If a three-cord strand is not easily broken, then what can be said of five? One could say it’s indestructible – at least, it is if you’re talking about LA Symphony.
Together, FLYNN, Joey the Jerk, Sharlok Poems, UNO Mas, and CookBook weathered every storm and stood the test of time as underground hip-hop royalty. Now, with a decade of beats and rhymes under their collective belt, the members of LA Symphony can add another jewel to their crown with their latest project, Unleashed. Coming via the much buzzed about hip-hop label Syntax Records (home of RedCloud), this mixed tape down memory lane is a collection of 22 exclusive songs, rarities, radio drops, remixes and other tracks that haven’t seen the light of day until now.
“My brother and I have known the guys in LA Symphony since before they were called LA Symphony,” says Tim Trudeau, founder of Syntax Records. “We connected on a musical level right away and kept in touch over the years. I am extremely excited about the Unleashed project.”
“Unleashed is great,” co-founder Steve Trudeau concurs. “It’s like a box full of diamonds that you misplaced, forgot about and then found again. You know the feeling! It’s the kind of record you wish bands, singers, and rappers could release every 10 years.”
CookBook executive produced the project. He says, “It has that classic LAS feel. We have songs that go all the way back to 1999 to now. It’s almost like a documentary.”
LA Symphony handpicked each song from a vault of hundreds that got lost in the shuffle of record making throughout the years. Joey the Jerk explains, “We record 50 songs for every album. A lot of those songs never get put on a record.” Those songs are now featured in this one-time dynamic work of art that will take fans, new and old, to new places in LA Symphony’s history.
Fans can reminisce along with the band to the timeless sounds of “DL Drop” and “Idle Times” – two of the first tracks that will blast listeners back to the origins of this urban odyssey. Along for the ride on this journey are some of the greats of the underground. Posdnuos of De La Soul guest stars on “Universal”. The collaboration represents the strong and much appreciated relationship between two of the game’s finest.
“Prince Paul (producer, De La Soul) and Posdnuos are hip-hop legends,” says Joey the Jerk. “Those experiences are priceless... Any fan’s dream.”
Unleashed also brings back together the collaborative efforts of LA Symphony and longtime friend will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. FLYNN recalls, “Watching Will even then, he knew what he wanted and had the ability to work very fast. Seeing his work ethic was inspiring to me.”
As a musical biography of LA Symphony’s career, Unleashed shows the good and the rough times that made the powerhouse what they are today. “Up Down” recalls the bittersweet days of label disputes and how certain times made hope hard to come by. “Love the verses and raw emotion on this one,” Cookbook says. On the other hand, “Church” plays like an old time Pentecostal service that will have you clapping your hands and reflecting on God’s grace. No stranger to struggle, LA Symphony wants to speak a message of peace in the midst of the storm. “No matter how big or how small the problem, God is there to comfort us and bring us through. We have fun with it, but share some very personal moments of weakness that God has brought us through. Knowing that He loves us is sometimes all we need to make it through our days here.”
In between serious tracks, LAS still plays up their humorous side with tracks like “Get Out the Van” and “Tour Bus” – two tracks that showcase the unpredictable nature of life on the road. Not to mention “Global Takeover” that plays like an episode of Super Friends, featuring LA Symphony as the heroes who save the world from phony hip-hop.
Unleashed is over 10 years in the making. Back in 1996, the five guys plus former members Pigeon John, B-Twice and J-Beits (aka “Great Jason”) frequented the same spots in the LA music scene as budding rap artists. What seemed like coincidence was the beginning of a hip-hop fusion that would forever change the game. Immediately charged by socially conscious music, LA Symphony started rapping as a group in 1997 and cut their first record in1999 – the infamous Composition No. 1. It was the stuff of rap legend, quickly catching on with college radio and Internet’s fledging digital downloads. While it’s now considered a classic, Composition No. 1 was the launching pad. The recording of their follow-up Call It What You Want began their turbulent time with Squint Entertainment. However, it was also when the band worked with will.i.am, Prince Paul and Mario C (producer for the Beastie Boys). Call It What You Want was never released by Squint, but that didn’t stop LA Symphony. They went to the underground that they had called home for so many years, releasing EPs and singles. Their solid beats and cult following caught the attention of Gotee Records, steered by Toby “tobyMac” McKeehan and Joey Elwood. Under the Christian label mantel that housed other hip-hop greats like Grits and John Reuben, LA Symphony released the commercially successful The End is Now and Disappear Here.
Now at another high point, LA Symphony takes a look back and pays homage to one mainstay in their career – the fans. The building of this enormous worldwide audience started with the band’s seamless adaptability to both Christian and mainstream stages. “We play a bunch of club shows. We play a bunch of church shows. If you book it, we will come,” Sharlok Poems jokes. At those shows, LA Symphony has always made themselves accessible. FLYNN says, “LA Symphony doesn’t hang out in the green room. We’re real people. LAS goes out, and we connect. We talk. We sell our merch when we’re at the merch table. Our vision is to be chillin’ with the people.”
Part of that reaching out includes touching others with the light of Jesus Christ. Although the group is well known in the mainstream as a force to be reckoned with, their Christian roots and passion for reaching the lost have put them in the perfect position to spread the gospel. “We want our fans to relate on every level to our music, so we keep our concepts about daily life experiences,” UNO Mas says. “We've never preached or written songs with huge biblical themes. We find for the most part that living positive, clean lives naturally comes out through our music, and people truly pick up on that. We've gotten numerous emails from fans telling us how our music has helped them through a situation in their lives.”
He adds, “We also feel that our live shows are a great way to reach people. It opens doors for people to talk to us after a show and ask questions.”
Unleashed is a gift back to the people who made LA Symphony what it is today. It’s for the “die hard fans”, for ones who know all the lyrics, or the ones who only have a few favorite songs. It’s for everyone who looked beyond pop radio to the raw talent and drive of five men – now brothers – who emerged out of the depths of Los Angeles to achieve hip-hop legendary status. To those who helped them stand through it all, Unleashed is LA Symphony’s way of saying, “Thank you.”
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