Combining the vibes of funk music with the intensity of hip-hop and spoken-word poetry, Syracuse-based group Sophistafunk specializes in cross-genre music. The three-man group features vocals from Jack Brown, drums by Emanuel Washington, and keyboard, bass and backup vocals by Adam Gold. Sophistafunk will be performing at 9 p.m. tomorrow at Castaways on Inlet Island and on March 4, 11, 18 and 25 at Wildfire Lounge on The Commons. Staff Writer Evan Johnson spoke with Brown about the band’s love for hip-hop and its upcoming performances.
Evan Johnson: How long have you been listening to hip-hop?
Jack Brown: I was born in 1985 and I feel like I’m in a unique generation where even if you grew up and hip-hop wasn’t entirely in your life, it was around. I know that hip-hop had some very strong influences on me through the ’90s. The first music I was trying to get my hands on was all in the hip-hop genre. I also was writing, and I then used that to put it all together. It’s been a lifetime experience.
EJ: Aside from hip-hop, what music were you listening to as a young person?
JB: I was raised primarily on oldies, classic Motown, soul, jazz, rock ’n’ roll and funk. That was the “earth” I stood on when I started exploring hip-hop. I had Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready to Die,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” These were the songs the older people around me were playing and I was exposed to at a very young age — probably a little too early. It was what I had an interest for because the sampling and the beats really drew on the classics that I loved and respected and listened to with my family.
EJ: Sophistafunk recently won [Syracuse channel CW6’s] Big Break contest. What kind of an experience was that for Sophistafunk?
JB: Winning the Big Break contest definitely validated a lot of the growth that we’ve seen over a short period of time. It let us know we’re on the right track. There are a lot of things that we do differently than a lot of other Syracuse bands, such as traveling and establishing markets outside of our local zone before we even had a strong following in Syracuse. There was a time when we were more known in Ithaca than in Syracuse. The Big Break became a validation that our city is aware of what we’re doing — that it was saying, “We support you. We’re standing behind you.”
EJ: What do you like about performing in the local Ithaca bars and clubs? Is there any specific reason you keep coming back to perform?
JB: Ithaca is one of our favorite places to play because of its extreme commitment to music — and specifically live music. If someone’s wondering what to do in Ithaca, they’ll ask, “Who’s playing tonight and where are they playing?” That is the type of attitude that makes a musician light up. You know you’re going to have open ears to listen to something new. And when you’re creating new sounds, what better place to showcase that than in an awesome, progressive city like Ithaca?
EJ: What can listeners expect when you come to Ithaca?
JB: They first thing they should expect is a lot of creativity. You’re going be hearing music styles that are going to conjure old memories. There will be lots of vintage sounds — we’re using keyboards from the ’60s and ’70s, but the grooves and rhythms will be very modern. And the lyrics will be a combination of spoken-word poetry and hip-hop in a very conscious and positive way. Once people open up and listen to the lyrics, there will be eyes lighting up all over the place. The whole sound really pulls the experience together and lets people journey through music in a special way.
EJ: Do you have any new music?
JB: We’ve done very well with our EP sales, and we’re recording a full-length album in the upcoming months. There will be a release before the album as well.