New School’s new video for “Can I Kick It?” starts with drummer Riley Loftus ’16 finishing his Big Mac and grabbing his drum sticks. The video then launches into guitarist Justin Friedman ’16 playing the all-too-familiar guitar chords of the late Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side.” As soon as singer Ngina Shillingford ’15 is done with the first verse, the beat speeds up and rappers Kai Leshne ’16 and Rhys Podell ’16 step in and deliver their original lyrics, mixed in with a cover of the A Tribe Called Quest classic “Can I Kick It?” with which the video shares its name. All this is accompanied by the bass work of Will Speiser ’17 and the keyboard work of Adam Rochelle ’17.
From both watching the video and having been present during the shooting, I sensed a strong dynamism within the group that flows freely between the borders of rock, hip-hop, and jazz. Indeed, when I got a chance to speak with the band in the lobby of Usdan on a crowded Wednesday evening, it seemed as if a free-flowing deconstruction of these boundaries lay at the heart of the band’s creed.
“Riley, Rhys, and I had talks [about] doing a project like this [at the] end of first semester [last year],” Friedman said. “We got the project under full swing very quickly second semester last year, but we had a very different lineup. Adam, Will, and Kai all joined us this fall in September. We like to say we started really playing this fall.”
Since its formation, the group has been seeking out gigs wherever they’re to be found, steadily taking lessons from each new experience.
“We had our first show with the new group, minus Kai, at Buddhist House, but we ran into some sound problems,” Friedman said. “The best show this year was the week after that at Earth House, where we played with Grand Cousin and invested in an outside sound system that allowed us to be heard by everyone.”
When I asked the group to try and pinpoint its specific sound, an array of words were thrown into the round table discussion, including hip-hop, jazz, improv, jam band, and even free-jazz poetics. Ultimately, the band holds dear a philosophy of prizing the role of live instruments in a genre that’s become incredibly dependent on electronic samples.
“A lot of bad hip-hop today is too much computer stuff,” Friedman said. “I’m not saying that it’s not great, but it definitely doesn’t emphasize the skill or talent involved.”
Being sample based, the band believes, does not have to mean excluding live instruments.
“The essence of hip-hop is taking some music and putting it in another context and making it its own thing,” Podell said. “The reason hip-hop is sample based so much is that samples add so much texture, and to be able to do that live and rearrange it is just something that’s nice to experiment with.”
Live instruments can affect not only the music but also the performance.
“There’s a certain energy that a live band brings to a show, just the energy of other musicians jiving to the music, rather than just a DJ spinning in a booth,” Leshne said.
The music video for “Can I Kick It?” is technically the second music video to be released by New School. Back in February, the band made a video for its cover of “Electric Relaxation,” another track from A Tribe Called Quest. Ultimately, that video didn’t turn out exactly how it was intended; it was more of a stepping stone than anything else.
“It was pretty poorly done, with really no recording at all,” Friedman said, “But a lot of people really liked it; they liked our sound. It was really good promotion so we thought it would be a good idea to do another series of videos, much better with more camera angles and real audio. The way social media has grown, you’ve got musicians coming out who started on YouTube and that’s all they started with. If we get great videos we can show it to a lot of people really easily.”
Over the past few weeks, the band has brought student filmmaker Austin Tamaddon ’16 over to Music House to shoot a couple of different practice sessions. Of the footage collected, “Can I Kick It?” was the first video to be cobbled together, but Friedman revealed that two more videos from the shooting sessions are on their way: a cover of “All I Do” by the rapper Logic and an original song called “Minor Nine.”
The band has a show coming up this Saturday, set to coincide with A Tribe Called Quest’s recently announced penultimate reunion show. Both this and Lou Reed’s unfortunate recent passing add a pertinence to the music, as it celebrates two of the most influential musical figures of the last few decades. As for the band’s own future, with its video gaining over one thousand views within the first three days, things are looking up.
“Our direction right now is [that] we have a lot of covers, but now, once we build the following we want and people understand the seriousness and the good music that I feel this band makes, we want to move more towards original material,” Friedman said.