Utica Observer-Dispatch

Hip-Hop: Rooted In Musicality
Utica Observer-Dispatch

By CASSAUNDRA BABER

UTICA — Fifteen years deep into the Albany music scene and BJ FitzGerald noticed something missing.

It was a lost groove, a primal technique rooted in musicality that had yet to be brought to the region’s live music arena. It was live hip-hop and R&B — that funk, that feel-good music, he said.

And so, after finding four other guys who could help him fill that void, the Ill Funk Ensemble was born. The five-piece band is one of 250 bands that will perform at the Utica Music and Arts Festival Sept. 10 to 12.

“I really dig hip-hop,” FitzGerald said. “I like how it’s just primal; there’s not too much technique that goes into it, but if you can sit down and groove with people without having to get technical. That’s what hip-hop is all about. It’s rooted in musicality.”

Not everyone sees the musicality in hip-hop, FitzGerald lamented and often, it’s the very people who act as the gateway to getting that music to clubgoers who don’t see what it has to offer, he said.

“There’s definitely a perception that hip-hop brings in a bad crowd,” he said. “I’ve noticed over the years, club owners think you’re going to bring in a crowd that’s not your typical party crowd, but I find that’s exactly what we get – a typical college crowd.”

FitzGerald further questioned some clubs’ decisions not to hire a hip-hop band when their jukeboxes or DJs play the very music they seem to be afraid of.
“I’ve really never noticed the violent stuff that has permeated hip-hop; it’s so mainstream,” he said.

Because radio hip-hop is so mainstream and often over-produced, Ill Funk Ensemble has the opportunity to create their own version of songs, such as Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” Notorious B.I.G’s “Big Poppa” and Young MC’s “Bust A Move.”

With classically trained musicians supporting the group, it’s easy to create a high-quality sound, he added.

It’s up to the crowd to take the music to the next level, FitzGerald said.

“We consistently all night long do hip-hop, and the crowd responds to what we do in so many different ways than with other bands I’ve been in,” said Fitzgerald, who previously played in rock bands.

The band will play during the festival from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, at O’Donnell’s Pub & Grill, 715 Varick St., and from 8:45 to 10:45 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at Tiny’s Bar and Grill, 1014 State St.

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