In May of last year, I went to the Lobotomix showcase in Birmingham. Headlining the bill that night was a new group called Basshead Jazz out of Mobile. I had seen one of the members perform solo before, but besides that I knew very little of what to expect. By the end of the night, due to their absolutely electric set, everyone in attendance had become their biggest fans, me included. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them perform a few more times, and each time has been better than the last. Now, after eight months of telling everybody about the best hip hop show in Alabama, I can finally just recommend that you listen to them as they drop their debut EP, Sidea’Grits. Basshead Jazz consists of three emcees – Ottie James, See’J Foster (fka No Suh Foster), and Sidney VaDale (fka Bby). The group formed organically about a year ago, and you can really tell by their chemistry when you listen to this EP just how much mutual respect they have for one another. In today’s musical climate, you just don’t see that many groups in hip hop. You might see some affiliated collectives, supergroups, one-off collaborations, and the such, but you really don’t see that many tightly knit, small groups working together on a consistent basis. And that’s part of what makes Basshead Jazz so appealing – you’ve got three extremely talented emcees all working together, but nobody is trying to outshine each other or step on each other’s toes. Instead, they’re taking it back to a style where all three are pushing each other to shine, and as a result you get three artists not just taking turns on the mic, but actually taking advantage of having three different talented voices and interweaving them and creating music that they couldn’t make on their own. As you make your way through this EP, you’ll hear incredibly thoughtful and passionate lyricism about growing up and living in an overlooked Southern city and how they’ve made their own way despite the odds. It’s about building and believing in each other and you, since they are inviting you into their world with this EP. Basshead Jazz then takes this lyricism and adds a musicality that’s all their own, by trading off lines, phrases, hooks, and verses, then interweaving them and adding some brilliant singing by Ottie James and Sidney VaDale on top of everything else. The resulting sound of the EP falls somewhere in between the musically adventurous Southern hip hop of groups like Outkast and Goodie Mob and the intellectual jazz-influenced groups of the early ‘90s such as Digable Planet. When you put it all together, you get an EP that is bursting with ideas and energy. It is catchy and fun to listen to, but also challenging and full of layers that encourage you to listen over and over again, trying to unpack all of the musical and lyrical ideas packed within.
The most exciting part of Sidea’Grits is knowing that there’s more coming around the corner. The last year saw this group putting in the work, building up their live show into one of the most exciting things happening in the South. Now the time has come for them to take that next step and climb up the ladder, and Sidea’Grits is a hell of a first step.
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