The Airplane Boys fly above Hip Hop's limits.
I touched her hand as she stared at me with quiet eyes that had often been the invitation of many conversations. Today our conversation was only through her eyes as the respiratory machine's tentacle like tubes seemed to be searching for her illness through her throat. I instinctively tried to remember her in the way she had been embedded in my earliest memories. Sheila Porter was my cousin but our relationship always felt like the connection between an aunt and her nephew. I knew her as Thomette and as one of the wisest, beautiful, caring and faithful woman I have ever known in my 31 years on this planet. I pictured her seemingly float down the stairs at her quaint Carson home and heard her signature laugh. I suddenly had a flashback of her taking care of me after I attempted my best Spider-man impression. While hanging on a thin beam I fell from a two stories at her apartment building. I ended up in the hospital with a broken arm. However, her laugh, soothing voice and smile got me through three plus hours of agonizing pain before my parents arrived to take me to the emergency room. Now nearly 25 years later I was watching her deal with pain in a way that dwarfed the broken arm of an 8 year kid. I touched her hand and whispered in her ear, "You're gonna get better and I'll be back to see you soon". That was the last time I saw Thomette but honestly the thought never crossed my mind. That was Tuesday April 3rd, 2012.
I arrived at The Coachella Music Festival Friday April 13th in the afternoon. All week I had the urge to visit Thomette before heading out to the desert. I got some news from my mother that Thomette was doing better and I figured I'd go see her on Monday. It was shaping up to be a strange weekend and the weather was the first the indication. It was raining and cold, two things not synonymous with Coachella. This was the first major event I would be covering as "Press". So I walked onto the grounds with my writer's vision in full effect; observing and studying the people, my surroundings and the architecture. The famous Ferris Wheel caught my attention as I power walked through the grounds to watch rapper Kendrick Lamar. I caught most of his show and was pleased with his lively performance. I felt my "Hip Hop fan" brimming to the surface as I bounced to "Michael Jordan" and sung along to "Hiii Power". At the conclusion of his set I was off to the press lounge. I met with my liaison for Coachella and set up a last minute interview with a group from Toronto called the Airplane Boys.
I sat with Bon Voyage and Beck Motley later in the evening for more than 20 minutes. I was introduced to them by a young woman named Kristen who served as their P.R. contact. The Airplane Boys, aptly named to pay homage to their fathers who were aviation workers; were two kids still excited about the possibilities of Hip Hop. In an industry that has grown stale in recent years it was refreshing to see a reflection of the honest love for artistic expression. We talked as if we had known each other for a lifetime and discovered that our common bonds of art, music, culture and Hip Hop made us brothers. "We're into music that's very intricate...It's a very futuristic Pharcyde meets Tribe Called Quest and Outkast type of stuff...We vibe out...we're so into expression...fashion and arts...anything in the world of arts", Beck Motley said with sincerity. The "artistic expression" manifests itself in the Airplane Boys music, just listen to songs like "Alignment". The echoing track is layered with an electronic pulse from the 80's, futuristic synths, and a jazzy baseline. The lyrical content is buoyed by introspective criticism and observation. In fact the empty feeling of the spaces of silence embedded in the track invoke the sensation of being in a museum.
The sense of "artistic expression" is also highlighted in their visual presentation. The colors, lighting, props , locations and camera angles used in the video "Beau Monde" are cinematic quality. Each scene in "Beau Monde" is like a set piece from a movie, filled with multiple meanings and subtle symbolism. They use the De Lorean car from the Back To The Future movie franchise as their ride of choice as a way to demonstrate the Hip Hop aesthetic of sampling. Essentially most of the clothing worn in the video has a "Back To The Future" feel. "We're trying to paint pictures...so it's our obligation when we get in front of a camera to give you the best that we can give you...It's like our clothes...We feel a certain way...we're gonna express that in what we're wearing...We feel like we're in a bright mood we're gonna put on some bright clothes...if we're in a dark mood we're gonna be wearin' all black...Representing everything that we feel," Bon Voyage said when explaining the art direction in their videos.
We continued to talk with a comfort level that normally is reserved for family and close friends. But that's what art does when it's talked about. Discussing art leads to a discussion on life itself and isn't life intertwined with art intimately? "We're saying a lyric that's from the heart...we know what we're gonna put there visually...What we want behind us...in front of us...beside us...what we're wearing...it goes hand and hand...we're trying to make movies...trying to paint pictures", Beck Motley responded to a question about the relationship between visuals and audio in their projects. Most rap artists don't think about the visual to audio relationship unless it's an opportunity to plug an alcoholic drink, a sneaker company or a street wear line.
To hear two young artists discuss Hip Hop in terms of it being art is rare in this modern age of pop cultured infused urban mash music. A novice Hip Hop critique of the type of sound that The Airplane Boys are cultivating, a sound Beck Motley calls, "rugged, raw and organic" may dismiss it as pop. However, the "Toronto Sound" is an international sound as Toronto serves as an international point of convergence. Listening to both Beck Motley and Bon Voyage talk one can detect the hint of an accent, but it's hard to accurately pinpoint. This same detection happens when you listen to their music. Take for instance their newest offering, "Alignment"; the 16 track LP is a sonic symphony of distinct but familiar sound that an untrained ear can't quite pinpoint.
What impressed me most about The Airplane Boys was their sense of responsibility to their culture and peers. They were genuinely concerned about the future of their generation and they could do to inspire others. "The responsibility is only for those that are strong enough...and mentally ready for that...and sometimes people are lucky...and success comes in different forms", Beck Motley said sincerely. There are a few artists in this new generation that have discovered the burden of Hip Hop's conflicting history. For all the positives of self-affirmation, community, racial pride, grass roots political ideologies, counter culture and youthful expression-There is a dark side of Hip Hop which centers in violence, sex, misogyny, drugs and self genocide. The Airplane Boys have taken it upon themselves to shed light on the positivity that can be produced through Hip Hop's ability to inspire. "We look at ourselves as vessels and we want to deliver a message but the fact that we have that is amazing...So we're gonna' do our best to try and inspire", Bon Voyage said.
Inspiration isn't a requirement of being a Hip Hop artist. In fact I would argue that most Hip Hop artists have no clue or little care about how they could potentially influence others. There is an absence of culpability that has become a part of the culture of being a rap star. "It's just music", is the corporate line. This is the paradox that has plagued Hip Hop since the late 80's when "Keeping it real" and "street cred" became staples of the genre. If a rap artist plans on weaving tales of drug dealing, gangsterism, hustling; there is a contract with the audience that there is some truth to these narratives. However, if these narratives were true, then most rap records would be recorded confessions for judicial indictment. So what are we to believe? Is rap music an art form of expression that sometimes offers us a glance at some of the worst and best of humanity? Or is it the product of a society ingrained in multi-media entertainment?
Bon Voyage and Beck Motley never made mention of the "It's just music" paradox nor did they ever utter the words, "Keep it real". They did mention "Beau Monde". What is "Beau Monde"? In it's simplest definition, "Beau Monde" is the new single from The Airplane Boys but at it's core it's a movement and a family. Beck Motley said, "We're a couple of dreamers from Toronto... building a solid foundation of music...to we inspire others to make music like us". What Beck Motley hinted at during our conversation was the artistic renaissance that is unfolding before our very eyes as the Hip Hop generation passes the torch to the Post Hip Hop generation. "Beau Monde" as a concept is very much a Post Hip Hop Generation theme. Follow me, the traditional way in which we perceive rap music as listeners has to shift from a capitalistic/commercial lens to a critical and academic lens.
The new generation of Hip Hop enthusiast are not limited to the very narrow minded descriptions of what traditional Hip Hop heads signified as "real". The ultimate affirmation in the old way of thought is authenticity. If we were to "keep it real" what artists have truly lived the grand cinematic type lifestyles portrayed in their music? Hip Hop is very much a part of our popular culture that many times is embedded in the cinematic. There is a contract so to speak that audiences know that what they are watching or ,in the case of Rap music; listening to is indeed a recreation. I would argue that most of the new artists of this generation understand the contract and use it with creative license. The Airplane Boys are fully engaged in the new way in which the genre should be perceived and discussed.
The Airplane Boys
After a successful debut, The Airplane Boys, comprised of Beck Motley and Bon Voyage, release their much-anticipated mixtape entitled Alignment. With the first two singles “New Blood” and “Dictate” widely embraced by fans across the web, the Toronto duo come together to create an electrifying and cohesive project that displays their journey and gro | The Airplane Boys, Music, Hip Hop,
The Airplane Boys are creating music that will appreciate over time instead of being easily discarded. There music is very "now" but it also has a sense of history and that's what "Beau Monde" is. Inspiration is birthed in the moments when history meets innovation. Maybe that's what this meeting of the minds was truly about. Here I was one of the last of the Hip Hop Generation backpackers discovering that my era of musical inspiration was being revisited by the younger generation. As we closed the interview session I felt as if had gained two younger brothers and life long compatriots in the ever evolving journey of the Hip Hop culture. We exchanged fist pounds and as I walked away there was a sense of relief knowing that the culture I had based most of my existence in was headed in the right direction.
The next morning I was sitting in my hotel room making preparations for the rest of my weekend at Coachella. I was going over a few notes and playing back the interviews, trying to plot out the pieces I was planning to write. I got a phone call that Thomette had passed earlier that morning. I hung the phone up and stared into the mirror and my vision began to blur because my eyes were filled with tears. I was supposed to go see her and I remember her looking at me or rather through me as I held her hand in the hospital. I made the necessary phone calls and sat in my room for what seemed like hours trying to prepare for the rest of the day. I prayed for my family and for Thomette's children who were more than cousins to me but always felt like a second set of parents. It was almost as if my mother had passed on because out family roots were so deep. I prayed almost to the point of exhaustion and sat on the couch of the hotel room searching for solace.
I needed inspiration, I needed a word of I turned on my I-pod and sat quietly hoping for the message or the word that would guide me to the next moment. Maybe it was fate, or maybe it was the fact that I had just met them a day earlier but The Airplane Boys track "Dictate" seemed to say all that I needed in that moment. "God beside me so why should I fear/Through the dark and the smoke I appear/Last hope, last cloak, a light of shine passing the horizon/ I'm surfing the silver lining, combining all my power together I'm a giant/Reaching out to the sky, I'm putting stars in alignment", I heard Bon Voyage spit over a haunting track that had became the soundtrack to one of my most difficult moments in life. It was in this moment that I was "inspired" to not only go on with my weekend but to ultimately pen a very personal spoken word piece in which I compared my late cousin to Andromeda of Greek mythology. She was the "star" that was no in "alignment" to watch over our family.
The following evening I found myself compelled to leap in the air with no care at all. It was as if the last 24 hours of emotional were unable to hold me down. I was reaching spiritually for something or rather someone above me. The Airplane Boys were performing "Escape" and It was in that moment that I escaped what was one of the saddest days of my life. I had eluded the sadness that usually accompanied mourning and instead focused on the good that Thomette had brought to my life and so many others. She was gone physically but she would always be watching over me and her wise words had helped me through many difficult times and this time would be no different. She had always maintained her smile regardless of what was happening around her and then I realized that's what she was trying to prepare us for. It just took The Airplane Boys to help me fly above the moment and view life for what it could be and not what it was.