The sprawling 9 piece hip-hop collective Phony Ppl are nothing if not ambitious. Barely 7 months after their debut LP, their new EP nothinG Special cements their status as one of the most exciting new acts of 2012. The band moves effortlessly between sampled, sequenced and full band; switching genres and sound on a dime. Anchored by one of the tightest rhythm sections in the game, the EP is a slice of retro hip-hop, soul, and disco. But unlike many the many groups who have been mining the vaults of Stax and Motown these last few years, Phony Ppl are much more than the sum of their influences. It has a retro taste, sure, but this is as fresh as it gets.
The EP opens strong. “Statues” is built on a vintage film score string sample and a driving bassline courtesy of the appropriately named Bari Bass. The trio of vocalists Dyme-A-Duzin, Sheriff PJ, and Elbee Thrie trade some of the strongest verses on the EP. There's a bigger focus on rhymes than the hooks of their debut. It's more Roots than Marvin Gaye this time around. The track is bursting with energy and creativity, shifting and flexing beneath the vocals. It's a testament to the production and the tightness of the band that it's almost impossible to tell what's sampled and what's live. But more importantly, does it matter?
The EPs heights hit when the lines between genres—and the lines between live and sampled—are blurriest. Phony Ppl are always at their best when they're throwing everything they can find at the wall and seeing what sticks. The best example is the house-party-gone-wrong anthem “Cop Scame.” A song which sets the bar pretty damn high by leading with a KRS-One sample, and delivers with a hook filled soul track. It meanders and deconstructs itself but is always rooted in an infectious uptempo soul riff and captivating story. It's the sort of track that's impressive for how well it does at not calling attention to how impressive it is. All the moving pieces fit so well, you're only aware that you're watching a juggling act when you try to follow it.
The EP is available now. If you dig it, make sure you check them out at Afropunk Fest 2012.
- Words by Nathan Leigh