Michael Leonhart and JSWISS prompt a “BLACKOUT” and provide the “light” on their new single

Accomplished rapper and hip hop artist, JSWISS joins Grammy – winning trumpeter, producer, arranger and composer, Michael Leonhart to deliver “BLACKOUT,” the stellar first single from their upcoming duo project dropping later this year.  On the track, JSWISS continues to establish his place amongst the game’s elite lyricists as he delivers an inspiring message and rallying cry amidst the current call for justice, change and “Black Lives Matter” as Leonhart provides a perfectly infectious, and lush musical canvas.  

Regarding the lyrical approach to “BLACKOUT” JSWISS explains,  “As a young Black man obviously the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the spotlight on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement are heavIly on my mind. But I wanted to go beyond the grief and anger that takes a toll on us, and beyond saying our lives simply “matter”, and recognize that not only should we not be killed, but we should be celebrated, and celebrate ourselves.”  And what he asserts, which is the very essence of the track,  “Black people are valuable to this world and this country, and have been so despite efforts to hold us down.” From the musical side, Leonhart states, “We wanted to create a driving, orchestral hip hop track that would support the empowering and uplifting history lesson contained in JSWISS’s lyrics”

In 2019 JSWISS, who has worked with elite musicians such as Nicholas Payton, Ben Williams, Marcus Strickland, E.J. Strickland and Maurice “MoBetta” Brown, was brought on by Michael Leonhart as now, a recurrent guest with his acclaimed, 15 – piece jazz orchestra for its monthly residency at the Jazz Standard in NYC. Leonhart who’s eclectic resumé boast work with the likes of Steely Dan, Q-Tip, Wu-Tang Clan, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and on the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit, “Uptown Funk,”  needed a quality rapper to perform on his arrangements of the legendary hip hop tracks, “Electric Relaxation” and “Untouchables.” JSWISS not only fit the bill and more, but the two instantly discovered a musical kinship and formed an immediate bond.  The two songs were so very well received especially by way of performances that appeared on NPR and renowned jazz station WBGO, that jazz label, Sunnyside Records formally released the live recordings of them earlier this year.  All of this ultimately signaled a duo project was on the horizon and “BLACKOUT” marks the debut.

“BLACKOUT” is indeed a well- accomplished, fitting anthem and necessary perspective to proclaim the calls for justice and real equality by the African – American community are not a plea, but a demand long earned. BC

Check out the short video promo for “BLACKOUT” that features legendary figures, established artists and impressive young newcomers.

Video Interview: Sly5thAve

Multi-Instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer, Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II or as many now call him, Sly5thAve is another of the young, highly trained musicians blasting genre boxes apart and winningly fusing an eclectic assortment of influences with jazz as a bedrock to the excitement of a legion of desirous listeners.  

The Texas born, New Yorker has racked up an impressive resumé of work with noted artists and musicians such as  Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Taylor Swift, Janelle Monae, James Carter,  Philip Lassiter, Maceo Parker, the whole Marsalis crew and oh yeah, Prince, to name just a few.

akumaBut in addition to his triumphant debut release, Akuma, inspired by a trip to Nigeria, the place of his family’s roots, that garnered high acclaimed and major looks, Sly5thAve has also become known for his lush, artfully cool orchestral takes on some popular tracks of the day. His interpretations of the Bruno Mars hit, “Uptown Funk”, Lil Wayne’s “Love Me” or Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” have been heralded by many of the “nets” hippest destinations and spun by tastemaker DJs because of his savvy approach that no doubt makes even jazz heads and the chamber music crowd smile.

slydreSly5thAve has now taken the concept full scale with his rendering of songs produced and associated with kingpin hip hop producer, Dr. Dre, first introduced live at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre with some of L.A.’s finest musicians which was attended by Dre himself.

We caught up with the affable, laid – back, incredibly talented artist to talk about the project, The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute To Dr. Dre and more including his time touring with Prince, the impact of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and what keeps his passion for creating music alive. Check the video above on the I SPY SOUL  YouTube Channel 

Photograph by Eric Coleman