by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
After years of national neglect, Seattle hip hop is beginning to receive long overdue recognition with the rise of Macklemore. But, as is Seattle’s habit, other talent lies in small names that have been adding notoriety to the local scene years before “Thrift Shop” became a hit. One of the most noteworthy groups to emerge in the last decade is Fly Moon Royalty, a group that delivers a unique approach to hip hop and shows how much room for imagination the genre still has.
The group – playing at Neumos this Friday – is composed of producer Mike Illvester and vocalist Adra Boo, shows a side of hip hop that doesn’t immediately jump to mind. While most think that the two genres are inextricably mixed, hip hop and rap aren’t synonymous. Rap may be incorporated in hip hop from time to time, but the more R&B-inspired genre of hip hop is more than that, and often eschews rap in favor of beat-centric songs or singing.
Along the vast spectrum, Fly Moon Royalty can be counted among the more soulful. As a self-described “neosoul hip hop” group, Fly Moon Royalty produces a sound that isn’t exactly unique, but presents a style of dance music that is a sampling of the best elements of jazz, Motown, soul and funk from the 1960s to the present.
The alternative version of hip hop created through Fly Moon Royalty’s sound comes down to the differing backgrounds of the two members. Illvester is a transplant from Michigan who has established himself as crafting funky beats worthy of George Clinton and Stevie Wonder. His greatest strength lies in drawing from the vast pool of distinct sounds that funk has produced over the years, and tying them into an EDM style, making Fly Moon Royalty’s beats sound like Parliament Funkadelic mixed with Dead Mau5.
But the band’s true strength lies in the vocal talents of frontwoman Adra Boo, a native Seattleite who made a name for herself outside of the band as a burlesque performer. Rather than rapping, Adra uses her impressive pipes in a way that hasn’t been matched in pop culture since the days of the Supremes.
In the band’s latest EP, “Dimensions,” Illvester’s production skills and Boo’s dynamic vocals converge into something good. The album opener, “The Sermon,” sounds like some of the better electronica of the decade. It evokes Cross-era Justice and 13 and God, but taken to the next level with Adra’s powerful voice that uses some of the more evocative lyrics that the band has produced.
The darker tone of “The Sermon” is followed up with the ice-cold chaser of “My Heart Keeps Pumping,” where Illvester’s pulsing, low-key beats are perfectly overlapped by Boo’s lingering vocals. It’s one of the more somber contributions from the generally dance-centric group, but it stands out as one of the best that they’ve put out.
The next track, “The Birthday Song,” flips the album’s tone upside down by providing a sound that is definitively Motown in its style and aesthetic. It’s a catchy, poppy contribution that is at times too sugary to stand, but it shows the range that Fly Moon Royalty is capable of.
The band’s astounding ability to shift gears is displayed in stark relief with the band’s latest work. On Fly Moon Royalty’s latest single, “Piece of Me” from the upcoming “Unfinished Business” EP, Boo tells a story drawn from her own rising star story in Seattle’s music scene, which grabs you and makes you pay attention while Illvester produces a beat that plays off of Boo’s sounds, like the best of Jamiroquai.
Fly Moon Royalty’s lack of interest in the showy overproduction that dominates dance music in Capitol Hill clubs today is all that keeps the group from the sort of success that they rightfully deserve. Illvester’s not trying to impress with syncopated, glitchy electronica, and Boo is almost too talented of a singer in an age dominated by purposefully imperfect vocalists. Instead, their treasure lies in refining a sound composed of familiar elements, and while that may not make them groundbreaking, Fly Moon Royalty’s members are something more worthy of respect: perfectionists.
Fly Moon Royalty is playing at Neumos on January 3 at 9 p.m. with DJ Marco Collins. $10 tickets, $12 with digital download. Ages 21 and over.