[hip4]What is a rebel? Most would describe this word as an individual that never conforms to the “normal” ways of life. A group of four young men from Detroit take this word and make it into a revolutionary title for their very own hip-hop group that does anything but conform to the established convention of today’s music. That title is the group known as Rhyme Beats Life Soul, or RBLS.
What’s in a Name?
The revolution began in the summer of 2007, when the four college students came together and began to embrace not only their love for hip-hop music, but their hunger for a revolution in this genre. Together, Brandon McGhee, Desmond Hunter, Donovan Demberry and Preston Jones became the group known as RBLS. All the members managed to not only pursue their talents in music, but stay grounded in their studies as well. Jones is a junior attending Wayne State University where he studies psychology; Brandon is a junior attending Eastern Michigan University, studying business; graduating senior Donovan studies English, and junior Desmond is studying business at Bowling Green University. With all of them in different locations and studying a range of topics, how did such a name become the foundation for a hip-hop group?
“Donovan actually came up with the name,” Jones said. One of the inspirations behind the name is a legendary hip-hop group known as A Tribe Called Quest. “There was an album that they came out with early on that inspired our name,” Brandon said. “The album was called Beats, Rhyme, Life, and we rearranged the letters and just happened to put the ‘s’ at the end for soul.”
The Sound of a Revolution
[goal]The men of RBLS pride themselves on not sounding like the typical hip-hop group. “Nowadays, people say that hip-hop is dead,” Demberry said. “Our goal as a group is to see to it that we revolutionize hip-hop for not only our generation but generations to come as well.” So who or what is it that inspires such a goal? The group agrees artists such as Lupe Fiasco, A Tribe Called Quest, MF Doom and Wu Tang Clan have laid a foundation that is sometimes hard to recognize with all the various sounds of hip-hop today. Even issues such as never having a father at home, troubled families and friends, societal ills of African Americans, propaganda and girlfriends have also inspired the lyrics of the group’s songs. Historical individuals such as W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party, and even Prince Machiavelli of England, have found their way to the hearts and souls of these four young men and have inspired them to let their lyrical content uplift the soul and not constantly conform to what is considered “normal.” “There was actually nothing normal about those individuals,” Jones said. “They saw changes that needed to be made and unlike the normal person, they decided to find the courage to make those changes become a reality.”
One of the songs RBLS has found to receive the most popularity among fans is titled “Much More.” This track is not their original production, yet is more stylistic on delivery. By original production, the group explained on a mix tape, a person puts out new songs where they only construct their own lyrics and put them to someone else’s instrumental. Jones and McGhee wrote this particular track. “Brandon actually outshines me on this track,” Jones said. “While my portion of the song tells more of a story, Brandon’s portion is what I call word play.” This song undeniably has a great deal of emotion behind it, because the lyrics outline the life of Jones and McGhee’s outlook on the changes that need to take place amongst African Americans today. Some of the mentioned changes among African Americans were social changes such as allowing your true self to shine and not to conform to how society defines you. “The title is ‘Much More’ because this track implies that there is so much more to life than what is simply on this track,” Preston said. Listeners will agree this song will have them wanting to hear much more from RBLS. [rbls2]
Another track titled “Tell ‘Em” is one that was originally produced by Donovan. Though the track is not as dynamic as “Much More,” it gives Donovan a chance to show some of his best production yet. “The sound is more electronic,” Donovan said. “The lyrics are also very ‘arresting’ – meaning that the strength of the lyrics takes you, and holds you hostage almost.” The meaning behind this song will definitely hold listeners hostage as it tells the story of each of these members biographically.
Forming a Revolution
Of course, the idea of forming a group did not simply come overnight. Before the name could take place, a foundation of a group had to be laid. The revolution began with only Jones and McGhee during their freshman year of high school at Detroit’s Renaissance High School on the city’s west side. “Brandon and I had been friends since our freshman year,” Jones said. “And we used to always battle one another all the time.”
“I think we were actually more serious about our music than we were about our school work,” McGhee said.
After their freshman years, both McGhee and Jones continued the rest of their high school careers at Mumford High School, also in Detroit. It was here the two realized their talent in not only music, but poetry as well. Jones especially engaged this skill and began competing in citywide poetry competitions, where he had the privilege of getting several of his poetic works published.
In the downtown part of Detroit, Demberry and Hunter had become close neighborhood friends. Demberry had developed an undeniable talent in producing instrumentals, not only for his own entertainment, but for other local artists as well. “That’s how he got the nickname Kutmaster,” Hunter said. It was not until later on during one summer Demberry and Jones would meet.[unique]
“I was actually a chaperone on the annual Black College Tour,” Jones said. “Donovan’s little brother heard me battling with some other guys on the trip and then we began talking about the different productions of artist Gnarles Barkley and Nas.” It was during that particular conversation Jones was informed of Demberry’s talents in music production. Soon after, Jones contacted Demberry and the revolution of music began to take place. They both could not help but notice their similar tastes in production styles of music and both had a dream of forming a team of rappers that could not only produce their own music, but take hip-hop music to an entire new level. Jones then explained to Demberry his own best friend, McGhee, would be an excellent addition to the group, and Demberry likewise spoke of Hunter. Ironically, Hunter had known McGhee since middle school. Four young rappers, awesome production skills, great lyricism and high hopes of a musical revolution soon brought about the group RBLS.
And the Revolution Goes On
So where does RBLS see itself going? With constant studio work and upcoming summer performances, there isn’t an end in sight. New York producer/DJ K-Salaam had a chance to comment on his views of RBLS. “The group has their own sound. They bring something unique, cool and new to the game.” K-Salaam has been a mentor for Jones for quite some time. “He’s a fast learner and that’s an excellent trait to have in the industry.” K-Salaam has also worked with artists such as Young Buck, Nas, Dead Prez, Kelis and Mya. After recently doing some work with his own group, K-Salaam & Beatnick, K- Salaam has recorded an album – “The World is Yours” – soon to hit the streets in June.
What is that makes this group the best you’ve never heard? Well, as Jones puts it, “We’re consistently inconsistent and efficiently inefficient.” In other words, the sound of their music is never consistent because each track is different from the ones before it and after. The sound is also new, original and is never conforming to the sounds of other artists heard over the radio airwaves. “We’re just going to keep making music and never stopping,” Brandon said. With an ear-arresting sound, thought-provoking lyrics, electronic production and non-conforming mentalities, listeners will definitely agree RBLS is a revolution the hip-hop genre has been searching for.