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Good Times

Bonny and Good produce Lawrence's best hip-hop Sounds.

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The Bakery might be the quintessential student-musician living space. The 11-foot-by-11-foot bedroom studio houses everything from Miles Bonny's mattress to the midnight-hued Dell computer that stores his music. Well-worn Nikes and overripe T-shirts compete for space with boxes of Tuna Helper, bags of Lipton Alfredo Broccoli and an oversized jug of bargain-brand lemonade -- helping to explain the Pepcid AC that's at arm's reach. A New Jersey license plate and a highway sign from Bonny's Teaneck hometown offer hints of East Coast pride, and a "Buddy Christ" figurine oversees the proceedings with a huge grin.

"I'm not a gearhead," Bonny insists, stepping over three keyboards, a chunky black tambourine and a tangled maze of microphone cords and adapter cables. "I have a very minimal setup, and I like it that way."

In the corner, an oversized poster of Art Kane's famous 1958 Jazz Portrait hangs next to a glossy Jamiroquai placard, a juxtaposition that could be applied to Bonny's recent musical output. Stacks of books (a Miles Davis bio, Vibe magazine's hip-hop history) tell a similar tale.

Tonight, Bonny is crafting beats for a forthcoming SoundsGood EP, to be produced mostly from samples of classic jazz cuts. The Bakery explodes with boombastic noise: Bill Evans and Sarah Vaughan meld together seamlessly, as SoundsGood rapper Joe Good spits with lithe precision. Bonny smiles and bobs his head, tweaking knobs on a tiny mixing board.

"Jazz is where I'm most at home, but I love hip-hop's energy and culture and beats and essence," the 22-year-old producer says enthusiastically. "A lot of our jazz influence is not necessarily conscious. I'll make a beat, and people will say, 'Oh, that's really jazzy.' I don't think so. That's just the way we naturally are."

SoundsGood's predilection for blue notes might be genetic. Bonny's father, Francis, is an established trumpet player who toured with the Buddy Rich and Glenn Miller bands before moving on to the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera. Good's grandmother, pianist Sandy Brown, was a regular of the 18th and Vine district in the 1950s. Good grew up falling asleep to the din of late-night jam sessions, where standards such as "Satin Doll" were de rigueur.

"There'd be a house full of motherfuckers jamming away," Good recalls happily. "And that's what I love -- being in an atmosphere where people are doing music. I'll sleep through loud music; it's comforting."

Been rockin' mics since Streetside was Pennylane, Good once rapped, a line more biographical than boastful. The 22-year-old's passion for verbal swordplay took root while attending Paseo Academy as a visual-arts major.

"The atmosphere was real liberal compared to most schools in Kansas City," he remembers. "If I went somewhere else and tried rhyming, I probably would've been discouraged real quick. At my school, everybody was real open. There was poetry classes for us to go to, and the poetry teachers caught on to what we were doing. We'd be ciphering in the lunchroom, and they'd be like, 'Yo, you need to come take my class. Are you writing this kind of shit?' That took my writing to a new level."

Good's mic skills landed the high-school senior a spot in Qui-Lo, a rap trio that soon inked a deal with No Coast, the management firm then overseeing DVS Mindz. The two groups collaborated on "Seven," a Good-produced number issued on DVS Mindz' 2000 debut.

"We had a whole album done under No Coast that was never released," Good explains. "We were doing the album, and DVS came over one night and we did this track. It was dope. It was pretty much a posse cut -- seven verses. I didn't know they was gonna put it on the album, but I'm not salty about the shit anymore. It was gonna be on our album, too, but our album never came out."

Discouraged, Good got his grades together and relocated to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas. The move proved to be a blessing in disguise: As a resident of the Hashinger Hall dorm, Good befriended a number of future collaborators, including Bonny, Archetype's Jeremy "Nezbeat" Nesbitt and soul singer Mylin Brimm. Last summer, Good released a five-track EP, Perfect Storm, that made a few waves. Those familiar with SoundsGood's sunny fare might be surprised by the dark pathos of tracks such as "Pain Killers," in which the MC asserts, I probably should/Take a blade to the vein and end it for good.

"It was definitely dark," he admits. "I'm not gonna front; I kinda like dark music sometimes. Hooking up with [Bonny], though, switched it around."

While Good was struggling in the music biz, Bonny was cutting and pasting strange sounds in his bedroom. Under a variety of aliases (Fats Brown, Dino Jack Crispy, Innate Sounds), Bonny created an online presence, albeit one that was heard but rarely seen. Last summer, he amassed a number of these tracks under the DJC moniker.

"The first Dino Jack Crispy album is really just a compilation of early works," Bonny explains. "It's not supposed to be good; it's just me looking back at all the stuff I've done. SoundsGood is more of a feeling. It's the combination of our personalities and our styles. It's diverse, but that's what makes it interesting. Joe has a very unique voice. I have unique production. That helped its success, as well as having the other groups and the whole community that we're part of."

That community can be found online at lawrencehiphop.com, the Web site Bonny helped create as a gathering place for area MCs, DJs and producers. Its instant popularity has been a gift and a curse for Bonny. The site is home to a number of prized locals (Mac Lethal, Approach, Archetype, Ces Crew), but it has also become a full-time headache.

"I'm not a webmaster," Bonny says. "All it was was an idea to join the Lawrence hip-hop community, and it's already done it. And it's a not-for-profit thing -- no one's made any money. Because of that, it's hard to give weight to people's expectations. The best thing would be for people who are interested in building and maintaining the site to take it over. It's one of the best things that's ever happened in my life, but I'm not willing to put in the time to maintain the whole thing when there's so many other things I'm interested in doing."

Joe Good was interested, too. Last year the pair began collaborating in earnest, making it official with the release of the SoundsGood debut in August. Bonny's ambitious production and Good's flamethrowing prose were a match made in hip-hop heaven, resulting in a varied disc that included hook-crammed philosophy ("Peter Pan"), jazz-soaked complexities ("Beautifool Day") and a song celebrating the joys of a.m. sex ("In the Mornin'").

"I'm never really satisfied," Bonny says. "But I think [it's] better than I realize -- it's a great album. I really look forward to seeing how it's embraced in the future, as an early work. The substantive part of Joe Good and myself is in our continued growth."

"We have somewhere to work up to," Good agrees. "I'd hate to be one of those cats that puts out one of those albums that you can never do again, that you can never overcome."

The SoundsGood disc debuted with a splash, including a packed release party at the Bottleneck. "Peter Pan" spun incessantly on local radio. In the wake of this success, the duo opened for nationals such as ?uestlove and Atmosphere and garnered recognition for its party-vibe live show.

"It should be our job to get your attention," Bonny says. "I don't understand when you go to hip-hop shows and they act like it's the audience's job to like them. If you guys suck or if they're not excited about you, that's your fault. I mean, they paid."

Perhaps the group's most memorable show to date was held outdoors on the KU campus during fall orientation. Students were grooving, but parents and employees were less than thrilled with the duo's more ribald fare.

A warmer response greeted the pairing of Good and local heavyweight Mac Lethal, whose mic prowess has earned him accolades around the world.

"I'm not a battle MC, but every time I do, me and Mac get into it," Good says. "And it's like, fuck, man, who wants to battle Mac Lethal? I know before I even battle, the words just won't come out. It's like the intro to 8 Mile."

Good and Lethal proved such a potent local combination that the two performed together on the Oddjobs winter tour, featuring the cream of the hip-hop underground. With a set that included material from both artists, the two duked it out onstage at twenty Midwest and East Coast dates, including a stop in Quebec.

"I didn't have it too easy," Good recalls. "We were the opening act on a tour that didn't [draw] a lot of people. Sometimes there was, like, five people in the club, but me and Mac, every night we tore it down."

SoundsGood hopes for a better fate when it begins touring regionally later this year, looking to expand its local success outward. Tracks from the proposed jazz EP are promising, and previews of SoundsGood's second full-length indicate that the pleasures of its debut are merely the beginning.

"We're trying to build something substantial," Bonny says. "And we realize that things happen in their own time. I think it's working for us."

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