This Saturday night, the Hi-Tone Café will provide the backdrop for the debut of two new local rap acts: Memphis Babylon, Chopper Girl's brand-new band, and Lord T & Eloise, the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek brainchild of Robert Anthony, Cameron Mann, and Elliott Ives.
Last week, I made it to Hoodoo Labs, Chopper Girl's home studio, to hear her rehearse with Memphis Babylon, a Midtown supergroup that features guitarists Scott Taylor (Grifters, Porch Ghouls) and Scott Rogers (Dutch Masters, Cool Jerks), bassist Tommy Trouble (Final Solutions), and drummer Joey Pegram (Shabbadoo, Side Walk Talk). Sequestered in an attic practice space, the group ran through songs like "Wicked Witch," "Mad as Fuck," and "Possessed," which fans will recognize from the rapper's solo repertoire.
"I feel like I have a lot more power now," Chopper Girl says. "I usually have backing tracks on a CD, but I'm having to fill all the vocals, which is a real creative challenge. I'm confident of this group's ability. I knew they could come up with something that sounded amazing.
"Rap," she says, "is often about hiding emotions, while playing rock is much crazier, so performing with [Memphis Babylon] is more of an emotional outlet for me. It's less formulated, and I get to cut loose and bring out the dynamics of a song."
The group sounds not like the sum of its rap/punk/garage/alt-rock parts but akin to a brooding, shape-shifting, metal machine -- more Metallica or Slayer than, say, Ice-T's misguided rock-rap effort Body Count.
The bewigged, velvet-clad Lord T & Eloise, on the other hand, evoke a flow that draws comparisons to both License to Ill-era Beastie Boys and the Chris Parnell/Andy Samberg Saturday Night Live skit "Lazy Sunday."
Although the project has its roots in a series of e-mails that Anthony (Eloise) and Mann (Lord T) exchanged in college, it came to fruition at Young Avenue Sound recording studio, which is located less than a block from Hoodoo Labs.
"Originally," says Mann, "we were joking about the conspicuous consumption we saw on rap videos -- the cars, the money, the bling -- and we were making fun of those overused, ridiculous themes. Our songs were all over the place. We were trying to rap about the things we knew, very white things like rising interest rates and Sperry topsiders. These characters, Lord Treadwell and Maurice Eloise XIII, evolved. After all, what's more bling than being an 18th-century aristocrat?"
"We figured we needed to stay true to our private-school educations," adds Anthony, who raps and crafts most of the hooks for the group. "The idea was funny, and conceptually, it worked. Rap is a giant embellishment no matter what your background."
Enter Ives, who plays guitar and serves as a producer for Free Sol, works with bands Rabid Villain and The Tetanus Brothers, and owns his own studio, Cyn House Productions. As Myster E, Ives both makes beats and sings the hooks for Lord T & Eloise.
"Cameron and Robert were college buddies of mine," says the classically trained musician, who samples timpani, cello, and harpsichord for the group's beats. "I thought they had catchy lyrics and a cool premise, but they couldn't flow. Over the last three years, the songs have gotten better, the beats and production have gotten better, and they've actually become rappers."
Lord T & Eloise are currently getting 500-plus plays a day on songs like "Million Dollar Boots" and "To My Ladies" via their MySpace page -- "not bad for a local group which has never played live or had a product to sell," says Ives.
"Last month, Chopper Girl ran across us online," Mann says. "She started e-mailing me, and we figured out that she lives three houses down from the studio. She came over with Tom Skeemask and Nasty Nardo, who asked, 'Is this the dude with the wig?' She asked if we wanted to get on the bill for Saturday's show, and we just went from there."
Now, Lord T & Eloise are shooting their first music video with Old School Productions and putting finishing touches on their first album, which will be jointly released by Young Avenue Records and Cyn House this fall. They're also garnering attention from the city's rap community, including producer Carlos Broady and veteran rapper Al Kapone, who recently cut a verse for "Million Dollar Boots."
"Either of these groups could kill the college scene," Kapone says. "As far as the street side goes, with songs and tracks that sound this good, they'll just have to accept 'em."
Chopper Girl & Memphis Babylon,
Lord T & Eloise, and Nasty Nardo play the Hi-Tone Café Saturday, September 2nd. Go to MySpace.com/ChopperGirl or
MySpace.com/LordTandEloise for more information.