SoHo Kings Reign as Masters Of Melodic Hip-Hop-Pop
We at Brooklyn Roads hate to admit it, but sometimes we owe a debt to one of the other boroughs. Producer/singer Bryce Alvord of Crown Heights and rapper/DJ Celsius911 of Bedford-Stuyvesant call their hip-hop-and-pop collaboration SoHo Kings because, besides having met there, “SoHo is a vibrant area that’s full of artistic influence,” says Celsius, and, says Alvord, it’s “a great nexus of high art and success.”
They agree, however, that their home borough (which is, after all, the county of Kings) has nurtured and influenced their musical creativity.
“Brooklyn made me take rap seriously,” Celsius tells Brooklyn Roads. “In high school there were ciphers and battles everywhere, so you had to be good.”
“Brooklyn … is so competitive that if you are not good enough you will get weeded out very quickly,” Alvord tells us. “Playing shows to three people, which we’ve both done plenty of times, gets old really fast, so if you’re not improving and rising up to the level of those around you, people just quit. But there’s so much great art around [here] it’s easier to be inspired.”
“It’s full of competitive energy here,” Celsius adds. “Some of the greatest artists are from Brooklyn, so as an artist you have a responsibility to live up to that in your own way.” But even more than competition, says Alvord, “It’s the exposure to greatness that helps you see where you are trying to go, gives you a standard.”
The SoHo Kings — whose second full length release, The Climb, was issued earlier this year as both an album and a mixtape hosted by Hot 97’s DJ Absolut – are the product of decidedly different influences. Celsius tells us he grew up mostly on local greats Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z and The Notorious B.I.G. “I’ve always admired the delivery and flow of those artists, the confidence and the content,” he says. “It made me want to create my own lane with that level of confidence.”
It was hearing Nirvana for the first time that drove a then 13-year-old Alvord to start playing music. “The power and the loud/soft dynamic still influence my
music today, even in a hip-hop format,” he says. “That opened me up to the Beatles, which I consider my songwriting Bible. When rock music started to wane in the late ‘90s, I got really into other types of music like reggae and hip-hop.” The latter genre, he adds, “is where all the danger and rebellion are today.”
All those influence add up to a brand of music that even they haven’t come up with a name for, in part because, “It’s new, we don’t follow trends,” Celsius tells Brooklyn Roads. Alvord elaborates: “It really does sound pretty unique. Being that rapping is the most prevalent vocals it is definitely hip-hop, but you can hear rock music influences and electronic dance music in the bass and drums.” At the end of the day, however, “it’s just another variation of pop,” he says.
Celsius describes their music as “high energy,” and their shows, Alvord says, “are a little more energetic than a lot of the hip-hop out there because there is live instrumentation on stage.”
While The SoHo Kings have been well received on both sides of the East River, they express a fondness for Brooklyn venues, both as performers and patrons. “Williamsburg is a great place to see new artist perform,” says Celsius. “We’ve done a lot of shows there. I have too many favorite [clubs] to name just one, though.” If Alvord has a favorite, it would be Cameo in Williamsburg, but, he adds, “Brooklyn Bowl, The Knitting Factory and so many other places here are also great.”
As songwriters, they find the idea of other artists covering SoHo Kings’ material intriguing.
“We do our own thing, so it would be interesting to see anyone else’s take on it,” says Celsius, although he acknowledges he wouldn’t say no to collaboration with Kanye West or Sia. Alvord, on the other hand, tells us, “I’d like to see Timbaland do the beat with Lil Wayne rapping and J. Timberlake singing the hooks. That would be crazy.”
What would really be crazy is missing SoHo Kings next time they play Brooklyn (or even, we dare say, Manhattan). In the meantime you can check them out on YouTube, where their music videos have garnered more than 300,000 views to date.