Los Angeles hip-hop has long been dominated by the gangster rap output of such hard-core artists as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. But in the last few years, Jurassic 5, Black Eyed Peas and Dilated Peoples have shown that non-gangster acts could build a following here.
So where does L.A. Symphony, a collective of eight rappers and one DJ whose bubbling single "Broken Tape Decks" includes a discussion of homework , fit into the City of Angels' hip-hop scene?
"We don't really see ourselves fitting in anywhere," says Flynn. "It's hard to tell. When we hear our music, we just feel that it's different. That's why [our forthcoming] album is called 'Call It What You Want.' "
Indeed, the music on "Call It What You Want," scheduled to arrive in stores in July, is far from both the gangster funk of Dr. Dre and the drum-driven sound of Dilated Peoples. Instead, the songs--produced by Prince Paul, Mario C, Will.I.Am and J-Beits--emit an upbeat, playful vibe that's devoid of thug menace. So it's fitting that Fatlip, a former member of the similarly lighthearted group Pharcyde, joins the Symphony on "What You Say?"
But with eight members vying for space on each song, don't expect the L.A. Symphony's album to be cluttered by high-profile guests, which is standard in today's hip-hop marketplace. The original vision of "Broken Tape Decks" called for each member of the group to trade one-liners. The final version features only three rappers.
"It's hard, but we understand the situation going into it," member Joey the Jerk says of the challenge of earning a spot on a song. "We're not trying to fight for mike time. We're trying to fight for what's going to make the best song with the best sound."
L.A. Symphony came together nearly five years ago after the members had gotten to know each other sharing bills in their previous groups at underground shows in Southern California.
"We were all kind of hitting the same spots," Flynn says. "We started crewing up more and more and hanging out. It kind of grew to being what L.A. Symphony is today."
The group released its debut album, "Composition No. 1," in the summer of 1998 on its own Eartube Empire label. They signed last year with Squint Entertainment, home to pop-rock band Sixpence None the Richer, and are currently on the Yahoo! Sports NBA Rhythm 'n' Rims Tour, an NBA-sponsored tour that takes them to 11 markets through the end of July.
In Wu-Tang Clan fashion, the Symphony plans to release its group album and then flood the market with collections from individual members, starting with Pigeon John.
But as the group prepares for the release of "Call It What You Want," the members want to establish their own niche in the Los Angeles hip-hop scene.
"We want to bring back a good feel to hip-hop," Joey says. "We'd like to make music that people can relate to on all levels, from a little kid to an adult, from people in Nebraska to Los Angeles. We're all struggling for the same things."\o7 * L.A. Symphony plays Wednesday at the Temple Bar, 1026 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 8:30 p.m. $5. (310) 393-6611.
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: While the L.A. Symphony tries to establish a new form of Los Angeles hip-hop, several other acts are also pushing hip-hop's artistic boundaries around the country.
Two of them are MF.Doom and Hi-Tek.
Doom, who divides his time between Atlanta and New York, is a member of the underappreciated rap group KMD, which released its overlooked debut album, "Mr. Hood," in 1991. The good-spirited music of rapper Doom, (known then as Zev Love X) and DJ Subroc also included the character Mr. Hood, whose appearances between songs created a humorous and engaging story that was nearly as interesting as the music.
Subroc died after being hit by a car in 1993, and KMD was dropped from Elektra before its second album was released. After limited runs on various independent labels, that album has just been reissued by Metal Face/Sub Verse Music.
MF.Doom's "Operation: Doomsday!" was re-released May 1. The updated version of the rapper's critically acclaimed 1999 underground album has two MF.Dooms. One is a more serious Zev Love X, while the other is a clever, Mr. Hood-like character who appears throughout, adding a comic-book mystique.
The equally innovative producer Hi-Tek doesn't rely on superhero characters on his new album, although he calls on such friends as Mos Def, Mood and Slum Village for vocals on his recently released "Hi-Teknology" album on Rawkus Entertainment.
The Cincinnati-based Hi-Tek released the well-received "Reflection Eternal" album with longtime partner Talib Kweli last year. Kweli appears on two "Hi-Teknology" cuts, while Grammy-nominated rapper Common teams with singer Vinia Mojica on the collection's first single, the inspirational "The Sun God."
Timbaland, the Neptunes and Dr. Dre may be dominating the airwaves, but on this album and his forthcoming work with Snoop Dogg's Tha Eastsidaz and Kool G. Rap, Hi-Tek proves that he is the hip-hop producer to watch.