Rap with a purpose: Acoustic hip-hop duo hopes beats provoke thought

Sheila Burt

The rap is heavy and crisp while the acoustic guitar creates a distinct beat and soundscape.

With this blend of acoustic hip-hop — a cross between traditional rap and Reggae — the Northwestern-based duo Wine Poetry aims to create music that makes your body move and your mind think.

The band, comprising Weinberg senior Alex Thurston on vocals and Music junior Jason Rosenbaum on guitar, will bring their sound to Nevin’s Live, 1450 Sherman Ave., on Nov. 17.

The show, which will feature three other Northwestern bands, benefits Better Existence with HIV, an Evanston-based social service organization.

“I guess I try and convey pretty serious ideas but also create a high pitch of energy in the crowd,” said Thurston, a religion major. “(This way) they’re thinking and processing the ideas, but also motivated on a more primal level.”

Rosenbaum, a music technology major, called this goal of having you think and dance a “tough balance.”

“You can get the energy, sort of the whatever drunk crazy energy, but that doesn’t necessarily inspire things,” he said. “A lot of people, when they start to think, they calm down so it’s hard to blend the two.”

Wine Poetry formed about two and a half years ago when Thurston and Rosenbaum met at Jones Residential College. They have been performing local shows and have recorded in locations from a barn to an apartment.

Rosenbaum said he hopes to put a new track on the band’s Web site, www.winepoetry.net, each week.

Although the two have worked with a bassist for some songs, most of their music focuses on a minimal sound created by just the two of them.

“It’s about working with what you have,” Thurston said. “When people started making hip-hop in the South Bronx in the late ’70s, it was because they used turntables because that’s what they had on hand. That was the culture they were coming out of. They didn’t necessarily have the money to get the instrument.”

Rosenbaum, who said his guitar style is somewhat influenced by Tom Morello of the defunct Rage Against the Machine, explained that Wine Poetry allows him to experiment with a sound that isn’t limiting.

When he started playing guitar, Rosenbaum didn’t want to be somone who “plays all the solos” or a “singer-songwriter folk musician.”

“It was hard for me to find something that was interesting for me to play and not following either of those stereotypes,” he said.

When recording, Thurston and Rosenbaum sometimes add computer elements in their music — something Rosenbaum said he hopes to incorporate into more of the band’s live shows.

“In the live show, the way we do it, it’s just me and him and I play guitar and use the guitar as a drum to put a beat into a pedal that loops it over and over and then I play things on top of that,” Rosenbaum explained.

Much of Wine Poetry’s lyrics have spiritual and political overtones, and the band counts Malcom X and Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky as influences. Thurston said he wants to give Islam a positive portrayal through some of his lyrics.

In the band’s song “Mysticism” Thurston raps, “I don’t just rap because it suits me/ I move these lyrical litanies/ Words and life combine, intertwine.”

“It’s about the idea that by repeating a text over and over again, you sort of become that text the way that religious people talk about,” he said. “(Like) Muslims embodying the Koran’s themes, rabbis embodying the Torah. It’s about the mystical aspect of being an emcee, being a rapper.”4

Medill junior Sheila Burt is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]