Members of the Charlotte-based Folk Rap Band were driving back from Ohio when they saw a pickup truck flipped over on its roof by the side of the road.
“I immediately pulled over,” says drummer Eugene Speer, known to his bandmates as Cortez. He and bassist Maxwell Williams raced to the truck, quickly followed by guitarist Zack Willard and frontman and rapper Nige Hood.
“There was a dude [inside] flipped upside down, hanging with his dog,” Speer says.
I’m with the band, seated around a long table at Birdsong Brewery, as Speer recounts the rescue account. Hood provides the backstory, saying the band was in the Buckeye State to shoot a music video with rapper Afroman for the band’s debut single “Bowl N the Woods.”
As Speer and Williams relive and describe the emergency, I can sense their adrenaline levels rise. Willard and Hood chime in as the story unfolds, providing a kind of color commentary to the unplanned mission of mercy.
“Cortez and I yanked the [truck] door,” Williams remembers.
“It just came open,” Speer appends. “Usually it takes Jaws [of Life] to get stuff like that open.”
“The dog takes off,” Williams says. “The guy comes out and the ambulance came shortly after.”
The truck driver only suffered minor cuts and bruises. Motorists stopped to congratulate the musicians for rescuing him, but they didn’t stick around for the accolades. They had to get back to Charlotte to finish shooting a video for their new song, which premiered at midnight on Valentine’s Day.
“Hopefully that guy got his dog back,” Williams reflects.
Opening with chirping birds, “Bowl N the Woods” weaves a laid-back slinky groove with curls of honey-toned guitar, bouncing bass and jazzy hip hop drums. In a fine-grained croon, Hood sets the funky bucolic scene: I took a day trip from this crazy city / I’ve got my girl, my friends and my bud with me.
Midway through, featured artist Afroman, best known for his 2001 stoner anthem “Because I Got High,” unfurls an infectious, swaggering rap that dances around Willard’s spiraling guitar solo.
From Chuck Berry to ‘Bowl’
“The mission statement that we’ve all agreed upon is that we’d rather make $100,000 by the time we’re 40, than be worrying about making $10,000 now,” Hood tells me. “We want to focus on quality and originality.”
We’re ranged around the rectangular table that suggests both a boardroom and a picnic spot, discussing how Folk Rap Band creates a sound that recalls the genial hip-hop of Chance the Rapper and the funky Southern boogie of Little Feat.
“I have a jazz-oriented background, listening to [bassists like] Jaco Pastorius,” Williams offers. “Zach loves chordal voicings and they’re always so interesting as the background of that beat. With Cortez, there’s a lot of hip-hop-inspired beats, R&B and lots of hi-hat work.”
“I also play bass,” Speer says. “So, I’m able to put into drums what [Williams is] incorporating on bass in order to give [Hood and Willard] the room … to create a song.”
Willard says the songs come together organically, with each band member contributing to the mix.
“Then it’s a refining process,” says Speer. “With all our minds together, we can easily write five to six songs within two hours.”
Hood, who earned a degree in history at North Carolina Central University in Durham, draws inspiration from the history of rap, pop, and rock to create melodies that resonate with listeners. He cites the timeless appeal of Chuck Berry as a model.
“I’m supremely inspired by Chuck Berry,” Hood says. “He made songs that were essentially stories, like ‘Riding Along in My Automobile,’ or ‘School Days.’ These are eternal concepts that people can always relate to,” Hood maintains. Plus, he adds, they’re fun.
After Hood graduated from college and came back to Charlotte, he slotted into the city’s hip-hop scene, but he also started rapping with alternative rock musicians.
In 2015, Hood and Charlotte native Willard, who once played with singer-songwriter LeAnna Eden, formed the first iteration of Folk Rap Band. After a series of lineup changes where Hood and Willard remained the only constants, Speer and Williams joined in the summer of 2019.
Williams had played with local rock band RadioJacks, after earning a music degree at Catawba College in Salisbury. Speer is a former field artillery sergeant in the army who joined The Folk Rap Band after drumming for alternative metal outfit Death Comet. A few months after Speer and Williams joined, the group, which had originally billed itself as Nige Hood and the Folk Rap Band, shortened their name to Folk Rap Band.
“Bowl N the Woods” started as a catchy loop that Hood recorded on voice memo. He took the fledgling tune to bassist Brandon Henry, a former member of Folk Rap Band.
“Brandon helped me structure it,” Hood says. “Then from there, I had to write the verses.”
As the recording date approached, Hood reached out to Afroman to rap on the song. “Afroman has always been an inspiration for me to conceptualize and put together what I do,” Hood offers.
A woodsy, whimsical video
No sooner had the band recorded their first single at Charlotte’s now shuttered 5th Man Studio in early 2020 than plans were laid to produce the song’s accompanying woodsy and whimsical video.
Afroman agreed to play a friendly forest ranger who comes upon the band as they undertake “recreational” activities in the woods.
Hood recruited Curt and Sarah Tang Braden, the married couple that runs CLT Production, to shoot the video after meeting them on the set of Skateshop: The Movie. The Bradens co-directed, co-produced and shot the Charlotte-lensed independent feature.
Just after July 4, 2020, the production cast and crew hit the road for Ohio, where Afroman lives, to shoot the first half of the music video.
“We found this Airbnb in the middle of the woods,” Williams says. “It ended up being our [shoot] location. It was a small house that looked like a cabin.”
Speer remembers that Afroman was a pro on set, despite the sweltering heat and shifting winds that would not cooperate with the fog machine. He also brought his own malt liquor, which he shared with the band.
“He even brought his own bowl,” says Willard.
After the Ohio shoot wrapped, Afroman coaxed the band to sing along with him on an eclectic selection of tunes including “We Are The World,” Del Shannon’s “Runaway’ and Alicia Bridges’ disco classic “I Love the Nightlife.”
“He’s a silly, fun-loving guy,” Hood says.
Back in Charlotte, Folk Rap Band scheduled one more shoot to complete the video, at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve in late August. In the video, the band turns into animals after meeting Afroman’s nature-loving ranger.
That meant everyone had to don a heavy costume in the summer heat, Speer remembers. He was a squirrel, Willard a bear, Williams a raccoon and Hood a fox. Elaborate makeups, devised by Charlotte stage magician Caleb Sigmon and his wife Katie, were running off the actors’ faces. But the band powered through, and they’re proud of the results.
With Folk Rap Band’s woodland epic finally in the can and slated for a Valentine’s Day debut, the band looks forward to reuniting with Afroman for a socially distanced outdoor concert on April 3 at Unknown Brewing Company. Hood sees the show as a chance for Charlotte to see Afroman live.
“It’s not like this is a place that he comes very often,” Hood offers. The concert also represents an opportunity for Folk Rap Band to gain more exposure for themselves and their new song, but exposure can be shared.
“We want to not only propel our band, but other bands [too] and … showcase the musical talent here,” Hood says. “It’s not getting the spotlight it deserves.”
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