ISWHAT?! Drops New Album, "The Life We Chose" / Available August 31 on HYENA


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“...bridging the gab between avant-garde jazz of the sixties, politically charged poetry slams of the seventies, and the raw rap sound of the eighties."

Brooklyn, NY - Don't adjust your speakers. That is the legendary riff to Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir" wailing on a tenor saxophone underneath the spitfire rhymes of Napoleon Maddox that you're hearing. And the old man getting the led out on the horn who looks one part Henry Threadgill and one part Grady Wilson is Jack Walker--a little known avant jazz sage from Lincoln Heights (a section of Cincinnati best known as the original stomping ground of the Isley Brothers). Together the unlikely pairing form ISWHAT?!, one of the most groundbreaking hip-hop groups to emerge from the Midwest in recent memory. Busting out of Cincinnati with their 2004 debut, You Figure It Out, on HYENA Records, Maddox and Walker's music was greeted by declarations like: “ISWHAT?! are going to rescue hip-hop. The trio are part of a movement that is promising to bring originality back to underground beats." (STYLUS) and “They're all about what's happenin' that a lot of people ain't even hip to yet." (Rahzel/The Roots).

On August 31, 2006, ISWHAT?! attempts to match the level of such lofty praise with their highly-anticipated follow-up, The Life We Chose. While the core of ISWHAT?!'s sound is based on Maddox's human beatbox rhythms and Walker's sharp, incendiary horn lines, this time around they build upon their ideas with help from a vast cadre of friends and special guests, including Hamid Drake, Piakhan, Animal Crackers, Claire Daily, Ming & FS, Roy Campbell Jr., Fatal Prose, Lewis “Flip" Barnes and Daniela Castro among others.

After the release of their debut album You Figure It Out, Napoleon Maddox and Jack Walker hit the road like ghetto prophets, spreading their re-conceptualized vision of their individual generations' musical languages: jazz and hip-hop. Over the course of those 200-plus shows in the U.S. and Europe, ISWHAT?! played to sold out audiences with the likes of KRS-One, Sound Tribe Sector Nine, Saul Williams and Maktub to name but a few. But they also performed at smaller, more intimate gatherings comprised of politically and socially charged heads looking for true community and purpose from music. Their co-conspirators on those nights included artists such as Burnt Sugar, Dalek, Dujeous, Ursula Rucker and Pack FM. If spreading their sound to the furthest corners of the world was the immediate goal of their relentless touring, ISWHAT?! soon found that playing music to a vastly divided country in the throws of a highly contested war took on a purpose greater than they could have ever imagined. They seized upon the opportunity to question US foreign policy. They also called out the government and corporate America for what they saw as the exploitation of violence and poverty in African-American communities. Ultimately, ISWHAT?! performed their small part in uniting like-minded, progressive souls in questioning the ever tightening grip of authority and suppression of democracy.

These experiences coalesce on The Life We Chose, featuring 14 brand new tracks bursting at the seams with pith and vinegar. The album signals a major evolution for ISWHAT?!, which is assisted in no small part by its guest artists who bring a broad spectrum of sonic colors and styles to the table. However, in the end it's the giant steps made by Napoleon Maddox and Jack Walker at their respective crafts that makes their long-awaited follow up so extraordinary. The soulful tenor that winds through “Casket" exemplifies Walker's command of the less is more approach, adding an earthy potency to the cut's electro funk groove. On “Writer's Block," he slowly repeats a lick that offers a stark counterpoint to the track's frantic vocal. Meanwhile, the resounding conviction in Maddox's rhymes is sharp and convincing like that of the title cut, “The Life We Chose": “So you a boxer with a broken nose? Hands up, this is the life we chose! Hot fashion model with the itchiest clothes? Dress up, this is the life we chose! A farmer on the turf where the worst weeds grow? Dig up, this is the life we chose!"

“This record's about us looking in the mirror and checking out our battle wounds. It's about reckoning," states Maddox. “We're asking a lot of questions both of ourselves and our government. Who's really deciding our targets? Who and where are my comrades? If I am in this alone is there any reason to continue the struggle? Was that fight worth the goal? They're true linear factual stories that are synced up with metaphors that tell a greater story of struggle, decision, triumph and sometimes even defeat."

While Napoleon Maddox takes on the system, he also questions his peers in both the hip-hop game and his own community. “Top 40 today and gone tomorrow but I can't feel no sorrow 'cause its all music for the circus man." he rants on “Circus," as Jack Walker blows new meaning into the circus theme of our childhood memories. “K-N-O-C-K, you get props for not getting locked away, but if so, flip time, prevail, don't serve time, make time serve you well," he later declares on “K.N.O.C.K." The latter also highlights ISWHAT?!'s growing focus on song structure. They haven't turned their back on the improvisational tendencies of their past, but have consciously applied greater focus to constructing durable hip-hop hooks. Despite its deathly serious subject matter, “Ill Biz" reverberates with a droning chorus that lingers long after the song has finished.

The Life We Chose is a fierce, modern hip-hop statement. And concurrently, it's a progressive, forward-looking jazz record. Created by a one-of-a-kind pairing of artists who are not at all inclined to allow the inimitability of such a combination carry the day, they deliver music of purpose, conviction and inspiration. In the words of one of Napoleon Maddox's heroes Chuck D., it's a collection of songs meant to “Fight the Power." In the spirit of one of Jack Walker's heroes Rahsaan Roland Kirk, it's music created as a “Theme For The Eulipions."

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