Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Over the past two decades, hip-hop has grown faster than any other genre. The ability to fabricate new sounds with influence from previous ones is what keeps people on their toes. Recently, musicians mixing rap with influences from funk, jazz, and soul have been on the rise. BLK ODYSSY, a soulful group from Austin, Texas have developed their own sound by defying the odds of what soul music is, and the process of genre mixing in efforts to produce new sounds within their debut album BLK VINTAGE, The Reprise.
I had the opportunity to converse with New Jersey native Juwan Elock, the spokesman for BLK ODYSSY. Elock gave me an introduction to the group, which ironically originated as a Rock band. Together, his guitarist Alejandro and him shared their own musical backgrounds with each other: Elock provided suggestions from artists like Kendrick Lamar to Marvin Gaye, and Alejandro with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. While their rock and soul period gained some traction, COVID-19 hit and both bandmates agreed to take a step back in an effort to evaluate the future of their music, “Realistically we didn’t change our sound until I took Alejandro to my hometown. I introduced him to my homies, we got into some jam sessions with each other, and that was the first time he understood the sound that we needed to have, and the importance of funk within our sound.”
Their first album, which was released under a different band name, heavily consisted of the band's take on rock music. The final song on the album, “Drinking Good," had a completely different energy than the rest of the album. The raw story is layered on top of a soulful beat, ultimately making it stand out amongst the others; It narrates powerful and detailed explanations of the passing of Elock's brother to police brutality. After presenting his management team with the project, they were discouraging towards “Drinking Good,” implying that he shouldn’t be using racial profanities in his work, “I listened to what they were saying and was like ‘what the fuck are you talking about,’ because in reality, I had people telling me to stop expressing myself in the natural ways I do within my own culture growing up,” Elock says, “every time I made work around social justice issues or just my culture, in general, it was shunned.” Shortly after, Elock dismissed them as his management team due to the lack of creative freedom being provided and started working on keeping true to his culture and finding a better support system.
Eventually, this led to hiring a new management team that honored “Drinking Good,” encouraging Elock to pursue future sounds similar to the ones brought through the original song; This was the beginning of their debut album BLK VINTAGE. After hearing a beat conspired from a dream, Elock started to produce his seventh track on the album, “Ghost Ride”. Elock reflects on the time he decided to go to San Antonio, “I drove out there at 4 am and sat in an iHop and wrote down the lyrics (to Ghost Ride) with the crayons on a mat in the restaurant, I was just listening to the voice note of the beat before our recording session at the studio,” this new song established excitement around this rapid development of the newfound BLK ODYSSY. Yes, “Drinking Good” provides the overall main experience that made Elock create this album, but “Ghost Ride” acted as a catalyst towards keeping up with this new genre.
Surprisingly, “Ya No Podía Salir,” was a song anticipated to be cut from BLK VINTAGE, The Reprise. Elock’s management team was unsure of the significance of a 4-minute long instrumental, with someone reading poetry in the back, “honestly I didn't really care, this is an expression of art that feels true to me and wanted to put it in the album,” Elock was ultimately correct with keeping the song; “Ya No Podía Salir" holds one of the highest numbers of streams of the entire album. Elock explains the importance of the placement within the Reprise with its description of being a palette cleaner. It brings the listener from one end of the reprise to the other, because the flow of songs is in chronological order, “You’re able to take a deep breath before getting into the more serious side of the album”
“The album is in chronological order, The Intro speaks to the birth of this person that I was becoming which is the start of the journey. It goes into Funkentology which gives another perspective of the mental state I was in, and other things I was dealing with, talking about lust and sexual addiction. "Nineteen Eighty" moves us in a different direction talking about reckless behavior within youth in a celebratory way; being proud of the decisions and the actions being made ”
Their original sound is what the future of genre mixing is, strong and influential. This is only the beginning for BLK ODYSSY, sitting with 570,000 Monthly Spotify listeners, these numbers will skyrocket over the next couple of months with their North American tour just beginning, and new music with recognizable collaborations in the works.