Tony Cummings reports on a London-based rock rap aggregation, EMPHASIZE
In an age when many bands seem cut from the same cloth, London band Emphasize have more than a hint of originality about their sound. Calling them rock rap might be an adequate description though one would have to emphasize that they sound nothing like any of the rock rap groups out there. The rapper with Emphasize, Richard Abiona (stage name Fuse), brings elements of British hip-hop and even grime to the band's sound while the rock rhythms over which he makes with the verbage are far more inventive than the usual metal riffs of other bands. The record producer, lead singer and keyboard player for Emphasize, Michael Goodlet (otherwise known as Mikey G) has been working with a wide selection of artists for about five years. He admits though that Emphasize is the most original act to emerge from his London recording studio. He says, "They have fused the intensity and power of hard rock with the phatness and funk of hip-hop for an emphatic sound that audiences are starting to wake up to."
For a band with powerful Christian lyrics, Emphasize's origins are particularly unusual. Explains Mikey, "We started two years ago. There was a competition, Emergenza. The act who won supported Bon Jovi at the Milton Keynes Bowl. I, at the time, had a band and was working with Richard, producing with him, and some other artists too. So I thought, 'I'll get together everyone I know who is good and put them on a track and enter it.' So we did that and recorded a radical version of a Bon Jovi song, 'Blaze Of Glory'. But we were late with the track so we missed the end of the competition and didn't win. But the recording went really well so I thought, 'Why don't we follow this up, to see what comes from it?'"
With bass player Philly D, guitarist Sam and drummer Dan the emergent Emphasize began working on tracks which were to become the 'Emphasize' album. The name Emphasize came almost by accident. Said Mikey, "We needed a name to enter a band competition and we just didn't have one. We were running out of time then someone said it and we were like, 'Yeah. That's good!'" The songwriting process for Emphasize is somewhat unusual. Explains Mikey, "I'll put a track together, give the music to Richard and say spend a bit of time on this, write something, send me back your vocals, and invariably when I hear it I'm like whoa! It's never what I expect, to be honest. Sometimes it takes me a while to get used to it but somehow it just works. Our creative process seems to work."
An example of this process is the song "Do It Again". Says Mikey, "That tune is probably the one that's been longest in process. I remember I probably started writing bits of it 10 years ago. And you know how sometimes you just have melodies that stay in your head for years and years and you just somehow want to get them down but they can never quite come down? It was two separate songs to start with - the verse was a separate song to the chorus, and then I changed the key of one of them to go with the other one, but it was another case of having some hooks and then I realised I couldn't possibly sing it because it was too high. So I figured we needed a guest female vocalist. So, shout out to Jane, the guest vocalist on this album."
A strong Christian message runs through the 'Emphasize' album. Fuse speaks about his particular spiritual journey. "I've been a Christian since a real young age but I took it seriously when Mikey invited me to watch one of his friends perform. From that I actually got saved. I never saw that coming because when they did the altar call, I did not want to put my hand up, but someone put my hand up and after that I had to stop running away. I knew I had to sacrifice a lot of things, obviously being a true Christian you have to sacrifice a lot of things that the world has to offer. On the album I prayed before I wrote the lyrics. Even if the lyrics are not amazing to you, they are amazing to me because I know where they came from. Basically everything that's in there is influenced by God and that's why I'm so proud of the album."
The most powerful song on the album in "Umbilical Cord". Fuse explains the origins of the lyric: "The song kind of got started by me watching friends and some of the things they were going through. I've had friends, girls who have had abortions. Because of my faith I'm so against abortion. Sometimes they wouldn't listen to me, they'd listen to their parents instead and would end up doing the wrong thing. Abortion has a close connection with me. My parents have been together like 20 years and all of a sudden my mum got pregnant and they thought about having an abortion. The fact that they actually thought about it made me angry and got me thinking, what would have happened if they had actually decided to abort me? So the song stems from there. They did actually have my little sister and she's so cute, she's two years old and quite fun. It was the whole concept of thinking 'what if?' and speaking from a baby's point of view, because obviously the baby doesn't normally get to speak. In this song I'm speaking to all mothers and imagining what the babies might be thinking."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.