Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

The Real Clash: The newest, funkiest faces in Tampa Bay hip hop

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"Clash" is sort of a misnomer when considering St. Petersburg's eight-member funk/hip hop ensemble The Real Clash. If anything, it's a harmonious gathering of local music prodigies creating a groove-heavy yet still insightful listening experience.

Eight members sound cumbersome until you realize they're a live band with two emcees and a vocalist who can jam about anything — even monkey dung.

"I'll never forget that song," said Travis "Big T" Young, 23, the band's drummer, as he started to nod his head to an imagined beat and emcee Rashad "Shadcore" Harrell, 38, hummed the rhythm they'd improvised at a show where they'd taken suggestions for topics from the crowd.

"I don't want it / I don't need it / If it ain't funky like monkey dung," sang vocalist Eliana "Voxx" Blanchard, 22, the only lady in the group, as her bandmates joined in to reenact the jam.

This is how the sausage is made for The Real Clash. Someone introduces a starting point, a bass line or lyrics, and it takes off from there. Everyone becomes a co-writer.

Not bad for a group that met in a course at St. Petersburg College's two-year Music Industry Recording Arts Program. Each member was recruited to be part of the collective to compose original music and stage a performance as a final project. After their performance, their professors encourage them to keep it going.

More than two years later, the class is over, but the band is not. Their debut album, Clash Wednesday, is expected to be released this year, and they're piling up local live performances, establishing a foothold in the local music scene.

"We've recorded about 11 tracks," said Jay "Jay Acolyte" Wilson, 35, emcee and official cat-herder for the group. "Once we put the finishing touches on those, we'll only have a couple more to go."

From rocking the stage at St. Pete's Whigfest to an upcoming gig at Tropical Heatwave, local promoters have recognized the rare find that is the Real Clash. Sonically pleasing without being repetitive or loop heavy, their stock-in-trade is fun, mostly positive and thought-provoking lyrics.

"I love that this band is positive," said Jordan "J-Walk" Walker, 23, who plays keyboards. "I grew up in the church and I was sort of used to hearing these kinds of things there, and they are all about the positive lyrics. I think that's why we gel together so well."

With so much of rap geared toward sex, hot bodies, money and drugs, Harrell said their change of pace is filling the void for hip-hop fans.

"We're not into that kind of crap," said Andrew "AR-15" Roden, 21, who plays guitar. "I don't want to be uber-philosophical, but art at times has to be an elevation of culture, using the best abilities of man to communicate."

The message: Hip-hop isn't one thing, it's all things. The Real Clash has even started wearing and selling shirts with the slogan "This is what hip-hop looks like" with arrows pointing up at the wearer's face.

Blanchard is one of those faces you don't often see in hip- hop, a pixie belter with some funky undertones in clean voice.

"It definitely draws attention when I'm the only girl on stage, but these guys are like my brothers," said Blanchard.

As Harrell added, "It doesn't hurt that she's good-looking either."

Marketing projects aside, music is still the main focus for the band, which got its original name, The Real Clash of the Titans, by playing on the St. Pete College mascot, Titans, and the film title.

One of their funkiest hits and the band's favorite to perform is The Kraken, a song with a unique birth and a rock-inspired groove. Harrell said he came up with the song after seeing a friend's sonogram, where the baby looked like she was putting up the rock symbol. He hummed it for his musicians, who took it from there. The build of the song is accentuated by the addition of the band's live DJ.

"I guess I should probably see that movie, huh?" laughed Rollin "DJ Rollin" Covell, 27, the group's producer and DJ. "I've just been dropping the sample (Liam Neeson yelling "Release the Kraken!") but I've never seen the movie."

The admission started a round of giggles that seem like a permanent part of the Real Clash's vibe. Their music might be fun because they have fun making it. It's difficult in large groups for each member to shine, but they somehow make the dynamic work.

"When people first heard us they were like, 'Uh, that's a weird band,' " said Taylor "Wolfspyda" Gilchrist, 23, who plays bass. But it's a notion quickly dismissed once the crowd is having fun, he added.

Most all the members are in other bands or solo ventures, with the Real Clash getting the time they can allot outside of their 9-to-5s, families and other commitments. Still they dream of taking it all the way. In five years, their hopes include being three albums deep, touring overseas contracting with a big festival tour or maybe even opening for The Roots.

For now, they keep playing shows and trying to finish their album.

"I think we all want to break new ground musically," Roden said. "Once we can do this full time, we'll be great."

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