40 Watt Hype: Strong Feet on the Concrete

Fresno, California's recipe for spicing up the usual hip-hop dish -- a fistful of funk, a splash of R&B, a couple of guest chefs to play the brass, and a whole lotta funk.

40 Watt Hype

Strong Feet on the Concrete

US Release Date: 2006-09-05
UK Release Date: Available as import

When you hear 40 Watt Hype's Strong Feet on the Concrete, you might wonder, "Is there anything this band can't do?" You wouldn't be the only one. The Fresno, California-based band has been praised as one of the best unsigned acts in the United States. Meanwhile, the band's frequent description as a cross between the Roots and Santana could work as a snippet of 40 Watt Hype's musical sophistication, songwriting skills, and strong live presence.

The praise is well-founded, as the group's 16-track release, Strong Feet on the Concrete, stomps forward with grooves rooted in hip-hop, R&B, funk, Latin vibes, and jazz. You'll want to see 40 Watt Hype perform this material in person, as the Roots and other hip-hop artists have demonstrated that concert rap can be compelling when backed up by live instrumentation. The membership roster for Strong Feet includes Brian Robinson (a.k.a. MC Vagabond), Aaron Wall (a.k.a. MC Awall), Enrique Gonzalas on guitar, Sean Alderette rocking the drums, Bronson Garza working the bass, Jared Dyar on percussion, Adan Infante on trombone, and David Hull playing the keys. In 2002, the group released the flavorful Advanced Techniques in Modern Sound. A year later, they followed up with Grand Unification Theory, which was followed in 2005 by the CD/DVD package Live & Direct: Sight & Sound.

The band's immersion in hip-hop is evident, from the title track's opening salvos to the group's rock-rap joint "S.O.S.", which would make Rage Against the Machine nod in approval. The Latin vibes, as you might expect, are most evident in tunes with Spanish vocals, such as "Muevete" and "La Sombre". That vibe, punctuated by airtight horn arrangements, is delightful, adding a joyous twist to the hip-hop and jazz layers, even in songs that tend to focus on the more serious aspects of life. For instance, the chorus in "Animated World" goes, "In this animated world, spinnin' on its axis / Life, death, and taxes / We all wanna know the answers to questions under the sun / But all we need to know is one". Yet, the delivery of that message, in an environment of high-energy arrangements and tempo, gives the impression that there's hope, which usually (at least from the band's perspective) comes in the form of music. Speaking of the magnificent horn work, you might notice there's only a trombone player listed in the above membership roster. Where'd the horns come from? Additional musicians add spice to the group's sound, such as high caliber contributions from Todd Doucet (tenor sax, baritone sax and flute) and Joey Rogers (trumpet).

Like the Roots, 40 Watt Hype's musical ingenuity is backed up by content and message. The best example isn't even a musical composition; it's a skit called "Jerry Gente Interlude". The skit chronicles a series of appointments by Mr. Gente, a caricature of an entertainment industry insider, who "always makes [his] money" by advising talent. The twist, though, is the nature of that advice. During his 2:00 appointment (his appointments are spaced out at two-minute intervals), he tells the client it would be good if he (the client) could "get stabbed" in to create anticipation for an upcoming album release. "Your last album," he tells the client, "sold like hotcakes when you got that DUI". In his 2:02, he advises a client against writing her own songs and, at 2:04, he advances his idea of a "thuggish" Thanksgiving concept album called Thugs-giving. In brilliant fashion, the skit critiques, in particular, promotional tactics that detract from the music experience and, in a more general way, it highlights the feeding frenzies (whether by fans, critics, or media outlets) that result from controversy. The "Jerry Gente" interlude appropriately leads into the song "Controversy" and works well amid the more directly issue-oriented musical numbers.

It's 40 Watt Hype's range that almost mandates further comparisons beyond those to Santana and the Roots. Some observers analogize 40 Watt Hype's energy to the party-style of the Black Eyed Peas, as in the title track's hook ("Just let go, lose control / When we rock the party, make the crowd say, 'Ho!'") and in songs like "Tru Players" ("We are true players, but we don't play / The same way that you play, it's more than a game"). I would also liken the crew to a mixture of the Brand New Heavies and Jazzhole with a splash of Brooklyn Funk Essentials and a pinch of, as demonstrated by "Keep It Together", Rage Against the Machine (or, as the lyrics explain, "rage against the suits in the name of the truth"). Although straight-out singing isn't the group's strength ("Muevete" and "Slow Ride" are good examples), the attempts are successfully carried through, as in "Drunk & in Love", by stellar musicianship and a warm party atmosphere. This is a group that's definitely worth checking out, whether on CD or onstage.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.