robinson and Xelena Gonzales, do not disappoint. At the heart of it all exists a vibrant chemistry, combined with the message of social justice that serves as a refrain for the band.
“Each and every one of us has purpose,” says Vocab. “I think we are all in pursuit of whatever our purpose is in this life, and that’s the message that we’re giving to the community. Connect to your purpose that God gave you and pursue it. If you find people along the way that can help you accomplish it, run parallel to them. Let your paths intersect.”
Prior to rehearsals and gigs, before he even picks up his instrument, Blend Phonetics guitarist Jeff Palacios says a prayer. For several members of the collective, music serves as worship, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the group ignores its dirty south influences. Particularly when paired with standout guests like Mad One, Kizer Sose and Mr. Webb, Karim and Vocab confidently remind us that they can spit with the best of them.
“I feel like some rappers spend a whole album talking about, ‘I’m dope,’” says Vocab. “OK, show me how you’re dope. Demonstrate it. I think with this project it was very much a demonstration, and the music drew the other members that weren’t already involved.”
Featuring additional turns from Donnie Dee, Debra Elena and Aliens WITH Halos, Transitions is the most noteworthy local hip-hop debut since Mexican Stepgrandfather’s Estere-Ere-O released five years ago. Like other Poor Righteous Teachers before them, the band embraces activism and edutainment, proving that consciousness doesn’t have to come with a cost.
“It’s all about money and cars,” Hamilton jokes in deadpan to rousing laughter. “Conscious music or good music does not have to come across in a cheesy way. This is a prime example to do it in a relevant way, and just be yourself. That’s the key to it all. It can be done.” —M. Solis