Common's openers will shatter assumptions

Victorious Voices

By Amelia Zak, Daily Music Editor
Published April 9, 2015

A generalization, by definition, is a sweeping statement or concept obtained by inference from specific cases. It is a word that refers to the process of using several personal anecdotes, or the collected experiences of others, to create an overarching statement or idea. The music industry holds a number of these abstractions. There’s the notion that rock music is dead, or that Spotify and Pandora are killing the industry, or that traditional record stores have virtually disappeared; the list is fundamentally endless. Enshrouded within these generalizations, however, is a kernel of truth.

Next Friday, April 17 at Hill Auditorium, when Antwaun Stanley and Brendan Asante and his musical collective Video 7 take the stage to open for R&B and hip-hop legend Common, a few more generalizations will be left tarnished — perhaps even destroyed. In fact, Stanley and Asante, in tandem with Common’s inevitably moving performance, will trump multiple routine assumptions of our apparently ill-fated music industry. At a fair price and with the most genuine of intentions, their opening set won’t orbit around preconceived notions regarding stardom, money or overinflated levels of hype. These more material elements are pertinent for heavy hip-hop performances. But not this concert nor it’s opening set; this performance is set to transcend the classic form. Bouncing off the acoustically unequaled walls of Hill Auditorium, the music of these University of Michigan graduates will create a musical mural of hip hop, trap jazz and Motown, all with the intention of actualizing an environment of emotion, energy and inspiration with their audience.

Stanley’s early introduction and successes in the music industry are almost prodigal. Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, it was at the age of three that Stanley’s mother noticed his impeccable capacity to carry and create a tune.

“The story goes that I was in the kitchen with my mom, sitting at a little kids table with its perfectly yellow chairs, and while she was cooking she was humming ‘Amazing Grace.’ She slowly stopped and noticed me sitting there and that all the while she was singing, I had started to hum along and create my own version of the song.”

From then on it was only a mere matter of time before the word of this incident and Stanley’s irrefutable skill was disseminated through the local neighborhoods and community. The infatuation for the young Stanley and his incredible skill moved from local to larger followings. Sony and Dreamworks took interest in Stanley before he eventually transferred to a Michigan record label.

“I had a wonderful management team and eventually, so many years later, I was led to an independent label titled Bajada Records in Detroit,” Stanley humbly explained.

With Bajada Records, Stanley released his first independent gospel project, I Can Do Anything, for which he was nominated as “Best New Artist” and “Best Music Video” in the 2008 Stellar Awards, gospel music’s highest honor. Simultaneous to those successes, Stanley was a student here at the University pursuing a degree in Sociology and Music. His scholarly undertakings remained imperative, but Stanley’s artistry never strayed from his collegiate mural. Groove Spoon was a college funk band that Stanley and other musically-inclined students formed during their time. The group experienced great levels of appreciation and success across campus, from house parties to the coveted slot as openers to President Barack Obama’s 2010 commencement speech. After college, Stanley’s talent threaded itself into numerous other musical endeavors, expanding to contemporary funk and soul bands like Ann Street Soul and Vulfpeck.

“I’m interested in anything that feeds your soul. And that could be jazz, that could be hip hop or that could be gospel music,” Stanley elaborated. “I find myself stepping back and saying, ‘What kind of creativity do I have today?’ and that could mean anything. Maybe that’ll mean I’ll try a little jazz or a little pop or country. However it comes out. It’s good to broaden your mind because, when you do, you are able to collaborate with folks who have a completely different background musically. And that could at times have you producing something that would have maybe never come to life.”

Once the inspiration is found, Stanley flourishes. By entering every musical experience and performance as an excavator of inspiration, the structure of genres and the music industry as a whole is belittled, and maybe even diminished. This ability to instantly broaden his talents in the name of creativity has manufactured a musical chameleon with a particular zest for live performances.

“Any time I go to a live show I leave with something — a piece of you is taken. You leave uplifted or empowered or ready to make a change. With live performances, and this one in particular, we’re creating a theme of trying to see things in a better light – I think that is this concert and it’s mindset, all still under the umbrella of hip hop,” he said.

The music and voices of the opening performance will surely do just that. Entering with their own genres and creations, next Friday’s stage is set to be ensconced with various musicians, instruments, and even one beloved Robert Hurst when Stanley and Brendan Asante’s Detroit based musical collective, Video 7 envelope the auditorium.

Brendan Asante, an Auburn Hills native of Ghanian descent, is a more recent graduate of the University who aided in the creation of the Video 7 collective here on campus over the past two years. Operating under the axiom ‘we don’t see genre, we just hear sound,’ Video 7 and Asante don’t want their artistry to just be seen or heard, they want it to be felt. Under numerous artistic mediums like film, music and even app design, the collective has begun to expand into a collaborative force of musicians focusing on the feelings associated with the experience of receiving music.

It’s easy to argue that this goal, the desire to make their music noticed and effective, is a high stakes mission. They’re asking for more than just placid consumption, they are looking to make an individual feel something, whatever that may be. That is a difficult task, surely, but when a group incorporates a harp surrounded by synthesizers in their live performances, instilling and inciting emotion doesn’t appear as burdensome.

“Whether it be music, film, app design, whatever, we’re trying to be innovative and turning all of it into an overall experience,” explained Asante. “Instead of being just automatically processed because ‘society’ can already make you like that. Video 7 is doing things that, well we are just trying to rewire the brain patterns a bit and soak up just as much as we can because it all feels new.”

Stanley and Video 7’s performance can’t be categorized or predicted. Drawing on influences from the music anthologies of J Dilla, Detroit’s Motown music and modern hip hop, the set will be defined by the audience. They’ll bounce from the presentation of classics and modern pieces, then into a more experiential set where, upon the audience’s request, any song, sample or beat that the onstage band presents can be instantly transformed with Video 7’s beats, their pre-recorded tracks, or by the very musicians onstage.

“J Dilla was an expert at inserting a groove into whatever he did. Whether it was his beats or his music, the groove was always infectious and got your head knocking. In this same form we’re going to be using the foundation of all the original beats but then taking those classics and pulling the rug out from under them,” Asante said.

Generalizations derail and distract. They are powerful, so potent, in fact, that they can misinform any ductile audience. But buried within each, embedded in some nook or cranny of the idea, lies some semblance of truth. There’s the issue of the ever-powerful genre, for example, and our society’s desire to categorize and define all music. Or the notion that most, if not all, live music performances need a certain level of hype or stardom in order to be truly effective. Surely both are true in some concert landscapes. But next weekend a jack-of-all-trades talent who bypasses the structure of the genre to find the inspiration, Stanley, is set to collaborate with an amalgamation of artistry focused on innovation within the musical experience, Brendan Asante and his Video 7 music collective. Before hip-hop legend Common engulfs Hill Auditorium on April 17, one of gospel music’s chameleon talents and Asante’s assemblage of millennial talents will crawl through and melodiously destroy the generalizations.