Last year was a busy one for The Natives, collectively and individually. The Hip Hop aggregation released two new albums — their song-oriented debut Native America and its mixtape-styled follow-up Coup d’etat — as free downloads, maintained a high profile in the local club scene, produced a handful of videos for their tracks and nabbed a Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nomination for New Artist of the Year (as well as one in the Hip Hop category).
That’s a big, breakout year by any yardstick.
“It’s reinforcement that we’re moving in the right direction and that our music is something that people can grasp and enjoy,” says keyboardist/vocalist/producer Champayne (who goes by “Champ”) about the group’s CEA nomination. “It’s a good marker, a good milestone that we’re getting noticed by different media and it’s a good accolade whether we win or not. We’re getting noticed.”
The irony of the nomination is that The Natives — Champ, rapper Pii, keyboardist/rapper Hap, keyboardist/vocalist JJ and drummer/vocalist Feeno Goodie — have been around since 2009. But initially The Natives were more of a collective, concentrating mostly on the members’ solo studio projects while building a fan base in the clubs. That solo focus continued after Coup d’etat dropped late last summer, as Hap and Champ got back to work on their own solo joints with help from their bandmates.
“I’m just finishing (my solo release), so that should be out at the end of this month; it’s called The Prototype,” Champ says. “Hap’s got Welcome to the Machine dropping in the next few months and Pii started working on a solo project and that’ll probably come out after that.”
It’s not difficult to comprehend The Natives’ musical appeal.
Influenced by a virtual melting pot of styles and artists — Jazz, Hip Hop, Gospel, Funk, Reggae and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Coldplay and Rage Against the Machine), The Natives are equal parts Indie Rock and Hip Hop. Shunning Rap’s tendency toward street-corner braggadocio, The Natives offer more profound observations on social and cultural issues, making their infectious rhythms and rhymes the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Native America and Coup d’etat accounted for several thousand downloads upon their releases, although their song-based debut seemed to fare a little better in the court of public opinion than the more diverse sophomore effort. In The Natives’ world, it’s all good.
“The first one, we all sat down in the studio and built the album and the second one was a mix of things we’d been working on, a little more random, but it was cool,” Champ says. “We got mixed reviews (on Coup d’etat). It wasn’t like we sat down and said, ‘Let’s do this, do that,’ like on the first one. So some people were like, ‘We expected what we heard on Native America and we didn’t get that,’ and some people were like ‘That made your first sound like you didn’t know what you were doing back then.’ “Everybody’s got different opinions. It was on purpose. Coup d’etat got some people that weren’t feeling Native America, but most people enjoyed it.”
The Natives are always in work mode, whether playing live (they’re still waiting for their schedules to open up to accommodate some out of town gigs), working in the studio on various related projects or planning and shooting music videos. In addition to the solo albums in progress, The Natives are constructing a third group album, which they’re hoping to release before the end of 2013.
“It’s gonna be a big deal, I think,” Champ says. “I was talking to them today about it and we’d like to get it out by this summer, but things never happen the way you want because of busy schedules and procrastination. But definitely this year. We want to get these solo projects done and out of the way first.
“We dropped three videos and a fourth one’s coming. We got a fifth (video) but unfortunately the file got misplaced so that’s not gonna come out. We only dropped one video from Native America, so we’ll probably go back and drop some videos from that. We’re just taking our time with it.”
While The Natives aren’t necessarily swayed by the critical opinions leveled at their first two releases, the group’s new album is likely to be structured more like Native America than the multifarious Coup d’etat.
“We’ve got some songs that we had been working on for the first one that we didn’t want to drop yet … ideas that we’ve been saving and may show up on the new one,” Champ says. “It’s definitely going to be me and JJ on the production again, more songs with the group working together again. This one will probably be more album-shaped.”
For music and more from THE NATIVES, visit facebook.com/likethenatives.