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Black Elephant: Eat This Album

If spoken word poetry and hip-hop music were to make passionate love, their offspring would be Milwaukee’s own Black Elephant. If you’ve heard their second album, you’ll understand the analogy. If you haven’t — you should. This trio is conglomeration of intellect, insight, ingenuity and yes, good looks. If Harriet Tubman was the sojourner of slaves to the freedom land, then Black Elephant are the sojourners of soul stirring music for all free people. At Onopa on July 31, at one of three recent album release parties, the group took the stage for a diverse audience, from hillbillies with cowboy hats to hip-hop heads in Phat Pharm. Judging from the high energy and french kissing in the crowd, they all dug it just the same. The digging and listening was so intense, that white people danced a hip-hop, sped up version of a Lord of the Rings foot dance, while too-cool-for-this black people bobbed their heads to the beat. The concert was a hip-hop heaven, it was a Utopia. She, Element graced the stage in a chocolate brown apron that begged the question, “Why is this night different from all the other nights? Don’t ask.” Her arm never stopped pumping, the beat seldom stopped thumping, as Verbal and Dameon quickly engaged in a dynamic verbal showcase resembling a competition in which all were skillful players, all winners. Response from the crowd ranged from carefree, off beat wiggles to full blown Holy Ghost moves. Black Elephant’s music hit hard, like music of the 70s and early 80s. Their delivery goes beyond the senseless rap, bravado and hyper female sexuality that is the signature of recent mainstream hip-hop/rap music. The formula for their music is to not follow the formula. “This is for my people,” the group proclaimed from the crowded corner stage. Their live, full band (complete with horns, saxophone, bass and drums) accompanied a version of “For My People” from Eat This Album, their sophomore release. The song was a tribute to the audience, loyal friends, family, and supporters of the group. This and other melodic “appetizer” songs fed the audience a small but flavorful taste of the 17-song compilation. It wouldn’t be enough to say this group of two locals and one Michagander have an astute social awareness that is reflected in their songs. The topics are most familiar – mayor/police chief conflicts, three-strike offense laws, and the ill effects of drugs. Black Elephant is braver than that, though, lyrically delving into prevalent but unspoken dilemmas, like the inappropriateness of preachers, and their misgivings or “miscomings.” Brutally honest but refreshingly inoffensive, Eat This Album does for Milwaukee’s hip-hop music scene what Al Jarreau did for the jazz scene: legitimizing it and adding some much needed class and depth to an often times trashy, shallow-versed, and lyrically repetitive cesspool of drum machine producers, hoochie mamas and half-naked rumpshakers. For more information about the band check out www.blackelephantmusic.com.