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When I sat down to write this, I was all fired up to open with a joke of some sort about a double-header tour featuring the Mdahts and the Microdahts. Hours later—and with a deadline rapidly approaching—I had to concede there is no such joke to be made. True, both groups feature essentially the same band of talented performers, but that’s really the only comparison that can be made. The Microdahts were/are a tremendously fun little jam band. The Mdahts? The Mdahts are a scorching hip-hop act whose sound is equally at home in the smoothest jazz club and the sweatiest mosh pit, a range marvelously demonstrated on their new album.
Music for Grown Folk is the tentative title of the Mdahts’ new album, the first in eight years, and one thing is immediately clear: They have spent the time between this album and their first refining, polishing and expanding literally everything about their craft. Brian “B*Spaz” Macisco is already a respected producer and engineer in the local music community. His production work on this album (not to mention his considerable skill on the harmonica) does justice to that reputation. In a genre of music where production ranges from “bare bones” minimalism (which has its place) to a Phil Spector-esque “Wall of Sound” approach (a technique frequently referred to as a wall of some other less flattering thing) the Mdahts’ new album stands out for its sophisticated, musically mature backing tracks that fall squarely in the Goldilocks’ zone of being “just right.”
As much credit as the producer can take for that, no less credit belongs to the musicians, whose skillful playing provides the raw material for this gem. Hunter White’s drumming is pure precision, Adam “Skinny iLL” Staudacher’s bass lines are funky, and Corey French’s work on keys binds it all together emotionally in a way that means if all the vocals were removed, this album could still stand on its own as a great piece of instrumental work. Add to this the DJ skills of Macisco and Staudacher, and you set a stage any rapper would be lucky to share. In this case the lucky fellows are E. Rockimus (the “hairdresser” to his friends) and Warner MC.
Here again we have two performers whose reputations precede them. Both are well known in the local scene, both are absolute pros who bring the kind of smooth flow and style that only comes from years and years on the microphone. Confident and bold, but never overbearing, their considerable talents are the perfect complement to the tracks laid down by the rest of the group, and their versatility means that they never have to venture out of the “comfort zone” because they are comfortable everywhere.
For all of the care that has gone in to crafting the music, Warner maintains that their primary focus is on effectively conveying a message. That message varies from tune to tune, as does the method of delivery. At times philosophical, at times straight-up goofy and fun, the album is really a collection of voices from all walks of life, expressing the fears, concerns and pleasures that are universal to the human experience.
The first track, “Time is Passin’” is so gritty and real you can almost taste the asphalt and urban decay, while track six, “Squash that Jive” so perfectly emulates the big-band sound of the ’40s you want to double-check that you’re still listening to the same group. “It Won’t Be Long,” another stand-out track on the album, has overtones of reggae, while “One of These Days” is definitely born from classic Motown. The album as a whole is a smorgasbord of styles without ever seeming disjointed or unfocused. For all this, it isn’t struggling to find an identity. The album is a testament to the complexity of the band and the very broad range of influences that coalesce under the banner of the Mdahts.
There isn’t time or space here to list all of the prominent local musicians and artists who have appeared with the Mdahts, but it says a lot about them that it’s more or less a badge of honor to join them in the studio. There will come a day when, “Yeah, I played with those fellas once…” will be quite a bragging right. The album is Music for Grown Folk. It isn’t available yet, but you can keep tabs on that via the Mdahts on Facebook and be sure to check them out on Saturday, August 10 at Dumpy’s on the Ocoee for a live show that will leave you happy, sweaty and exhausted.