Black Bethoven brings ‘Heat’ to Detroit hip hop
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Humbled that his music excites hip hop fans in his home city, Black Bethoven is quick to deflect compliments. He sits in his basement studio, for the moment turned away from multiple computer monitors and two powerful speakers, soon to have the room rocking. This is where his new album “Heat” was composed, crafted and released to the world on Oct. 22, giving hip hop a refreshing new contribution from the Motor City.
“‘Heat’ is basically myself expressing how far I’ve evolved in the music I am influenced by,” says Black Bethoven, who wrote every song on the album.
The 12 songs on “Heat” — supported by guest appearances from a number of Detroit emcees and musicians who were eager to collaborate — channel the different styles that have influenced Black Bethoven the most over the years. The result is an energetic hip hop album that will appeal to fans of electronic music.
“‘80s synth, all day, 1980s synth,” says Black Bethoven as he describes his biggest sonic influence, an old school sound that is a favorite of FM radio’s daily rotation throughout Detroit. “What if you take the ‘80’s synth sound, slapped it on top of boom-bap, then also add some soul?”
A Detroit resident all of his life, the boom-bap drums he reworks on “Heat” represent the cultural DNA of his era. Through his teenage years and into his 20s during the 1990s, Black Bethoven took the journey from rewinding Run DMC cassettes in his home to rocking shows in Detroit as a lesser known artist amongst the era’s famed hip hop community.
All the while, he was spending his most valued musical time practicing jazz on the trumpet or singing with an R&B group. His advanced knowledge of music fueled the album’s melodic instrumentation and driving rhythms.
“Whatever your culture is, you express it through the music,” he says, reflecting on the city’s musical legacy. “At the same time, we created this thing called hip hop, which is a melting pot to me.”
The songs on “Heat” were conceived during a period when Black Bethoven was composing music for an upcoming album with 5 ELA, founders of the artist collective known as STARFLEET, of which this writer is also a member. Their goal with making music together as STARFLEET is to push the sound creatively, while also delivering positive messages for youth and adults alike.
“When you’re around people who talk about things that enrich the soul — the mind, the spirit the body — the music is easy,” he says.
Working with other artists has helped inspire Black Bethoven’s creative process over the years, bringing a spontaneity that came with greater confidence in his craft.
“I’m hearing the sound I’m doing,” he says, “I’m like ‘ok, that sound is progressing.’ Now it’s evolving with STARFLEET; it’s going in a forward direction; it’s evolving into something else, which is exciting.”
In addition to 5 ELA and Black Bethoven’s brother, Nametag, guest artists on “Heat” include Detroit artists DJ Los, 313Phresh, Mic Todd, Alius Pknukkl of Almighty Dreadnaughtz, Ron D and Duminie DePorres on guitar. The album is powered by the lead single “3” featuring 5 ELA and Pierre Anthony.
Black Bethoven is proud to be in the legacy of great Motown recording musicians before him, and shares a deep appreciation for those songs. Both his cousin, Black Milk, and his brother Nametag are also hip hop artists, each with a new album released this fall. He sees Detroit as being on the verge of a new wave of musical greatness, bringing back one crucial element that has been missing.
“The drive to make music is there,” he says, “what it misses to me is the aura of love. When you listen to Eddie Kendricks’ songs or Smokey Robinson, all of the songs were about love. You couldn’t wait to fall in love with the first woman you (laid) eyes on.”
Black Bethoven says the problem with music now is artists are caught up in the negative aspect of what’s happening in their own individual lives as well as the negative depictions of the city — like poverty.
“It doesn’t upset me. It just makes me realize that yeah, things are upset, but the world is feeding off of (us) being upset,” he says. “If I do an aggressive song, I hope it can be done for a greater purpose.”
Black Bethoven’s “Heat” LP is available for sale through iTunes and Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.reverbnation.com/blackbethoven.