NN PRESENTS: Best Records of 2014

Never-Nervous.com

ShadowpactThe Narrative
If I had half the talent these kids had when I was 20, well… shit, I don’t know how to finish that analogy. I mean, I can’t speak for them. I have no idea what they want to do, just that they make some fantastic hip-hop at a skill level that I personally would not have been able to reproduce. And now I’m thinking that my scale here “could-Syd-do-it” is really condescending, like I’m the ultimate barometer or something. What I’m really trying to say (THE POWER OF LANGUAGE, Y’ALL), is that The Narrative is a damn fine showing, a smooth as fuck album, with clever rhyme schemes and dope beats, one they should be proud of. I hope very much that the good folks in Shadowpact blow the fuck up, if that’s even something they’d want. They definitely deserve it. [LISTEN]

The Narrative Shadowpact (Self-released)

LEO Weekly

There is a certain early-’90s quality to the production and raps on “The Narrative,” the debut album by Louisville hip-hop duo Shadowpact, and this is a good thing. The beats, courtesy of Artemis the Archer, are a little gritty, with plenty of jazz qualities thrown in for good measure — like a lost Digable Planets or A Tribe Called Quest record. The music skews toward minor key changes and thick bass lines, appropriate accompaniment for the personal rhymes laid down by emcees Modern Marvill and Sleye Kooper. That the two rep nerd culture, with references to “X-Men” and “Star Wars,” alongside raps about serious subjects like relationships and oblique political nods, is a testament to the breadth of the album, which cleverly jumps from subject to subject, remaining fresh throughout.

INTERVIEW: Shadowpact Gets Real About the Best Raps, the Whackest Sports, and Answers the Eternal Question of Star Trek or Star Wars!

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Like a hip-hop Captain Planet, Sleye Kooper, Artemis the Archer, and Modern Marvill form to Shadowpact, which as you will read below is a speaking, thinking entity. Check this: they are the uni-mind. Suck on that Kree Supreme Intelligence. Recently they put out “The Narrative,” their first full length album, that we here at Never Nervous think is pretty fucking dope. We caught up with them for a rap session about their newest release, and to touch base about writing, music, and their preference in Star Trek or Star Wars. Read on for that answer.

Never Nervous: What got you into music? What did you listen to as a child that got you motivated to perform as an adult?

Sleye Kooper: I love being able to make a crowd of people smile and music is like the perfect way to do that. Well, my mom was a huge Elvis fan and I always wanted to control the crowd like him.

Artemis the Archer: I’ve always been passionate about music honestly. I’d say that Modest Mouse is what got me motivated to make music on my own. I wanted to create something as unique and inspirational as they had.

Modern Marvill: I was into music at a very early age. I remember listening to my dad’s cassette tapes of the “The Score” by The Fugees, and “Ready to Die” byNotorious B.I.G a lot, those might have been some of the first albums to really peak my interest in music as a whole, even though I was just a young lad.

NN: How did the three of you come to form Shadowpact?

Shadowpact: At the beginning, we were all working on solo projects, through a mutual friend and producer of ours, Zach the Ripper. Through him, is how Marvill and Sleye linked up, as Sleye was a featured guest on Marvill’s solo project, and vice versa. Then, as our projects progressed, we decided to start recording them over Artemis’s house, as she had awesome equipment and really knew her way around mixing and editing tracks. From there, Modern Marvill, Sleye Kooper, and Artemis the Archer all decided to do a group project, and Shadowpact was formed.

NN: How did the name Shadowpact come to be? Is it a comic book reference as one of our writers assumed? Tell us that story?

S: Honestly, since all three of us really enjoy comics, and superhero lore, we wanted a group name that would reflect a strong and powerful team, who worked together effortlessly to solve problems, and fight crime. We scoured some material, and ultimately came across the DC team Shadowpact. We all felt the name was perfect, so we decided to use it. Don’t sue us DC, we love you.

NN: Is the album title “The Narrative” meant to imply that there is one central or overarching theme to the album? If not, how would you define the title?

S: That’s sort of a yes, and no. We noticed during the making of the album, a lot of our tracks were conceptual, yet, they all still had an overall theme, or message, that the listener would have to put together themselves to figure out. So, while one track’s subject matter was about the highs and lows of relationships, and another was about secret government agendas, both still could be threaded into a complete Narrative about us as a group, who we are and what our message is. It’s up to you guys to figure it out.

NN: Do either of you play music, or do you just emcee? If so, what do you play? If not, why? What instrument would you want to play that you cannot play?

SK: I used to play bass really well, but kind of stopped as I got older and into hip hop. But, I want to learn how to play the banjo so I can go to the deep south and start bar fights.

ATA: This question isn’t really directed towards me, but I think I’ll answer it anyway. I started out playing guitar and still do from time to time, but from there I moved on to making instrumentals on my computer with various equipment. I actually rapped on our first ep though, that was pretty funny. I enjoy writing lyrics I just don’t think performing them is really my forte.

MM: I played the Flute when I was in elementary school, and failed miserably at it. Then I played the piano for a while, but ultimately stopped and never picked it back up. So mainly I just emcee. I really enjoy writing lyrics, it’s a release for me as opposed to putting together a melody on an instrument. However, if I could I would probably go back to playing the piano; it’s one of my favorite instruments, and I’m pretty bummed I stopped playing.

NN: How did you hook up with producer Artemis the Archer? What about honorary member Dr. Dundiff? Those two seem pretty busy making beats these days…

S: As we mentioned earlier, we hooked up with Artemis through a mutual friend, and she’s been a member of Shadowpact ever since. Dr. Dundiff however, we first met at the first show we did at Solidarity. He was spinning for N-Fact’s set, and we really enjoyed it. So, we attempted to connect with those two, and after a while we finally got a chance to. Dundiff did an instrumental for the EP we were working on at the time, “Tomorrow People“, and N-Fact was a featured guest on the track. It turned out so well that we really wanted to work with Dundiff on our album, and have him split production duties with Artemis, since their styles were similar. He agreed, and the rest is history.

NN: It seems clear that the division of labor is the producers make the music, and the emcees write the lyrics. How does that collaboration play out? Do you ever say no to a track or an approach to something, because it doesn’t fit the vision for your writing? Or do you write specifically to the beat?

SK: We work really well together, I don’t think we have ever said no to an Artemis beat. She usually does a fantastic job. We always write to the beat and let it tell us what to say.

MM: Usually if the instrumental is something I like, even if it doesn’t fit the vision for what I want to write about, I try to make it work. I’m pretty easy going when it comes to that. I like to write my lyrics to correspond with the instrumental, so I can usually switch up things to make them meld well. Basically, unless the beat is terrible, or something WAY left field, I can usually make it work.

NN: Tell us about the best show you’ve ever played. What about the best show you’ve attended? What makes for a good performance?

SK: I’d probably have to say the best show we played was our release show. There were a lot of people there with incredible energy. Artemis and I went to see Modest Mouse in Atlanta at the Shaky Knees Festival and I can’t describe how unbelievable it was; it was that good. We stood in the pouring rain for over an hour and I think that wait actually made it better because it made us appreciate the performance even more. I think to have a good performance you need energy and self-confidence.

MM: Hands down, for me at least, the best show we’ve ever played was our album release show. There were so many people there supporting us, way more than we had expected, and we received an encore, which I don’t think happens too often at local shows. That was just a very special night, I’ll never forget, and I think both Sleye and I were in top form, performance wise. Best show I’ve attended was Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic & Busdriver in Newport, Kentucky at The Thompson House. Aesop is one of my biggest inspirations, if not the biggest, and to see him live was amazing. His stage presence and ability to connect and interact with the crowd was top notch, and that’s really all you can ask for when it comes to judging a good performance.

NN: Lyrical content is clearly important in hip-hop. What makes for good lyrics? How would you define bad?

S: Rhyme scheme and subject matter are the main things that determine how “good” the lyrics are. Your vocabulary also plays a big role in lyrics. Basically those three work together to make something really powerful. Bad lyrical content is simplistic, not cohesive, and usually just about something really stupid.

NN: Is there any one thing that if someone does or doesn’t like, might make you suspicious of them? For example, I may question the tastes of someone who loves Def Leopard, or who hates tacos. Not saying it’s a deal breaker or that we couldn’t be friends, but I might not take all of their advice.

SK: I’ve been dating Artemis for three years now and she is the only exception to my rule that if you don’t like Dragon Ball Z we AIN’T cool.

ATA: If someone’s favorite band is Nickelback or doesn’t enjoy watchingFuturama….I’m judging you.

MM: Hm, not really. I feel like I’m pretty open minded to whatever interests or likes a person has, even if they drastically differ from mine. I might give them a funny look if they tell me that One Direction just put out the album of the year, but I’m not going to label them a terrible person and never talk to them again. Well, then again, maybe I would.

NN: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?

SK: Star Wars…Natalie Portman.

ATA: Definitely Star Wars. I think my family sort of nudged me in that direction because they’re all nerds and prefer it to Star Trek. I’ve always loved everything about it though, the movies, the television shows, the toys, the video games, etc. I wish I was a Jedi…the closest I ever got was having a Padawan braid.

MM: Star Wars. I never liked Star Trek much. Granted, I never really watched it either. I did really enjoy the J. J. Abram films, though. That aside, I watched Star Wars and fell in love with it first, I don’t think Star Trek can compete. Shatner is the man though. Shouts out.

NN: What is the whackest sport of all time? Defend your position.

SK: The one where the dude slides a disk and two other dudes sweep, like I can do that in my kitchen; it doesn’t seem that fun.

ATA: Cornhole. Its popularity just shot up out of nowhere and I don’t understand the appeal.

MM: Golf. I can’t even give you a definitive reason really. I’d just rather watch paint dry than watch someone play Golf.

NN: What are your non-musical interests lately? Anything in your world worth reading or watching?

SK: Well I recently watched Samurai Champloo, which is an awesome hip hop culture infused anime and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy the other day and it was pretty great.

ATA: I’m about to start reading Bukowski’s Factotum, I’m pretty excited about that. Other than that I just beat Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and watched Son of Batman, definitely recommend both of those. Practically all DC direct-to-video animated films are worth watching if you’re into superheroes.

MM: Besides music, I love movies. I’d like to consider myself a bit of a film buff. The last film I saw was Guardians of the Galaxy and it was just fantastic. Before that I watched a horror film called House of the Devil, directed by Ti West. My really good friend turned me onto the director and the film, and it was brilliantly shot, like a retro slasher flick from the 80’s. Loved it.

NN: Finally, what have you been listening to lately, and why should we?

SK: Well, I have had the new Touch AC album on rotation for a few days now and it’s probably one of my favorite hip hop albums of the year, dude is ridiculous. Support the local homie.

ATA: The last CD I picked up was from Classy Mongrel from Owensboro, KY, if you enjoy M83 then give him a listen. Besides regional acts I’ve been listening to Modest Mouse (of course), (a Danish indie pop artist), and Deltron 3030 (who are incredible live, by the way).

MM: Lately, I’ve been listening to this hip hop artist from Chicago named Mick Jenkins quite a bit. There’s a song and accompanying video called “Martyrs” that is absolute genius. The social commentary behind the track is perfect and very thought provoking. I love his kind of odd ball flow, and the way he structures his rhyme scheme. His lyrical content is also top notch. He’s a really interesting artist. No official album yet from him, I don’t think, but there are a few ep’s he has released. I’d recommend him to any fan of hip hop, honestly. I think he can translate well with the indie, underground fan base and the more mainstream. Check him out!

REVIEW: Shadowpact – “The Narrative”

Never-Nervous.com

Shadowpact
The Narratvie
Little Heart Records

Shadowpact could have put out the Louisville Hip Hop 7” of the year, an award I just made up. There are 5 really good songs on their new album The Narrative. Then there are 5 other songs that sound the same but aren’t as fun. There isn’t a bad song on the album, but 7 out of the 10 songs could be one long song and I wouldn’t know the difference. 


What I really like about Shadowpact is all their hip references. Hip in my world at least. Their name comes from the DC universe, and they are constantly using their hipster sensibility to reference things like South Park’s version of Al Gore or sitting at a poker table with Gambit.  And if you don’t know who Gambit is, I say go fuck yourself, and I have a feeling these guys might too. The exceptional track “8-Bit” has enough X-Men references to make Professor X do the #NaeNae.

Tracks like “8 Bit,” “Bragging Rights,” and “No Comment” stand out on this album because of their beats.  Those three have officially made it into my summer playlist, particularly “8 Bit” because it has the Nintendo sound that it alludes to in its name. Outside of those three songs everything feels like it’s a jazz track sampled over the same generic hip hop beat, mostly at the same tempo. Even so, I still like “Flotilla” and “Salvador Stopwatch.” 
Fans of Atmosphere, which I’m mostly not, will really dig these guys. Fans of Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets, will see those influences but ultimately be disappointed by the lack of depth. Fans of 2 Chainz, well, there’s nothing for you here. Shadowpact never gives a shout out to their stove or their wrist

It’s exciting to see more Hip Hop coming out of Louisville. Especially since Shadowpact is nothing like I’ve heard locally. I remember a time when I couldn’t name one local rapper, but now we have acts like Shadowpact, Skyscraper Stereo,1200,  and Jalin Roze. Take some time to give all of these groups a listen. Support Louisville Hip Hop!

REVIEW: Shadowpact – No Comment (Single)

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I’m not really sure what a single is on the internet any more. To be fair, the internet has changed everything, but it seems especially noticeable with the, uhm, “release” of a new single, which is really just one uploaded track on a bandcamp or soundcloud. Not to say that any of that is bad, or that I myself wouldn’t do the exact same thing; here the internet is the avatar of the broke, that we all have the same platform for our voice, appropriate in the context of a hip-hop release. Of course, all this issue I have is an artifact from a different age. This is how things are released, and any feelings I have for a physical product are vestigial and archaic elements of a bygone era, and one in which I’m thankful to see go.

So when Never Nervous gets an email to review the new single from Shadowpact, I feel the need to contextualize this in a way that makes some kind of sense to me. Anymore a single is just an advance preview of an album, a logical component to a culture that releases trailers for trailers. That this comes from a hip-hop group is excellent, and certainly worthy of commentary, despite their titular release. In fact, the very title “No Comment” is ironic given just how much commentary is there, both superficially and aesthetically. As a stand-alone preview to a longer effort, “No Comment” comes out of the gate swinging.

Admittedly I’m fairly ignorant to Louisville hip-hop, but I have to say that what if what I’ve heard is any indication of what’s out there, then I’m completely on board with it. Reported as the collaboration between emcees Modern Marvill and Sleye Cooper joined forces with “Artemis the Archer,” or Dr. Dundiff, depending on what you read. Since this so far is largely about image, I would be remiss not to point out what confusion this creates, although if it was intentional to label the producer in two completely different ways, I’m into it, like if J.J. Abrams made a hip-hop band. All mysterious and shit. And appropriate in relation to their name. These cats are ungoogleable.

This track in particular is fucking hot. Well, “hot” may be a bit to bold, given how mellow the proceedings are. There is certainly an early aught’s Anticon vibe here, or put differently like RZA level production as filtered through indie sensibilities. The end product is largely successful due to the tension between the music and lyrics that create a rather ominous atmosphere.

Despite the fact that my BA is in English, I’m not all that great at parsing lyrics on the fly. I can live with myself, and I hope everyone here can too. Another impediment here is my ignorance in knowing which emcee is which, although this distinction is moot considering that I like both equally. There are some clever rhymes here, touching on politics, both social and cultural, and pop culture. I’ve got to love a song that threatens to use katana blades to make someone like Walt Jr. I mean, I’m pretty sure homeboy had polio or something medical, so I have to hand it to someone that can use a katana on the genetic level; that shit is sharp.

Since this is a trailer for a proper release, I have to say that I’m properly hyped. This is dropping sometime in the next few months, and hopefully it’ll be warm enough to crack the windows and dust off the hefeweizens by then (which I linked so you all would know what to buy me), because if this is the indicator that I believe it to be of what’s to come, then I’m ready to relax and think deep thoughts. And drink a beer in warmer weather, because fuck all this.