Unlike rock music in all its derivative forms, rap always has remained, by and large, a solo art. Sure, cliques come and go (see G-Unit), and profitable pairings amounting to musical marriages of convenience strut on Top 40 charts (see Ludacris featuring Ciara, Lil Jon, Usher, etc.), but behind it all, there's the undeniable purity of a solo MC.
It is precisely this promise of artistic autonomy that inspired Ahmad Mitchell, one half of local hip-hop duo Accumen1, to start his new project, Soul Food Hustle. After nearly five years in Accumen1 with his brother, Samir Zamundu, Mitchell says it was time to test the waters on his own.
"We spent a couple years building a fan base and doing shows as Accumen1, but this new project allows me to be a lot more personal because it's just me," says Mitchell.
Well, it's not just him. Mitchell often is backed up on stage with a live band featuring DJ Naji, Paul Kaiser on drums, Sean Pyrtle on bass, Taylor Biscup on guitar and Chris Jones on percussion. But at the heart of Soul Food Hustle is Mitchell's stage presence and unique lyrical outlook.
"Where I'm coming from lyrically is basically the perspective of real life," says Mitchell. "I'm in my 30s, and I've got two kids. I'm working 9 to 5, hustlin', trying to get by."
Mitchell, whose musical influences include Common, Mos Def and David Banner, admits that part of the reason he started Soul Food Hustle last winter was to rap about more personal issues and to connect with his audience on a higher level.
"Having the chance to just be myself on stage as Soul Food Hustle allows me to flow about whatever I feel deeply about. It can be politics or my personal life, but whatever it is, it's gonna be real," he promises.
Mitchell's vocal delivery always has been versatile, and with Soul Food Hustle, he claims, he has more of an opportunity to experiment with different rhyme schemes and rhythms.
"I don't want every song to sound the same, and I certainly don't want every concert to sound the same," says Mitchell. "That's why sometimes I use a live band and sometimes I try to get back to my roots, pop in a mini-disc, and do purely solo shows."
Mitchell has been rapping since he was a teenager, and though his current style of "independent, soulful hip-hop" bears little resemblance to the rap he grew up with, Mitchell claims his musical evolution is a sign that he's changing as a person, not just as an artist.
"I try to write lyrics about what I've experienced: working hard and trying to get by and raise a family. We're all in the same boat," he says. "God willing, we'll achieve a better life someday."
For now, Mitchell is content to play shows and build a fan base. As for his ultimate goals, he is surprisingly fatalistic.
"It might be my destiny to get out of this 9 to 5 hustle -- but maybe I won't," he muses. "Either way, music is my ticket to a better life, and so I've got to keep on trying."
-- Joe Kuzma
Soul Food Hustle with special guests
Friday, Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Darkside, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Tickets: $7, all ages; call 231-9701 for more.