New Music | Khemist

Rapper, songwriter, poet and multi-instrumentalist, Khemist is a Philadelphia-bred artist and musical savant beloved as a bonafide lyrical force. Hailing from the city’s Logan Valley, Khemist is an extraterrestrial talent endowed with the hawkish ability to see the streets and set the Dickensian conditions of his formative years to music. Plied with eloquence and empathy, his catalog is punctuated by the monotone delivery and rough hewn exterior he developed surviving a charmed but bittersweet life amidst the blighted haunts, brutalist architecture and cold shoulders of a hardscrabble, post-industrial city.

Incited by the decision to stop speaking as a child, Khemist’s career as journeyman lyricist began at a local playground, when he darted to retrieve a loose ball. That led to a fortuitous encounter with a man facing certain death.

“I didn’t even start talking in school until I went to high school. My whole middle school experience, I didn’t talk at all. I went to the park at Barrett playground. The ball bounced behind the rec and I went to retrieve it and saw this man just bleeding out –– lying there. Me and my man looked for a second, then some oldhead came and told us to move. He told us not to say anything so we never said nothing. We went back to playing ball. I still don’t know what happened to that guy. After that I didn’t talk in school from fifth to eighth grade.” - Khemist

This is by far the most honest music I’ve ever made. Being introspective, and trying new things that I may have been hesitant to do earlier in my career –– like experimenting with and ultimately growing to love my voice. Being around the musicians I’m around has encouraged me to take more ownership over each component of the music I’m making.’

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Bandcamp To The Rescue

We’ve been on the Bandcamp tip since the day they opened, back when the founders were working at the local library. We’ve seen them grow steadily as they provide the best service for independent artists to connect directly with fans and keep more of their revenue. Now they are coming out swinging with a new vinyl pressing service that works. It’s a challenge for artists to get to the threshold to do a vinyl pressing, and just as challenging for us to put every title out on wax. Now fans can support an artist by preordering vinyl and once they reach the magic number the pressing begins. Check out the announcement here, and dig right in and get your copy of Ancestral Recall from Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah cued up.

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New Music | David Sánchez

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‘The African diaspora throughout the Americas feels to me like a big river, flowing and changing its formation across various lands, but remaining one immense watercourse. Carib is my continuation of that river, a personal and musical stream I began when I became bandleader for my first album, The Departure (1994) where you can clearly hear Puerto Rican rhythms running throughout. Another fork, my album Melaza (2000), has the most substantial connection with Carib because of its flow and the strong influence of the bomba music tradition from Puerto Rico. I believe some of the greatest contributions to contemporary music and culture have come from the African diaspora throughout the Americas. Unfortunately, there seems to be too little awareness of their influence, especially the vital stories told by the music. So, I wanted to approach this album as a means to pay tribute to all Afro descendent communities who have helped define my music and the culture’s broad ranging beauty and idiosyncrasies.’ (Dávid Sanchez)

David Sánchez begins his description of Carib with this narrative describing his intent and story behind the recording, setting the tone both figuratively and literally. It would be easy to get lost in his commanding performance on the saxophone; he handles the instrument so naturally it feels like his native language. And yet there is so much more, and we welcome the continuation of the story of the African Diaspora, this time with specific attention on Puerto Rico and Haiti. We have much to learn about how African music has traveled over centuries, and documenting the journey falls short when we use only words. This is an ongoing and fluid narrative presented for us all to learn and grow.

Carib is set for release on June 7, 2019 via Stretch Music and Ropeadope, with early listen and preorders beginning on May 3rd. David just finished a run with The SF Jazz Collective, and will return to New York on June 6 - 9 at The Jazz Standard. Look out for David’s music in the indie film Windows On The World, now screening at film festivals throughout the US.

New Music | Emanuel Casablanca

Guitarist and songwriter Emanuel Casablanca stands out from the crowd; In a world of followers he takes his own path, guided by his specific passion and unfettered by cultural definition. As a young man he witnessed the old Brooklyn, when venues where all around and you earned your chops in a Williamsburg venue. He grew up listening to Biggie, Lil Kim, and The Lost Boys at a time and place where you could see them hanging out in the neighborhood. His mother was a music teacher and she kept him playing and on a classical and gospel path. He left the music path for the basketball court, but returned to music during college and picked up the forbidden instruments (drums and guitar) and began his personal music journey. He credits Angus Young as his motivation to pick up the guitar, and titans Albert King, Rory Gallagher, Buddy Guy, and Freddie King as important influences that led him to his sound.

Emanuel Casablanca writes songs; he aspires to write and record them as they were made in the classic times in history, yet keep them relevant to today. His new record, It’s Getting Strange, is a tight collection that hearkens back to a time when artists sought to directly convey their feelings in an effort to connect with the listener. The themes are therefore familiar; love and loss, peace and hope. The style can best described as old school rhythm and blues, with a heavy emphasis on blues. His voice is transcendent, and his guitar licks are deliberate and never overwrought. The record is a refreshing change of pace from the frantic sounds of today. It’s Getting Strange hits on May 17, preorder and a taste coming this Friday.

Photo | Stefano Ortega

Photo | Stefano Ortega

New Music | Vivian Sessoms

Accomplished singer and Harlem native Vivian Sessoms, in the company of some of the world’s finest musicians, stakes a claim to a sound all her own on her new album LIFE. Having earned her stripes as a performer with Ryuichi Sakamoto, P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and many others, Sessoms and co-producer/creative partner Chris Parks bring their vast array of experiences to bear on an inspired, jazz-influenced set that proves Sessoms a fiery, forward-thinking artist in her own right.

As much as Life I surprised and delighted us, Vivian stepped up the game with her powerful video for the lead single I Can’t Breathe as we lead up to the second album release. A tribute to Eric and Erica Garner, the song is not only one of the most powerful vocal performances we’ve heard but is also a moving statement on the state of America today. Life II continues Vivian’s story, and clearly expresses her expansive musical vision. Life II is set for release on May 17th, with preorder open now.

Andy's Picks

In the great city of New York there’s a man (with a formidable beard) who knows music like few others. We are speaking of Andrew Neesley from Jesus On The Mainline; vocalist, trumpeter, producer, designer are all titles he can safely claim, and now we will add curator to that list.

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New Music | Adam Meckler Orchestra

From the ever curious mind of Todd Clouser and his curated house of Ropeadope SUR comes a new project from Adam Meckler Orchestra. Trumpeter Adam Meckler leads an 18 piece ensemble that moves through Jazz, Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul and Pop with ease. Following up their critically acclaimed 2014 release When The Clouds Look Like This, which was listed by Itunes as a best of 2014, AMO brings their new album Magnificent Madness to the halls of Ropeadope. Magnificent Madness explores collaborations with Hip Hop artists Toki Wright (Rhymesayers) and Harjinder (Fatbook), as well as vocalist Cameron Kinghorn (Nooky Jones), multi-Grammy award winning vocalist J.D. Steele (Prince, Donald Fagen), and International trumpet soloist Rex Richardson. Sit back, relax, and let the show begin. Magnificent Madness hits on May 3rd, with preorder available now.

The 21Soul Sessions | Brooklyn

You can’t have a worldwide celebration of music without including Brooklyn, and we are ready. On April 23 we kick off our monthly residency at The Brooklyn Bowl. Dubbed The 21Soul Sessions | Soul At The Bowl, the inaugural show will be a banger. Paul Beaubrun, Vivian Sessoms, and Emanuel Casablanca will mix it up in a night of soulful reflection and celebration of diversity.

The 21Soul Sessions are unique musical experiences; established, world class players and young guns mix it up with a broad range of styles intended to break down the social construct of genre as a divisive term. Musicians today have become world travelers and ambassadors who not only bring new music to new places, but bring their worldly experiences back home to their community. 

The Place To Be. Get Loose. Get Free.

New Music | Komunyakaa, Cieri,Brown


Yusef Komunyakaa
is an American poet who teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Komunyakaa is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, for Neon Vernacular and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Komunyakaa received the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribution to the poetry world.

Mike Brown currently lives in Brooklyn, NY - specializing in “New/Avant-Garde Music” and “extended techniques” he leads May the Bridges I Burn Light the Way and is part of the Brown/Jewell duo along with many other groups including KotorinoWheelchair Sports CampKevaCharles AtlasNow Over Ever, The Kerosene Ensemble, Fingerprint and can frequently be seen playing with David Cieri.

Along with performing and teaching, David Cieri’s film-score work includes Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War, (September 2017), The Roosevelts, The Address, Prohibition, Baseball: The Tenth Inning, The National Parks, Emperor of All Maladies, and his score for Raymond De Felitta's Booker's Place was listed for an Oscar nomination in 2013. He has recently completed scoring a documentary entitled, Oklahoma City which is out in theaters now. Cieri, along with longtime collaborator Mike Brown, composes the music for the monthly Gavagai music and reading series at The Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn NY.

While Cieri was writing the music (along with Trent Reznor and Yo-Yo Ma) for Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War Documentary, he kept close Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry book Dien Cai Dau as a source of insight and inspiration.  As good fortune would have it, The Gavagai Music and Reading series run by Danielle Blau, brought Komunyakaa, Cieri, and Brown together for the first time on St. Patricks Day 2016 to perform in NYC. From the downbeat, a deep relationship and understanding immediately caught fire and they have been playing with matches ever since as they fuse Komunyakaa’s poems with the sounds and music of Cieri and Brown.

Ropeadope Roots

We’ve been in a reflective space here at Ropeadope as we move through our 20th year in the game. Digging into the past is a transformative process; identifying the key points in history helps us understand who we are. In this digital age it is easy to lose touch with history, so the process becomes even more important. Musicians generally begin with history, whether self taught or formally trained they must know the foundation, the root of what they play. Recently we’ve noticed quite a few artists going back to find the root of the Blues and preserving that structure within their new music exploration. Jesus On The Mainline, Big Hands Rhythm and Blues Band, gorgeous!, and Uncle Nef are great examples. So, each month we will feature one of these bands and tell the story behind their search.

Our story begins with Darren Hoffman and Shannon Powell; the duo known as Uncle Nef. The name alone indicates a connection between the past and present; Powell is one of the best drummers in the world with deep experience in Jazz and The Blues. Hoffman is a historical crate digger of sorts, looking back to the work of Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and more. Their sound is raw and powerful, but only to the necessary degree. They both have deep respect for the feeling in the Blues, and work to preserve that depth in a direct and current context. Let’s dig in to the opening track of their upcoming release Love Songs.

Women's History Month | Michaela!

Everyone arrives on this planet through the commitment and work of a Woman; that alone should keep us in a perpetual space of gratitude and yet there is so much more. Persistent love, grace, and power emanate from the women of the world, and for these reasons we take a moment to show our respect.

First up, a special thanks to Ropeadope team member Michaela DeBenedictis - her exuberant commitment to the music and the musicians is evident every day.

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‘Music has always been my life. I started taking vocal lessons and singing in choirs when I was 8. When I was 10 I picked up my father's guitar and he began to teach me. I was most influenced by Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton.

I started gigging when I was 13 and stated my first band with my sister. We played all through high school whenever and wherever we could. We would go out to a gig on a school night and my parents would let us skip our first class the next morning because we had been out until 3am. We had been going to their gigs since we were around 8 so gigging was just part of how I grew up.

From there, while continuing to play and write music, I began teaching music lessons. When I moved to Philadelphia, I moved onto running music schools while managing and promoting local musicians while immersing myself in the scene here. All of that led me here to Ropeadope.’

Drop in here and say hello to Michaela!

New Music | Rosemarine

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Last year we had the great pleasure of hosting Logan Richardson for a live session here at the Ropeadope Room. If you’ve heard Logan’s album Blues People, it is impossible to avoid the haunting guitar style of Igor Osypov. And now, we present ROSEMARINE, a trio formed by Danish singer Mia Knop Jacobsen, Igor, and drummer Philip Dornbusch. The sound is unique and hard to define, it’s big and powerful one moment and sublime and delicate the next. You can feel the interplay between the musicians as they reach for a space that they call their own. Expressions of love, loss, anger and determination come through on their self titled debut album, due out on May 10th. Pre-orders (and a taste) hit on April 5.

The 21Soul Sessions | Philly

This month we pair up with our friends Matthew Stewart and Heru Shabaka-Ra from Bop Life, and man they have a special roster cooked up for you. Yolanda Wisher kicks it off, followed by the one and only HPrizm, with a cast of musical explorers - V. Shayne Frederick, Dan Kaplowitz, Ehud Guy, Matt Engle, Julius Masri, Mike Watson, & Aaron Goode. Our community meets the Bop Life community; that’s what it’s all about!

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The Last Poets

This Wind You Hear Is The Birth Of Memory. When The Moment Hatches In Time’s Womb, There Will Be No Art Talk. The Only Poem You Will Hear Will Be The Spear Point Pivoted Into The Punctured Marrow Of The Villain, And The Timeless Native Son Dancing Like Crazy To Retrieved Rhythms Of Desire Faded Into Memory. Therefore, We Are The Last Poets Of The World. (Keropatse Kgositsile)

One cannot overstate the sense of honor and responsibility that we are feeling at Ropeadope at this moment in history. It is a powerful moment and the natural sum of all of the work we have put in over 20 years. And it all seemed to happen with ease; Jim Stephens mentions the label to Jamaaladeen Tacuma, we meet The Last Poets, and everything is in perfect alignment. We are excited to present to you Transcending Toxic Times by The Last Poets, with the flawless groove and reverent production of Jamaaladeen Tacuma. There is no better expression of our intent, both musically and culturally, than this record.

On a winter day just outside Philadelphia The Last Poets and Jamaaladeen Tacuma gathered at the Ropeadope Room for an interview in anticipation of their new release, Transcending Toxic Times. The mood was light, a casual gathering over soul food with the label, the producer, and the poets themselves. We cued up the album, brought the sound up and walked through the final recording. It was the first time all three had heard the finished album, and the interview was soon put on hold as four men sat, transfixed and intent, leaning on every note and word as they walked through their memories and even their purpose. Dare we say tears were shed, and as we spoke with cameras rolling it soon came out that THIS was the definitive Last Poets album.

50 years ago Abiodun Oyewole was in the middle of it: vocally challenging both the oppressors and the oppressed. Looking for truth to be spoken at any cost, mourning the loss of Malcolm and Martin among many others named and unnamed in THE struggle of the time. A struggle that is more relevant today than it ever was as African Americans continue to press the nation for truth and equality. Dun met Umar Bin Hassan at a Black Arts event in Ohio, and Umar made the trip to New York to join the group. Baba Donn Babatunde showed up later, adding percussion to the poetry.

The history is strong, much has been written and is easily found. But the spirit of these men in their common creative interaction is the real story. 50 years of perseverance, of bearing witness to the most atrocious of crimes, 50 years of personal challenges and yet still and adherence to the higher principles of love, or respect, and of kindness to your fellow human.

Enter Jamaaladeen Tacuma. It takes someone who understand the essence of The Last Poets better than the poets themselves. A man who knows the history from the inside, but has a foot in the music world as well. Tacuma’s bass playing is refined, yet just as swinging as if it were not. But it is his role as producer here that elevates this album above all others. A knowledge of what people want to hear, an understanding of what the message is and how it MUST be delivered, and the skill and friends to blend the two. This is not poetry set to music, nor is it music made for poets. This is a seamless transfiguration of the groove, the words, and the essential human elements that live between the notes and the words.

Transcending Toxic Times is a broad work of human emotion: Anger, scorn, frustration, challenge, beauty, sorrow, love, and joy are all present. The spoken word is rhythmic, melodic at times. The baselines and the groove are irresistible, and the message is unavoidable.

On that day we witnessed the realization of four great artists: that their individual and collective contributions had transcended each of them and ALL of them. That they were in the presence of something definitive and transcendent.

Kramos & The Cooks

Check out these cats in NYC! We met them when they asked us to host a show for Brooklyn Radio, and now we’re teaming up for a Ropeadope retrospective series as we head down the last lap of our 20th year in this crazy game called the music biz. Twelve episodes of deep dive into the catalog have us digging into the archives and connecting the dots. Start below at Episode 1 for some major milestones in the history; and then jump into that Ropeadope groove right here. Next month we’ll take a solid look at the roots music that happened to show up on a Jazz (notjazz) record label.

New Music | Bluke

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Back in the early days of Ropeadope there was Bullfrog, with Blurum13 and Kid Koala mixing it up. To say the album was ahead of its time, well ya know. As we dig into the archives to celebrate our 20th we find those tracks fit perfectly right alongside releases from 2019. And now we are stoked to say that Blurum13 is back, and he’s brought his friend - the great and always mysterious Luke Vibert - with him. Together they are the defenders of righteous old school Hip-Hop, and the new album from BLUKE is set for May 24th, but we’ve got a little taste headed your way at the end of this month. Stay tuned here or drop in on Blu right over here.

New Music | Uncle Nef

Drummer Shannon Powell stands tall in the lineage of New Orleans’ rhythmic giants; he is a torchbearer of the city’s culture and one of the finest drummers in the world. He’s also a great singer, his vocals invoking styles that echo the churches, street parades and jazz clubs of his hometown. Known for his contributions to traditional and modern jazz idioms, having worked with Danny Barker, Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, Powell is also a veteran of New Orleans' rich rhythm and blues scene having backed up such greats as Snooks Eaglin, Earl King and Dr. John.

Darren Hoffman is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer originally from Miami, Florida. He grew up playing guitar in his youth, greatly influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Albert King and Nirvana, but switched to drums when he was bit by the jazz bug in his early twenties and relocated in 2007 to study percussion at the University of New Orleans.

Hoffman began hanging out with Powell at places like Donna’s Bar & Grill on Rampart Street; the pair hit it off and began a friendship that ventured far from the classroom. While Shannon guided Darren in music and street-smart professionalism, Hoffman introduced Powell to new technologies and 21st century music industry practices. While many students of music today study almost entirely in the world of academia, Darren had the unique experience of being mentored by a living legend in a more traditional way, doing odd jobs and handling business for Shannon in exchange for knowledge and musical guidance.

When Darren enrolled at UNO, he had all but forgotten the guitar, focusing on his career as a professional drummer. One afternoon in 2009, Darren pulled out his guitar and jammed through some blues tunes with Shannon. Taken aback by what he heard, Shannon proclaimed, “Man! We gotta record!” This chance riff resulted in the 2017 release simply entitled Blues, a stripped down interpretation of raw blues with a modern edge. The success of that record led to a natural progression toward their new collaboration, Love Songs.

Here we find Powell and Hoffman stretching out, but not relaxing at all. The mood is highly charged and powerful, with Powell hitting hard and Hoffman shredding like a chainsaw on razor wire. There are some subtle love songs on Love Songs, but many tracks that speak to the full experience of love - the energy, the tension, the elation and the agony.

Love Songs is a concept album telling the story of the interpersonal relationship: starting with the end of one love, the discovery of a new- and the inevitable passing once again. Classic tracks are included to keep the concept in context - from Louis Jordan’s “Caledonia” and Nirvana’s “tourette’s,” to Fats Domino’s “Sick and Tired” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Jam 292.” It’s a wonder to see this unlikely Uncle/Nephew duo chart new territory with full appreciation of the past.

New Music | Doobie Powell

Born and raised in Hartford Connecticut, H. Doobie Powell was brought up in the Gospel circuit with a variety of influences from family and community. His father, Hubert Powell Sr., traveled with the legendary Richard Groove Holmes and formed the band Wood, Brass, and Steel featuring a young Doug Wimbish. This is the band that ultimately became The Sugar Hill Gang in the early years of Hip-Hop. In 1979 Hubert Sr. returned to his Gospel roots and infused what he had learned on the road into Gospel. His mother was a vocalist, and both are pastors, so music and church are inseparable in Doobie’s foundation, as is the desire to fuse genres and experiment.

As Doobie grew up, playing drums on the road with his father as early as 9 years old, he continued his restless search to express the music in his heart. In school his ‘peers’ were listening to the popular music of the day, with the usual level of social segregation in place. Doobie was the unique young one, listening to Steely Dan and a variety of Gospel, Jazz, and Funk. As he traveled with Church groups he met some key cats from other places, and he found his way to work with top level artists like Kim Burrell, Harry Connick Jr, Musiq Soulchild, Robert Glasper, and many more. His friendship with Robert Sput Searight led to his new full length album, Finding Myself Again, set for release on March 8th, 2018, with the lead single Just Do It leading the way on January 25th.

The message is clear; whatever you have been through, whatever challenges you might face, you have but one choice: to find beauty and move forward. In Doobie’s case he took a hard look at his situation and accepted the reality, choosing to find that beauty, press on, and bring words and music of joy and positivity to the world.

‘My approach is to encourage people; there is still a reason for your life and there is still possibility’ (Doobie Powell)