XLR8R, Cover Story
Here to save music from mediocrity, a band of cyborg b-boys prepares to invade. PROJECTO : 2501 is hip-hop with an eye on the future of multi-meida and art.
HAL-9000, the stubbornly sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, was Stanley Kubrick's vision of technology that had surpassed its creators. "I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.", quipped HAL, reveling in its independence and also posing a difficult question: what happens when technology decides it doesn't want to do grunt work for humans anymore?
The folks behind PROJECTO : 2501, the collaborative brainchild of Philly-based produced SUPREMEeX, tackle a similiar question with their self-titled debut EP. And, like Kubrick, they tackle it in awesome fashion. The EP is the first chapter in a sci-fi story about a computer-based being named The Entity (voiced by Souls of Mischief's Tajai) that achieves sentience and, intent on human destruction, crosses over from the binary world to the "real" one.
While concept albums have been done before, the PROJECTO clan is taking it to another level, using not just SUPREMEeX's beats and Tajai's rhymes to propel the story, but also graphic arts, trading cards (two out of the initial series of four come with every EP), and other visuals created by Major Terror, Shing02, and Colm to create the world of PROJECTO : 2501. Their goal isn't to create a basic backdrop; they want to make you get lost in this world of technological terrors. "Synergy" is for corporate boardrooms; multimedia is for artists who want you to step through the looking glass.
"[The multimedia aspect] seemed intuitive to me," elaborates Tajai one lazy afternoon, "because it brought along the whole concept. The music is vivid, but we wanted to expand on it and help people understand beyond just the music."
"I'm all about immersive worlds, so that to me is second nature," agrees SUPREMEeX. "Especially from all my web-design work. I don't want to just make a web page, I want to make a world for people to inhabit and make it more interactive. And with this project, I want to suck people into this world instead of just having them listen to it." PROJECTO is successful in this goal. The six-song EP is tight of its own accord. The beats set the mood of each cut perfectly, ranging from straight-up hip-hop to aggressive jungle to stuttering synopated boom-bap, and the tracks flow fluidly into one another, keeping the story moving and the energy up. On the rhyming side, Tajai really gets into character and unleashes the rhyme animal within. His flows -- including a terrific dip into double-time rhyming -- and mic presence perfectly convey the intensity with which The Entity pursues his mission. But on top of the visceral music, the anime-inspired graphics propel the EP even deeper and orient the project toward the next level of entertainment -- combinations of music, stories and visual arts.
Beyond its avant mode of presentation, PROJECTO : 2501 is also engaging because of its subject matter. Neither technophiles nor technophobes, the PROJECTO players are intriguied at the idea of an intersection between technology and human consciousness. It's fitting that they debate technology by the light of the Oakland sun, just north of the technological central nervous system of Silicon Valley. "I'm not sure technology will eclipse human consciousness," Tajai hypothesizes, "but technology has incorproated itself because everything we do is tech-based right now. It has integrated itself into our being." This thought leads to a discussion of artifical intelligence and the recent developments in DNA decoding -- using technology to re-create humanity inside and outside the human form. SUPREMEeX proclaims, "DNA has a big part in what's coming up. Because DNA is just information, and they've got it mapped out. So now they could turn it into binary code. Once it's in binary, you could upload it to a computer. So theoretically, you can map out your DNA in binary, upload it to your computer, and talk to yourself on your computer and tell yourself to go get this piece of information, and your binary self hops on a surfboard and surfs the net."
There is silence after S.eX is done talking, and all exchange glances, the non-verbal equivalent of Keanu Reeves' famous "whoah". Tajai breaks the silence, wondering aloud what the limits of technology should be. "What's 'too far', anyway? It's the use, not the technology itself. Like nuclear energy is an almost unlimited energy source, and we decide to make bombs with it. There's got to be a...not necessarily human, but a spiritual element that governs the way we use these things. Technology itself really can't go too far. It's the application that messes things up."
"Well, with the spiritual element, I think we'll synchronize and turn into pure energy." returns S.eX. "And technology will augment that. We've forgotten how to telepathically speak to each other, but we'll be able to do that again..."
"...And they're trying to develop it through technology." finishes Tajai. "That's the positive side of it -- Enhancing ourselves. It's like making an eye that plugs into your brain and sends signals so you can make blind people see. I think they have computers now that can read your brainwaves and eye movements. So it's like we're taking a circuitous route to get to this point straight ahead, but maybe through the use of technology we'll be able to develop our senses again to where we can do that. I think people have this idea that technology is making it possible. The raw material is all out there; technology is just channeling it." All nod in agreement.
Listening to PROJECTO in conversation and on the strereo, their half-full / half-empty view of the future and technology is evident. And their codification has only just begun. "We're doing this saga like chapters of a serial novel. I'm thinking like 10 albums would be a good body of work with all the characters and the potential side plots," says Tajai before delivering the perfect closer. "Who knows what the future holds?" - Peter Babb