On one especially auspicious Tuesday night in late June, we poured some red wine, turned off all the lights except the string of dim red Christmas ones, and I put on a skirt I don’t have any business even owning. We queued the familiar six songs of a local artist, the only songs of AKA360 on ReverbNation, put the list on repeat, and danced….
We’ve waited far too long for AKA’s album to drop. A year ago, the first hints of an EP were whispered. But I wasn’t in the club then; I hadn’t been to an AKA show and I wasn’t a big fan of hip hop, though I once thought I was because will.i.am made this one song I really liked.
And now, after a few failed “Album Release!!! OMG!!!” parties and still no downloadable recordings, the members of AKA’s small-but-mighty fan base are tapping their feet and even considering ways of illegally acquiring the few ReverbNation tracks and the even fewer Soundcloud demos that have been taunting us for months– usually an action reserved only for artists we have no personal connection to and who already have quite enough money, thank-you-very-much.
Rumor has it, however, that AKA and the rest of his group, the Heart Hurt Goods, will make the album worth our wait. A few whispers promise a CD of no less than nineteen tracks– a veritable masterpiece of highly danceable beats and fresh, piercing lyrics like, “Peace on Earth is the punchline to a pretty good joke,” and “at the bottom there’s no elbow space, and at the top there’s no room to complain.”
AKA himself, known as Mark Bowen to friends, is a gem in the local music scene. He and the Heart Hurt Goods pack a crowd into any venue– bars, all-ages clubs, a local grange, a lawn party. Bowen opens every show with a rhythmic “where-my-people-at” soliloquy, followed by a popular local chant: “when I say three-six, y’all say OH!” Before I was familiar with hip hop music, I had no idea that people could bond so enthusiastically over an area code. But they do (just look at “Area Codes,” by Ludacris). By the end of the chant AKA has set the stage for another knock-out performance.
Then he launches into one of his classics, which is what I call the six songs on ReverbNation, because if you’ve put that queue on repeat enough like I have, they really are classics. His DJ, Boozie Collins, spins some beats with AKA before the Heart Hurt Goods mob the stage. They add keyboard, bass, drums, and guitar, and if you’re really lucky you’ll also hear the powerful timbre of Nathalie Elam’s vocal stylings.
Like most small-town artists, AKA’s popularity grows slowly, by word of mouth and friends of friends. But while his fan base is still relatively concentrated in that friend group (his Facebook page has 127 ‘likes’), the members of it are fiercely loyal and willing to promote AKA and the Heart Hurt Goods to the ends of the earth.
No one seems pessimistic about their inevitable success, though. The HHGs have gigs regularly, at least once a month, at varied locations around Olympia. They play for an increasingly diverse audience, and get associated with increasingly popular performers of their ilk: Xperience, Macklemore, and most recently, Sage Francis. We, their most avid fans, know they’re good. We know they’ll go far.
So it’s all the more frustrating that they haven’t given us even so much as an EP to put on our iPods. I would like to attempt to convey the gripping nature of AKA’s music and the infectious enthusiasm the HHGs have for their art, maybe to a convivial spirit or even a stranger on the street, but I CAN’T. I am pleading, on behalf of every member of AKA’s dedicated audience, for downloadable tracks, at the very least.
Considering that this is the 21st century, they have no excuse. Some artists choose to get 125 MB flash drives and sell those, or simply release a pay-what-you-can album on a site like BandCamp. We’re not very demanding. We don’t need a full 19-track album in a jewel case with 12 pages of liner notes. nope. We don’t even need them in hard-copy format.
All we want is a few songs that we can make a car ride, or a walk to the bus stop, or a Tuesday night dance party just half as memorable as one of AKA’s shows.