Review of Mental Notes: True Hip-hop's Newest Incarnation

"Mental Notes: True Hip-hop's Newest Incarnation "

Mental Notes plays every Wednesday at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery) and frequently at the Elbow Room.

You can contact them at

review by Okore Okirike

In just two decades, the movement of hip-hop has emerged from the old school to serve in the army of capitalist theory. The result is a booming multimedia industry dedicated to defining and glamorizing the fabricated life-style known as 'Thug Life.' According to theory, if 'gangsta rap' proves profitable, make all rappers into gangstas and your profit won't know imits. Expanding on that idea, record labels became crime syndicates, MCs became Dons and contemporaries began having each other whacked left and right, while positive hip-hop retreated to the underground.

Mental Notes is a plant come up from seeds sown in positive places. It is difficult to categorize. True, live-band hip-hop groups have sprung up before, but never have they burned so brilliantly, or filled ones lungs with such positive flows. Lovers of hip-hop will exhale relief. Mental Notes just might be the group you've been wishing for.

Late night in a quiet corner of the Bowery Poetry Club, the band's rhythimic poet and MC, Spiritchild, describes the previous incarnations of the group. There have been many. One wonders if "The Universal Hip-hop Evolution" is a reference to how often the band itself has changed. Saxophone and trumpet have occasionally come and gone. Additional vocals and a DJ have been on and off. As we spoke, even, the group was in transition from one talented drummerÑEran AsiasÑto another. At it's core, two things have remained constant; David Dovo's hip-shaking bass, and Spiritchild's poetic flow. The two long time friends, and musical soul-mates, share the air with the soulful vocals of AminiquŽ; the guitar groove of Dimitirios Zissimopoulos; and a horn section comprised of Loyd DeBonis on trumpet, and Shlomi Cohen on saxophone. In simple words, a hip-hop Jam band in mid-evolution.

Falling for an underground band is not for the faint of heart. Whereas money and contracts keep major acts united, independent groups often wither away from the stress of having neither. The members of this group show promising determination. The present lineup, for the most part, commutes from different areas of Queens and the Bronx. Spiritchild has made a ritual of writing flows for songs on the long train rides to and from his home in the south Bronx. Their song Upon the Metro just manages to transcend traditional rapper self-promotion with it's underlying message of trumping preconceived notions: "Bout a few seconds I was checking with the best. In this city called Zion, fortified iron. Now I'm back like the Karnack Lion. Eradicate what you indicate. Stop your lying."

"At one time," recounts Spiritchild "I was going the route of street rapping, gun talk, hard core, blah blah blah." He eventually learned that one can rhyme about anything that strikes them. "Pick up a book," he encourages. From this vast perspective, material to work from is seemingly boundless. Bringing this mature approach to the lyrical flow of Mental Notes, places the band distinctly far from the thug-life boot-camp of the hip-hop mainstream. What does mental notes have to say about the state of the industry? Spiritchild draws a metaphor from words being spoken from the poetry club stage, "Sometimes we need silence to appreciate the noise." The industry at least reminds us how precious the underground is.

It falls right in line with their positive vibe that the group won't use energy complaining about the mainstream when there is an underground to support, communities to become active in, and socio-political issues in desperate need of musical voices. Mental notes unabashedly creates a stir in the post-traumatic silence from which the industry suffers. Their hesitation to address the renegade gun-toting industry itself is unfortunate, though their song Systematic Analysis hints at a more subtle approach to success:

The revolution will be televised it will be fortified it will be electrified right through your system. My evolution will be enterprise, it will be recognized it will coincide with your system. This revolution will be the all Seeing Eye that you can't see, smell, taste through your system. My evolution will be all in... you...}

Lyrically, musically; Spiritchild explains "It's not about a record deal or a track record. We tell people, bootleg our music. Copy it. Share it with friends. But just come to the shows, you won't get the same experience through the stereo." The experience he speaks of is the hypnotic flow of energy between the audience and the band at a Mental Notes show. Never does one feel like a spectator watching a performance. The band can't hide their love for the enthusiasm of the audience. This changes the experience from one of mere performance to one of reciprocation and sharing. A far cry from the hip-hop industry's pageantry.

If this unique off-shoot can someday give young MCs a tree to look up to that doesn't boast leaves of dirty money and dangle bodies of dead MCs, then Mental Notes is a band on the verge of a musical revolution. They are hip-hop gone full circle back to the place it hit when it was young and eager and not a marketing tool. I forsee many inspiredd attempts to recreate their harmonious groove. Heartfelt branching-off will thrive on positive energy, and even industry knock-offs will have to take a ride on the good vibe.