| Producer and lyricist Notes, top, and beatsmith Mnolo are the hip-hop duo Walking Sticks. |
Sparkling compositions like “First Step,” “Wornout Shoes,” and “Travelin Music” offer nods to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour” and showcase Mnolo’s eclectic production. The project took about seven months to record, with the duo meeting on Mondays. The two-man wrecking crew joined forces once a week to tackle tasks like writing lyrics, shooting photographs, recording in the studio, and even working on album cover art, the end result of which is simple yet effective and reads like a valentine to the Native Tongues.
For the uninitiated, the Native Tongues era officially kicked off in 1998 with the release of the Jungle Brothers’ James Brown-Manu Dibango-Mandrill-influenced first album, Straight Out the Jungle. The following year, the Brothers returned with Done by the Forces of Nature, which further explored themes like community and afrocentrism. But it was De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising that introduced the new-jack-bohemian philosophy of the burgeoning collective. The trio of Long Island emcees urged their listeners to follow Da Inner Sound Ya’ll, and their groundbreaking debut — along with A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and The Low End Theory — further defined the musicality behind the movement. Other classics, such as De La Soul Is Dead, Buhloone Mindstate, and Midnight Marauders, followed each, praising the more positive aspects in hip-hop. The Walking Sticks are continuing that tradition.
“Those are influences of ours,” says Notes. “I love De La and Tribe. As far as the vibe and the positive message, that was something we planned. We had a brainstorming session in the beginning where we laid it all out from concept to the name of the group to the skeleton of the album with all the songs and all the concepts kind of in linear progression.”
“The main focus was sticking with the concept of the group name and the `album’s` name, which is like hip-hop traveling music,” adds Mnolo. “So I guess it could be compared to some Natives Tongues stuff, like traveling mentally or on your feet, a musical journey or a spiritual journey through life.”
“LaLaLand,” the title cut, is particularly effective at articulating travels, providing an atmospheric soundscape that suggests a hazy voyage at sea. “The Stroll” deftly blends drums with strings in a detailed depiction of S.A.’s Broadway Street, and is one of many songs that suggest the Cee-Lo Green-like ability to “travel into outer space standing in one place.”
“I always focus on rhyming with the beat,” explains Notes. “The beats that Manny made, that pulls styles and topics out of you. Like if it sounds a certain way, you’re going to rhyme about a certain something, the way you rock the beat. On this album, since it was a concept album, I hit a lot more topics than I did, say, on Undescribable, (Notes’s last solo LP). That’s why a lot of the different topics came about like on “In Tune,” being in tune with the galaxy, and “Moon Patrol,” how me and the moon are always connected.”
“I’ve been playing music for a long time, since I was really young,” says Mnolo, explaining his knack for crafting beats. “I was never the best drummer or the best piano player, but I always grew up listening to hip-hop. Once I discovered these machines and sampling, it just felt natural.”
To press and distribute LaLaLand, Mnolo formed his own label, Collage Records. He plans to follow the Walking Sticks project with a solo disc, and doesn’t rule out another collaboration with Notes. As for San Antonio’s most prolific hip-hop artist, Notes is working on a slew of projects, and is hoping that his notoriety across the pond will draw in any critics who have yet to warm to the Walking Sticks concept.