Wednesday, December 07, 2005

IsWhat Tonight

I interviewed this group last year called IsWhat out of Cincinnati that have this hot mix of jazz and hip hop for a show they were doing. This was one of my best interviews (even though the story was cut short) because the emcee, Napoleon Maddox, has such an interesting perspective about hip hop. IsWhat will be in Columbus again tonight at the ACME Art Company, 1230 Courtland Ave. (corner of 5th ave. and North High st., in the Short North.) Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $7 adults, $5 students.

Opening will be Flip the Early Riser and maybe a poetry performance, you never know who will stop by these things! I'll be there reppin' for the Ghetto and you should come out too! If you can't at least hit up the group's website at or their MySpace page for some music. Here's the story I did last year...

IsWhat brings a new definition of hip hop

If Napoleon Maddox was a painter, he would be sort of a hip-hop Georges Seurat. The artist’s pointillism style was incoherent up close. But stepping back, the blotchy piece would become an assimilated piece, with each conflicting dot working together to create a masterpiece. Since Maddox is an emcee for the genre-bending group IsWHAT?!, he is labeled a music rebel, who has paired the jazz stylings of the saxophone and bass with his own vocal instrument, the beatbox.

The Cincinnati native joined with Matt Anderson on acoustic bass and Jack Walker on tenor saxophone as their debut release, “You Figure It Out,” has received rave reviews from media and hip-hop critics. Maddox says that the respect for art drew the seemingly different styles together.“We got together because we were all out doing stuff as artists,” Maddox says. “It took time to hear each other’s voices clearly. But it comes out of experimentation and character.”

Many of the group’s songs begin with a bluesy sax and bass sound that are combined with Maddox’s beatbox. Although few instruments are used, the songs are full and musical. Maddox’s spoken word-style rhymes flow as easily as the saxophone yet require close listening. These songs are not just for ear play.“What’s refreshing and fun about music and art is that some of the best pieces of work have different meanings,” Maddox explains. “That’s what touches me the most, even if it’s not glowing praise.”

IsWHAT?!’s topics range from misogyny and musical integrity, to politics and community issues. Maddox says that music from early hip-hop that spoke about more than booties and bling inspired the group’s eclectic sound.“After high school I knew hip-hop would be a part of my life,” he says. “Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions were looking like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, but doing it with music.”


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