THE WINNERS: Grand Prize Winners From Last Year aren’t playing a genre-defying game. It just sounds like it. “Rocket People,” the album the Atlanta-based band released earlier this month, is experimental hip-hop meshed with rock, electronica and other alternative genres.
The trio — Believe, Slaughter and No Name the Great Nameless — will perform Thursday at New Brookland Tavern. The concert is a stop on the band’s way to Philadelphia to play the fifth annual Roots Picnic, the concert hosted by hip-hop luminaries The Roots.
GPWFLY could be the next band with a Columbia connection to make national noise. (Note: I don’t like the acronym, because it reminds me of another Georgia hip-hop group, F.L.Y. You remember them, right? No? It’s a shame because while hip-hop is still "Swag Surfin’," the Fast Life Yungstaz have long been put out to sea.)
Believe (real name Walter Harvey), who raps, sings and plays various instruments, is a Columbia native and a 1998 Richland Northeast High School graduate. He moved to Atlanta after graduating, but he settled for a time in New Jersey where he worked for Sugar Hill Gang Records, the music-production factory owned by Sylvia Robinson, who is often referred to as the mother of hip-hop.
WillPower, another beat maker who once called Columbia home and is now based in Atlanta, also worked for Robinson. Both Believe and WillPower had similar experiences making beats for Robinson: neither made any money off their work.
But like WillPower, Believe knew that if he wanted to have a career in music he had to leave Columbia.
“I would say it’s damn near impossible to make it in Columbia,” Believe said. “If you stay there, you have to tour. Even us. We’re based out of Atlanta, but we tour constantly.”
Believe moved back to Atlanta after his stint in New Jersey where he put out some underground hip-hop music. He tired of rapping to CDs. He then linked with No Name, who had played in the Florida A&M marching band, and Slaughter, who had worked at Stankonia Studios, the production space owned by OutKast. They shared a punk-rock ethos and wanted to approach music with more live instrumentation.
“We didn’t really know how to play these instruments, but we were going to play them anyway,” Believe said of the band’s start.
GPWFLY have been described, according to its Facebook page, as “Outkast (sic) meets TV On The Radio meets Blondie.” Rolling Stone wrote, “Think full-band OutKast: these fellow ATLiens blend Dre and Big Boi’s knack for nimble rhymes with weirdo spaced-out funk and rock, making snarling songs that swivel and pounce.”
Since we’re listing comparisons, here’s my own: GPWFLY is like the Animal Collective of the urban-indie set.
What does the band hear?
“If you listen to our album, it’s so hard to nail it down,” Believe said. “We also get compared to OutKast because their sound is always changing. What does OutKast sound like?
“It isn’t one specific thing we’re trying to do. We just give each other the freedom to put whatever we think should go (on the song). It usually ends up being a mesh of different styles of music.”
“Electric Blue,” from the new record, leans on reimagined ’80s arcade-pop that is reminiscent of Chad Hugo of The Neptunes’ production on Kenna’s “Make Sure They See My Face.” The song could easily fit on a pop station’s playlist, but there’s an undeniable street swagger in the guitar solo.
The instrumentation varies from song to song, but hip-hop is at the heart of the music no matter how laced the beat is with electronic pulses.
The Roots Picnic on June 2 will also feature Wale, Kid Cudi, Rakim, tUnE-yArDs, De La Soul, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Diplo and St. Vincent.
Even if GPWFLY isn’t the next band with a Columbia connection to blow up, the band will forever be rooted in the scene’s lore. In March of 2011, following a show at The House, the bar now known as 5 Points Pub, Believe exited the stage and walked outside to get some air.
After rocking out in front of a sold-out crowd, he was just wearing his underwear and, unfortunately, a City of Columbia police officer was on Devine Street.
“Our shows get kind of crazy,” Believe said. “By the time I’m done playing, I’m in my underwear because it’s too hot.”
According to Believe, as he was questioned by the officer, people who attended the show became rowdy. More officers arrived on the scene.
“It went from me just standing there to them being there with guns,” Believe said. “The people started yelling at the cops. I didn’t have time to explain. If it had been me and that cop, it would’ve been cool.”
Believe, his bandmates and several others were arrested. To make matters worse, it was his birthday and his mother and other family members were at the show.
“It was a mess,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
So ... how was the performance?
“It was a good show,” Believe said.
Luckily for him, NBT has a fenced-in outdoor area.