In today’s age, technology has flooded our lives with content. Caught in the mire are today’s musicians who champion an artform that’s more widely distributed than any other throughout human history. And we, more often than not, overlook the music created by unfamiliar faces because it’s challenging. We’d rather have an easy listen, a known quantity to skim through while we think about something else.
Hearing is easy, but listening is difficult. Welcome to “Why We Like It”, where we rebuke the trends in favor of thoughtful analysis and underknown sounds.
Four Elements and Beyond: “The New”
How We Found It:
“The New” by Four Elements and Beyond came to my attention through the CentralSauce Submission Portal. The single is the first cut off the group’s upcoming album, Brush Strokes. Four Elements and Beyond is a trio from New York made up of Zeke Lipson (aka Freak Tha Monsta), his younger brother Max Lipson (aka Miggs Son Daddy), and Werd Life (who declined to have his real name included). The female vocalist featured on “The New,” Melissa Hagerty (aka MothaBug) is a sort of unofficial memeber of the group, and regularly works with Four Elements and Beyond on tracks like “To the Top.”
Why We Like It:
Upon pressing play the first sound to come out of my speakers is the telltale bump and static of a needle dropping gently onto wax. If I hadn’t known better I would have checked the cables in the back of my speaker to make sure I wasn’t connected to the wrong source; as I often forget to make the switch from my record player until a few minutes of silence have reminded me. The gentle scratch and static of old wax is a sound that may brush past some people, but it immediately lifts my spirits and perks up my ears thanks to my self trained pavlovian response to years collecting vinyl.
The brief introduction, while only seven seconds in length, has quickly captured the mood and set the tone for the three-and-a-half minutes that follow. “The New” at first seems like a song title built on irony. The jazzy hard piano tune and thick, authentic bass that can only be replicated by a real wood and string instrument, draws its inspiration from old-school, big-band jazz. It makes me want to snap my fingers and swing my girl around in circles. Since I don’t have a girl, I instead doubled down on the snapping, settling for enthusiastically hand-drumming to the beat on the surface of my desk.
MothaBug, who comes in strong but gloriously gentle says it best, “A drum and a rattle, the beat we been waiting for.” Her vocals aren’t fit to be heard through digital reproduction, but instead, deserve their own stage, or perhaps a Baby Grand Piano to lay across with a wired metal microphone and a beautiful glittering red dress.
The show is just getting started as the spotlight quickly morphs from a dimly lit speakeasy to the strobe lights of a crowd bouncing in hypnotic rhythm. Miggs doesn’t hesitate to lay down the rhymes with a flow that has me believing Biggie is alive in 2019 and started his own group after one too many acid trips with The Flatbush Zombies.
Head on a swivel like an owl when it’s pivotal / 300 and 60 degrees of critical visual / taking something physical, making it un identical / I’m constantly creating and shaping like I had tentacles.” – Miggs Son Daddy, “The New” (2019)
Naturally, this is where the irony of “The New” starts to unravel, giving way to the well-structured conglomeration of boom-bap swing jazz, and psychedelic rap that makes Four Elements and Beyond something to follow. While Freak’s groovy production and Bugg’s swing hooks satisfy my tapping foot, Miggs and Freak turn around and throw out bar after bar that wouldn’t be out of place as the voice in your head in a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas scenario. The sibling MC’s have a complementary flow brought together by the musical life of parents who first met in the theater, and refined by decades of making music together; from freestyling in the backseat of their parent’s car to putting heads together in the studio.
The contrasting mediums sound so right in the context of “The New.” Time period barriers are shattered all the way down to the days of Billie Holiday or Louie Armstrong, and yet the track isn’t out of place for a second in 2019. The song comes to an end after a generous outro from the double bass, and I immediately want to get up and flip the vinyl to side B to hear more, but I’m reminded “The New” is just a sample, an appetizer of what Four Elements and Beyond is set to deliver.
Open up the gates and watch us flow through / Cause we are the new, we are the new, we are the new, old school / Nothing ever truly dies like they told you / Cause we are the new, we are the new, we are the new, old school.” – MothaBug, “The New” (2019)
From the Artists:
So for starters, what is Four Elements and Beyond? How did the group come together?
Freak Tha Monsta: The four elements of hip-hop are MCing, DJing, BBoying, and Graffiti. We encompass that plus more. We fully embrace the culture. We live it and let it shine in our music.
Miggs Son Daddy: Definitely a nod to the elements of hip-hop, but also the elements of earth. We don’t really like to put barriers on the territory our music covers.
MothaBug: Zeke [Freak] and Miggs have been bringing me on tracks for years. Miggs and I met in college, we both studied Illustration and played in a band. Zeke and I became friends through hip-hop and collabs.The name F.E.B. is the elements of hip-hop, the elements of the Earth, and most definitely the Beyond. F.E.B. is also Fuck EveryBody… just be yourself before you go thinking about being anybody else.
Your names are really interesting, how did each member of the group get their name?
Freak: I’ve been called a “monster” ever since my baseball years when I’d be bigger than all the other kids. I’d dominate and coaches would complain of my size and question my age. Since my real name is Zeke, I was called Freaky Zekey (like the Dipset member), but once I started taking music seriously, I knew I had to come up with my own name so I combined the two to become Freak Tha Monsta.
Miggs: I got the name Miggs from my brother. Freak dubbed me “Mr. Migglesworth” when we were kids. That became Miggs. And Son Daddy is just my family name.
Bug: Somewhere around 10 years ago Miggs announced, “Melissa you’re like Mother Earth, but a bug…You’re MothaBug.” He’s the Son Daddy and we’re both Libras so we balance it out like that. I think the name is also inspired by the fact that I play the theremin which has two antennae.
In your own words, what is “the new old-school?”
Freak: The new old school is that refreshing sound, that has a nostalgic feel. It’s a perfect description for ‘Brush Strokes’ since it’s all jazz inspired, but we bring that new flava with every track and concept. It’s also a great description for F.E.B. in general since our style of hip-hop is reminiscent of that 90s era steez. To us it’s just boom bap – the NY style we’ve become accustomed to and love so much. But to many other people that hear it, they say it reminds them of the old school…when hip-hop “was in its prime.” We’re here to make sure that feeling never dies.
Miggs: It’s always made sense to study, appreciate and sustain the creations of past artists. That doesn’t mean “do what they did”, but learn from it, enjoy it, dissect it, be inspired by it. We are students of life and we wanted to honor the pioneers and heroes of both jazz and hip-hop with ‘Brush Strokes’.
Bug: “We are old souls, in a new world.” All I have to say is we are re-entering the roaring 20’s.
Who/ what are some of your musical inspirations? As a group? As individuals?
Freak: As a producer/MC I’ve always been inspired by RZA, Q-Tip, Havoc, and others that have been able to do both with such unique style. As a lyricist, MCs like Big Pun, Black Thought, and Kool G Rap made me always want to cram as much content into a bar as I could without any filler. And then MCs like Redman and Ghost have inspired me to make sure my personality always shines through on a track. It’s a balancing act, but one I truly enjoy every time I pick up a pen.
Miggs: I think as for ‘Brush Strokes’ – the three of us were thinking A Tribe Called Quest/Fugees/Guru/Erykah Badu/Roots. Personally, I’m inspired by similar hip-hop legends, but mainly my friends, local/indie acts that make interesting, often weird music.
Bug: I’m inspired by new sounds, old sounds, psychedelic sounds. People doing things that have never been done. Artists with a good vibe and a dope beat.
How are you able to utilize each member’s unique inspiration and sound?
Freak: We have such a natural chemistry that the whole process is so organic. Whether it’s crafting the beat, selecting the beat, creating a song & concept, we are usually on the same wavelength. For ‘Brush Strokes’ in particular, it was the same deal, but I loved the element MothaBug brought to the table. I always enjoy hearing her approach from a singer’s perspective, because she hears the beat differently than we do and that’s when the magic happens. We ping pong these ideas off each other and create a banger.
Miggs: I don’t think it was very challenging. We all just wanted to do what we do best on this project. We all had great ideas, threw em together, crafted a thing and this is what we wound up with. The whole album, even the packaging design was very collaborative.
Bug: Magic clearly happens in the studio with us three… I would take extended trips up to NYC, and I lived there part-time. At first, we would listen to the tracks Zeke [Freak] was producing then decide what the song was about. We would all dive into notebooks/sketchbooks and start writing based on the theme to the track on loop. I think the synergy of us all writing in the same room and playing off each other’s verses and ideas is a critical element to our sound.
Freak, what was your process for the production on “The New?” I absolutely loved the beat so where did the idea come from and how did you build upon it to reach such a great end result?
Freak: Once we knew this was going to be a strictly jazz/hip-hop album, I wanted to make sure every beat had that jazzy element, but they still banged like a boom bap hip-hop beat. I also wanted to make sure they weren’t all the same style. “The New” may have the hardest hitting drums on the album, so we knew we wanted to set the album off with that as the lead single. The vibe is not too different from what we normally make, but it was meant to ease the listener into the more jazzy experience that is ‘Brush Strokes.’ I chopped the piano sample so it had a smooth breakdown and would build right back up into that hard bop. Our friend Jeff DeRosa played bass on the majority of the tracks and for “The New” he was able to recreate the bassline I did, but in live form and add tons of flare to spruce it up. He killed the ending of the track and we wanted that to really get some shine, so I dropped all the piano out and let the bass rock.
Bug, your voice is beautiful! I feel like I didn’t get enough of it on this one track, can I look forward to any cuts from the upcoming album where you have a more central role?
Bug: Thank you! I have verses on some, hooks on most. We consciously keep our tracks switching it up.
Freak: As I’ve been talking to more and more people about the album, they’ve been asking me the same thing and I can’t wait for yall to hear Bug flex on some of these other songs. I’m talkin’ chilling moments. She killed it.
Miggs, I want to highlight my favorite bar on the album: “Head on a swivel like an owl when it’s pivotal / 300 and 60 degrees of critical visual / taking something physical and making it un identical / I’m constantly creating and shaping like I have tentacles.” Can you unpack this a little for us?
Miggs: That’s actually almost a direct reference to my Word Of Mouth family. Our unofficial mascot was the octopus. Alien creature. I’ve always put importance on viewing the world from multiple angles and seeing from different perspectives. Taking the old (physical) and making it new (unidentical) is essentially the theme. Constantly working and making things, I must have tentacles.
Miggs mentioned a band, Word of Mouth, a couple of times. Could you tell me a little about the band?
Miggs: MothaBug and I met when we formed Word Of Mouth in Savannah, GA. It wound up being an 8-piece band that featured multiple vocalists and instrumentalists. I played trumpet and rapped, Bug played theremin and sang. It was super fly. For ‘Brush Strokes,’ we called upon Jeff DeRosa to lay bass. He was the bassist and cellist in Word Of Mouth. The overall collaborative and conscious nature of this album was definitely a product of us working together over the years in WOM.
Obviously, I loved the single and I can’t wait for the album! Should I expect more of the new old-school or a different sound? What can you say about the upcoming album, Brush Strokes?
Freak: What’s great about this album is it remains in this jazz realm, but each song stands on its own and could truly be its own single. But when you hear it as a whole, it’s extremely cohesive.
Miggs: I think ‘Brush Strokes’ is a solid album with a variety of shades to it. Each song has its own color palette.
Bug: “The New” definitely gives you a good taste for what the full album brings. But it’s Jazz-inspired so we’re always breaking the rules!
More from the Four Elements and Beyond:
Catch Brush Strokes official release on all platforms July 26, and listen to more work from Four Elements and Beyond and the individual members over on their SoundCloud page. You can also check out Freak Tha Monster and Werd Life’s duo album, The Sewer-Side Kings on Spotify. Purchase Brush Strokes on vinyl, CD, or digital here.