Photo by NkosiArt
The Awakening is a new project from the Miami-based duo of singer/MC Nelson Serieux and producer/DJ Echo Slim, blending hip-hop and reggae sounds. Serieux is a native of St. Lucia, while EchoSlim’s roots are in Trinidad; Collectively, they channel their dual heritages on this five-song EP, through a mixture of politically-inspired and personal songs. “Outta Hand” borrows classic lines from Capleton (“Slew Dem!”) as it addresses the “Make America Great Again” movement, while “I’m Leaving,” samples Bitty McLean’s “Walk Away,” conjuring classic Lovers Rock while recounting a love gone wrong. “Survival” takes inspiration from early ’90s conscious hip-hop, via a speech from Trinidad-born Black Panther activist Stokely Carmichael. Get a first listen to the six-song EP, out today on all digital outlets, right here, and read on for an interview with Nelson Serieux and EchoSlim.
LargeUp: Okay, a St. Lucian and a Trini. How did you connect and decide you wanted to make music together? How, if any, do your respective nationalities come into play with this project?
Nelson Serieux: We connected through a mutual friend, Bottles Belafonte. I heard some of Echo’s beats and thought it would work with my style. Then he played me the beat for “Survival” and it was straight fire. The sample and production really resonated with me. After that, we decided to work on a project together and that song, “Survival,” guided the mood and feel of the whole EP. Our respective nationalities come into play with the project because our cultures are very similar and musical influences are very similar. Also the fact that we migrated to a different country and drew influences from other cultures made it easy to fuse our musical experiences to produce this work.
LU: The fusion of reggae and hip-hop is central here, were there any projects in this arena you looked to for inspiration?
Nelson Serieux: We didn’t look for inspiration from any projects. The songs were pretty organic in terms of the writing process and it was largely based on feel, the current times and our perspective on life.
EchoSlim: I always try to incorporate something old with something new if possible. It doesn’t always work, but most times I figure out a way to blend different generations and different genres of music. I can’t pinpoint one project in the past that sonically sounds like The Awakening, but you can tell by the production that the Boom Bap is there, the ’80s dancehall vibes is there, the rocksteady is there, the roots is there.
LU: Talk about the production of the album, as far as using live and sampled sounds.
EchoSlim: I usually combine live elements with digital sounds. There is nothing like that live sound. You can never replace it. I like to build upon that liveliness with samples or any other obscure sounds that I may find. There are some vintage samples on there, thanks to the permission of Mr. Bunny Striker Lee, and some old-school pianos, clavinet, organs that myself and my good friend and brother, Kashief Lindo, played and arranged. People know Kashief as the son of the legendary producer Mr. Willie Lindo, and the singer of reggae classics First Cut, and No Can Do, but Kashief is one of the most talented producers and musicians I have ever worked with. I can never not mention the importance of a good engineer. Nicko Rebel is one of the greatest mixing engineers right now, and him and Kashief are the only people that mix and master my music. For this project, Nicko tried to replicate the sonics of certain eras for each record. For “Outta Hand,” with the Nicodemus sample, he replicated that great 80s dancehall digital vibe. For “Let’s Make Up” and “I’m Leaving,” Nicko replicated the rocksteady era, and for Survival, we wanted to replicate that Boom Bap sound.
LU: Stokely Carmichael from the Black Panthers, who is actually Trinidadian, is featured, or sampled I should say. What is that from, and how did it find its way onto the project.
EchoSlim: That track is one of my favorite productions I ever made, because I was able to recreate an era of music that I grew up on; Hip-Hop from the likes of Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, and X Clan. Also, because I was able to sample one of the greatest civil rights activists of all time, who is from TNT like me, Mr. Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture. I can never leave out Tobago. I took excerpts from his speech at a Black Panther rally in Oakland. That message made me think of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power.” So I had to make the drums and bass sound real fat to match the enthusiasm and ferocity of Stokely’s voice and words. Like Nelson said, this song help set the tone for the entire project. Stokely’s objective with that speech was to awaken the masses to the civil rights struggles they face, and don’t continually turn a blind eye to your oppressor just because you are not shackled in chains. And that’s the same way myself and Nelson feel, hence the title for this project.