Young L., APX, Half-Raized and Lee Sane walk into the Paris Café on Detroit’s east side, and I’ve gotta laugh to myself.
“Definitely not coffee shop cats,” I think. Sweat suits, boots and big coats on big dudes clash with the quaint decor of the Lafayette Park eatery. If I were given to stereotypes, I might wonder what the hell they want here. Though coffee is not on their to-do list this afternoon, we’re all skipping the Michigan-Ohio State game to discuss something more important — their new album, First Move.
These four gentlemen are Connekt4 (“C4” for short), the first rap group released on NBA baller Derrick Coleman’s imprint, On Point Entertainment. Chances are most Detroiters have seen them, even if they haven’t heard their music. Thanks to a PR machine that has promotional posters adorning the side of every other bus in town, it’s hard not to notice their faces grimmin’ every move you make on any bus route. Must be nice to have a CEO with NBA jack and a huge soft spot for hometown talent.
But get it right. Coleman’s a quiet student of the music industry who has built a team capable of creating a buzz and keeping it alive. C4’s lead single, “How Ya Like Em Boyee,” made a nice amount of noise on WJLB-FM. Then, when “106 & Park,” BET’s version of “Total Request Live,” tapes an episode in Detroit, C4 unexpectedly pops up on stage alongside established artists like Slum Village and the LOX’ Styles P.
Anyone expecting C4 to play the small role among this kind of company should think twice. They get the crowd crunk, and later take slight exception to their show being edited.
“I was kinda upset we only got two verses out,” says Lee Sane. APX, the group’s most congenial member, attempts to clarify Sane’s thought, explaining that they performed an entire song, but half the performance was edited. Still, it aired, and the entire country got the chance to see an auditorium full of teenagers jacking fists to the music of this relatively unknown crew.
Yet Lee Sane is not satisfied. “That’s the first and last time you gon’ see me edited on BET,” he coos.
C4’s first release, the aptly entitled First Move, is an EP, a format rarely seen in hip hop today. It’s a seven-song teaser, and the group promises that “the best is yet to come.” Normally six to eight songs in length, EPs give new groups a smaller window to establish their image and sound, which usually is helpful since it forces the artist to have a more narrow focus. Audiences may shy away from EPs since they prefer full-length albums. But the point is to focus positioning as much as sales.
C4’s intent is to establish themselves as fun-loving, hate-free artists. Comprised of two sets of cousins (APX/Half-Raized, Lee Sane/Young L.), they formed about a year ago, fusing two groups — Born Suspicious and the Other Half — at the NBA star’s suggestion. It should be noted that Coleman is also related to APX and Half-Raized, and had worked with them before when he ran another label.
“I’ve always believed in their talent,” says Coleman, “even when they were Born Suspicious on the 44 Ways label, which was my former label. I watched them grow up doing their thing. With talent [and] hard work, someone [has] to get behind that talent, and support is key to most artists’ success, whether it be Eminem, Slum Village or whoever. It’s pretty much the same ingredients. I believed in them then. I believe in them now. It’s just a matter of time.”
Coleman tapped Eddie James, an old friend from Syracuse University, to produce First Move. The result is a disc that goes easy on depth, heavy on common issues.
James pulls a Mannie Fresh move on First Move, handling the beat-making duties by his lonesome. Overall, I give him a “B.” His strongest tracks are “Ain’t No Hoe,” “We Smooth” and “Keep The Faith.” “C4,” the introductory track, sounds incomplete, and “How Ya Like Em Boyee” rides a consistent rhythm, but doesn’t stand out. The bouncier “Ain’t No Hoe” would’ve made a better first single.
On First Move, C4 is apparently out to enjoy all the cash, clothes, cars and hoes the world has to offer. The songs deal with having hardcore fun — not extremely profane or profound — but hardcore, nonetheless. C4 is not trying to reinvent the wheel. They pretty much go with the flow.
Lyrically, Young L. comes off the wittiest, but the four all have better chemistry than what I would have expected from a group that’s only been together for a year and change.
With the exception of the lead single, themes like “Take One For The Team,” “Ain’t No Hoe” and “Keep The Faith” address light topics to which most people easily relate. Who hasn’t taken one for the team and hung out with the unattractive girl so your boys can squeeze her cute friends?
Overall, First Move is the musical equivalent of the Minnesota Timberwolves ’01 run. It’s good enough to make the playoffs, but could mean a first-round exit. Still they have enough going for them to be excited about the future.
APX, Half-Raized and Young L. tease Lee Sane. They keep calling him Kanye. They recently attended a music seminar where Kanye West, a producer who has gained fame through his work with Roc-a-Fella and Def Jam recording artists, irked an entire audience with his long-winded answers to basic questions. Like West, Lee Sane can talk. No, really. Dude is Malcolm X-tra.
The subject of radio play for local artists comes up, and all four have a little something extra to say. When asked about their efforts to garner airplay, APX describes their journey in one word.
“Struggle,” he says. Half-Raized and Young L. murmur in agreement, shaking their heads. “I’m not saying that in a bad way,” APX continues, “but you’ve gotta go through certain steps to get on the radio. The main thing is to hit the streets. Hit all the clubs. That’s how you do it in Detroit. Radio personalities go out to the clubs to see what’s hot.”
Though they agree that radio support of local artists has increased — Royce the 5’9”, the Chedda Boyz, Eminem and Slum Village are all evidence of that — Connekt4 suggests that independent groups like Alphabet and Rock Bottom are just as deserving of airplay. In the meantime, they’ve got their own careers to mind. And with shows coming up at the Bayou Classic in Louisiana, and many more stages to rock, they’ve got more than enough places to plant the C4 sound before they blow up.Khary Kimani Turner is Metro Times' beat man at large. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org