Big Black Lincoln Very Necessary

Big Black Lincoln Very Necessary
It all started out innocently enough. Acclaimed Toronto hip-hop MC and producer Saukrates, already known to occasionally croon on his funk-laden tracks, realised that his fully fledged vocal songs weren’t fitting into the hip-hop album he was crafting and were destined to sit on the shelf. Wary of curtailing his artistic impulses, Sauks harboured the idea of expanding on this concept by forming an alliance with like-minded artists.

Eventually T.R.A.C.K.S. and Agile, producers for highly respected Canadian hip-hop groups Irs and Brassmunk respectively, came on board, joining long-time Saukrates associates Ro Dolla from Toronto crew the Circle and producer/vocalist Shakari Nyte. Initially conceived as a production unit, Big Black Lincoln morphed into a Toronto hip-hop supergroup.

Despite the fact that these five producers were working together on an album, the group boisterously rebuff any proposed notion of artistic differences or clashing egos. Agile describes the creative experience as "hand in glove” and T.R.A.C.K.S. reaffirms this: "It was almost like we were spoiled with each other,” he says. "If someone was like ‘I’m so done with this,’ we were like, ‘OK we’ll take it from there.’”

The end results on Heaven’s Caught on Fire are a testament to the excellent teamwork of the producers involved and to the open environment in which the record was fostered. Indeed this freeform approach consciously embraces everything except hip-hop. Taking cues from previously released Big Black Lincoln singles, the album is sonically restless, nailing takes on plaintive down-home soul, nocturnal house, sticky funk and esoteric electronica with equally accomplished aplomb, paying homage to past masters yet shrewdly pointing to the future while avoiding comfortable genre tags. "It’s done in a way that any group in neo-soul or R&B are afraid to go,” muses Ro Dolla. Despite the absence of hip-hop in the traditional sense, save for one hidden track, Saukrates is adamant that a hip-hop aesthetic is at work on the album.

"It’s all hip-hop first,” he says, casting his mind back to the initial recording sessions for the project. "The statement was we are not stopping the hip-hop. Everything we sing about or move on — as deep as the love song gets, it will always be from a rapper’s point of view.”

While Heaven’s Caught on Fire has its love songs and celebratory elements, there’s a strong underlying element possessing a certain sense of urgency, whether explicitly addressing inner-city blight and working class aspirations or the consistently progressive edge that informs the musical approach. "We had a lot to say and we needed a way to paint it in a different way than we would usually paint it,” says Ro Dolla. Adds Agile, "We’ve been given that special place to have a plateau to say something. We gotta say something that’s real and real to us. We could stand up there and talk a bag of shit, but that ain’t gonna help us or anybody else feel better. Who cares how much ice I rock?”

Ironically, a project that was borne out of fortuitous necessity, if Big Black Lincoln are to be believed, is now actually representative of a purposeful mission and Saukrates insists this project is only the beginning. "Basically we’re at a point where there’s no more wishing and praying,” he says. "All there is is doing. It really boils down to that. We can sit here and talk about how funky this shit would be, but it boils down to doing it.”