One of the hottest hip-hop albums of the year comes from the unlikely combination of a six-foot-seven Canadian producer and a New Orleans mother of two. Voice’s Gumbo (Groove Attack) is a testament to the modern modes of production, with the protagonists only recording in the same room twice but nonetheless able to marry beats and rhymes into a vehicle for a rapper who is not only talking loud but saying something.
Toronto’s too-tall Kevin “Moonstarr” Moon has long been known to heads who like their hip-hop with a side of jazz and a chaser of broken beats through his productions for his own Public Transit Recordings as well as remixes for the likes of Recloose and Jazzanova. In spring 2001 he was introduced to Erin “Voice” Tourey through mutual friend Rosina Kazi of LAL (also on Public Transit), with whom Tourey was staying. “I met with her on a Friday, and we just connected. She came by the studio, and I gave her a beat CD. The next day we got together, Saturday afternoon, and she had already written two complete songs to my beats,” Moon remembered with awe over the phone from Toronto. One of those songs ended up on the Scattered Snares compilation released on Twisted Funk, a label run by Marc Mac of 4 Hero, and the other went on Moonstarr’s own Dupont (Public Transit). The pair have been collaborating ever since.
“She’s so versatile — she’ll flip from a rhyme to poetry and back to a rhyme again, so it’s total freedom with her in terms of what you can get away with,” Moon enthused when pressed to explain why he enjoys producing Tourey. “It’s really cool to work with her because you’re not constricted by, like, a straight-up hip-hop snare on every second [beat].” Witness “Guerilla Hustlin’,” in which Moon swings from three kick-drum beats that lurch into the fourth over to snare drums that threaten and stutter with Brazilian flare beneath a trilling flute as Tourey spits, “Wanna know my name, wanna know why I’m on the streets selling beats instead of chasing fame/ Well I’ve always done my own thing, figure people’ll come around on their own term, used to try and push it but I had to live and learn, now I pick and chose when I be concerned.”
“Guerilla Hustlin’” is a rock-solid tune — and it inadvertently captures one of the few ways in which Tourey and Moon view the world differently, as the rhymes tell of struggling to get paid while the production hints at an affection for Baden Powell and isn’t exactly Clear Channel–friendly. When I spoke with Tourey, who patiently answered my questions from her home in New Orleans while her three-year-old and five-month-old played not so patiently in the background, I mentioned that Moon had described his status as an underground producer as “comfortable.” “Obviously, we’re in a situation where we have to sell records, but we’re independent,” Moon said. “We can get away with a hell of a lot more than an artist that’s stuck in a position where their art has to generate revenue for them. We’re in this really comfortable position where we can get away with whatever.”
So does Tourey treasure the same silver lining to not selling too many records that Moon does? “Mmm, no,” Tourey said succinctly. “I love Kevin, but, well, he doesn’t have kids yet. When he starts reproducing, he might feel the burn a little more, like I do. Underground is great in terms of creative control and street credibility and loyal fan bases, but at some point I gotta pay bills. I’m trying to find a middle ground.”
ALL SYSTEMS FLOW
That’s not to say that Tourey has any interest in focusing on cash flow at the expense of mic flow. As a survivor of the cattle calls and series pilots that litter the past of child actors (her father renewed her agent’s contract every year from when she was 5 to 16 — when she shaved her head bald and started winning poetry slams), Tourey shows a marked animosity toward any kind of Hollywood success in her Gumbo rhymes. The rapper — whose recent listening runs from Bilal to Björk — may want to feed her kids, but her rhymes reflect a keen awareness that one day they’ll want more than just the next meal. To quote Tourey in “Total Eclipse,” the most recently written song on the album, “They said I should dumb it down, appeal to my audience, apparently we like our rap with no substance, but then I’m looking out into the crowd, and I’m seeing me, a sea full of honeys quietly thanking me, ’cause we support, and I’m just tryin’ to find a healthy balance, intellect toes the line, introduces a new challenge.”
Despite the distance between their locales, Moon and Tourey come together on Gumbo to serve up an album full of adventurous production and rhymes for the mind, no matter how far that consciousness has to travel. Moon said, “At the end of the day, good food tastes good — wherever you go in the world.” SFBG
VOICE AND MOONSTARR AT SICK AND LOADED
Sat/18, 8 p.m.
1141 Polk, SF