For nearly a decade, LA Symphony built an iconic underground following with a rap style that walks the line between purist and pop. With such a strong foundation in place, this multi-ethnic group--featuring CookBook, FLYNN, Sharlok Poems, UNO Mas and Joey the Jerk--is poised to break out huge with their new disc, Disappear Here. Skillfully crafting a positive lyrical foil to the violence and materialism of their hip-hop peers, LA Symphony (which represents the City of Angels from East L.A. and Long Beach to downtown and the Westside) pulls back the veil and reveals what's inside the heads of these urban street poets.
Case in point, LA Symphony's lead single "Timeless"--produced by Evidence of Dilated Peoples, mixed by Segal (Dr. Dre, Eminem) and featuring DJ Rhettmatic of the World Famous Beat Junkies--flows like a statement of purpose and an opportunity to put words into action. "I once heard Q-Tip say, 'I am all about style, but I'm never about trends,'" notes FLYNN. "This song is about preserving what we do through all the fads instead of just following the latest production or rhyme styles. We do this by maintaining humanity and integrity in our music and by being vulnerable in a time when artists tend not to be."
"Timeless" joins "Grand Piano" and others as fundamental tracks that appeal to the hip-hop heads, yet Disappear Here also gets the energy poppin' with party anthems like "Funky Music," "Dance Like" and the motivating club banger "Put Up Or Shut Up." Elsewhere, "Give" rolls out a smooth R&B groove to praise selflessly lived lives, while "Don't Call Me" takes a humorous turn by giving the real answers to commonly asked questions. Noteworthy appearances on the disc include Soup the Chemist producing "Less Than Zero," which takes a dark look at Hollywood's knack for chewing people up, and Grammy-nominated singer Tonex lends his vocal hooks to "C'est La Vie" and its portrayal of loneliness and missed loved ones. Madlib, known for his work with tha Alkaholiks, also put his spin on LA Symphony with the track "Universal."
More than anything, though, Disappear Here is about "rolling with the punches," and in LA Symphony's case, there were plenty of punches to roll. While touring Europe last summer, a bitterly ill UNO Mas had to be sent home early and eventually hospitalized. The rapper suffered from a rare disease called Guillain Beret Syndrome that left him nearly dead and stuck in a hospital room for almost three months. During this time, CookBook's father suffered a heart attack and ended up in the same hospital, where he passed away a week later. As his mates suffered at home, Joey the Jerk spent nearly a month with his family in Africa as they mourned the death of his grandfather. These tragedies created the backdrop for this album, but rather than bury these personal moments, LA Symphony addressed the situations head-on and showed that real strength is expressed in honesty and faith. CookBook exemplified this strength by producing the fathers tribute track "Pops Song," while "Rise" specifically narrates many of these accounts and everyone's efforts to stand strong.
"We don't come with any pretentious vibe," FLYNN explains. "We admit our doubts, our disbeliefs, our struggles and our frustrations. For us, the empowerment of faith is perseverance as you continue to go even when it doesn't make sense."
Looking back, the group originally came together through mutual friends and by meeting up at the same hip-hop functions. Though each person performed as a solo artist or with another outfit, the group started doing their own open mic freestyles and eventually decided to release a collaborative project as LA Symphony. Their indie debut, 1999's Composition No. 1, quickly charted on CMJ, Hits and mp3.com, which soon led to an official record deal. In 2001, the group recorded their follow-up, Call It What You Want, with producers will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, Mario C (Beastie Boys) and Prince Paul. As the single "Broken Tape Decks" started catching traction, the group performed at such high profile events as the NBA All-Star Jam Tour and L.A.'s annual The Night Hip-Hop Stole Christmas. However, coming back from NYC after shooting a Levi's ad for a national print publication, the band got disconnection messages when they tried calling the label. On the eve of their proper debut, LA Symphony's label shut it doors and held the group in contract for another two years.
Undeterred, LA Symphony shifted its attention back to the underground by releasing mixtapes, singles and the hush-hush bootleg The Baloney EP. At the same time, the group did shows with the Black Eyed Peas, Xzibit, Clipse, Good Charlotte, Public Enemy, Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, among others, in addition to playing the Vans Warped Tour and a festival for L.A. radio giant Power 106. Finally, with contractual restraints shed, LA Symphony compiled recent material for the 2003 disc The End Is Now, featuring the prophetic single "Gonna Be Alright." The End Is Now ultimately set the table for the group's new disc, Disappear Here, which is their first commercially released album written and recorded as one cohesive whole.
LA Symphony overcame the many road bumps by staying true to the underground and pushing for new horizons, but ironically, it was their differences that provided the spark to make Disappear Here their best album yet. "That's always been the strength of LA Symphony," explains CookBook, whose group recorded 42 tracks just to find the album's final 15. "Even though we all do hip-hop, it doesn't mean we like the same things. We embrace the differences instead of making everyone the same. When we put it all together, it creates a style that none of us could create on our own. That's what makes the difference. When we come together, it makes for something that's truly unique."
From their creative vetting process to their everyman populist message, LA Symphony clearly stands out from the hip-hop pack. CookBook concludes, "When you go against the norm, you're definitely taking a chance, but we think it's more important to give hip-hop fans another choice."