Article Review

PNW hip hop “Odyssey” has 4 artists

They make all of their carefully-crafted parts sound fresh and spontaneous.

“Odyssey” is a single released on Oct. 10, 2020. It’s a PNW hip hop collab.

  1. keyboardist Jonny Tobin, from Vancouver
  2. The Drum Temple—the artist name of Vancouver-based drummer Shaquille Headley, who is also one half of R&B duo HAVYN.
  3. saxophonist BrandonLee Cierley, an American artist born in Washington state and living in Portland, Oregon
  4. Kapok (pronounced KAY-pok), a Vancouver rapper whose real name is Taionnaih Akubal

The PNW hip hop odyssey begins

I talked to Tobin to write about this collaboration. He phoned me hands-free while driving across town, because I caught him between family visits.

Tobin studied jazz in university, and he mostly recorded live-off-the-floor music while in school. All musicians recorded together, so every instrument was recorded at the same time, with a

He now records with multi-tracking and works out of his home studio regularly, so, he’s recording one instrument at a time.

Tobin and Headley led the way in producing “Odyssey”. The two of them had played keys and drums live together several times, but they saw a need to collaborate on recording due to the pandemic.

Tobin describes how he and Headley approached multi-track recording for “Odyssey”, and he reveals how the shift in production styles matched his personal growth:

“With this sort of setup, we picked our favourite takes from BrandonLee, and we could really hone in on the sound. It’s a lot harder to dial those things in [when live off the floor]. Transitioning to this style of creating music, it’s way more personal. So it’s a bigger picture thing, because the way I got into music making was a competition to sound the best on keys. I think music school can kind of push that mentality […] It’s not about this lick you did, or who’s cooler. It’s more about your personal narrative, and what makes you different.”

-Jonny Tobin

Tobin has integrated what he learned in jazz school and what his thriving professional career demands.

Inspiration from the “Milky Way”

The first track that Headley released as The Drum Temple was a remix of the track “Milky Way” from Tobin’s September 2019 album Earth Signs.

If you listen to the “Milky Way” remix and “Odyssey” back-to-back, you’ll recognize the sections of each track and their identical percussion.

After releasing the remix of “Milky Way” with Headley, Tobin wanted to add more keyboard sounds to it. He speaks to how that track turned into this one, “Odyssey”, and how the layers added up:

“On the track [‘Odyssey’], what you’re hearing is a mixture of my own keys that he sampled, and additional stuff that I’ve added. He also added drums and cool samples.”

-Jonny Tobin

The arrangement

Tobin notes that this track is the first time he’s included live woodwind instruments on any of his releases. Cierley has an alto saxophone solo section in the middle of “Odyssey”, and Tobin follows him with a keyboard solo.

Cierley’s appearance is a favour repaid because he had recently hired Tobin for his album Here Comes a New Challenger.

The arrangement shifts into an outro with a different groove after the solos, and Cierley improvises more. The saxophonist’s last phrase reverberates out into the end of the track.

This change in the track’s groove was Headley’s idea. Of the second section, Tobin says:

“This could be a three- or four-minute song by itself! We gave that outro to BrandonLee, and said, do something here. You can hear the fingering on the sax, so that’s really cool. It feels really warm and personal […] you’re telling a story without words.”

Tobin sums up the easy decision to bring both Kapok and Cierley onto his next project: “Let’s get some people on this, who want to be a part of something.”

It’s that simple!

It goes like this

The vocal performance on “Odyssey” comes from Kapok. Tobin got to know Kapok through the producer known as AstroLogical, whose real name is Nate Drobner.

The song is a lyrical exploration of being alone or yearning to continue a journey with your significant other, but the tone isn’t dejected. That’s because there’s also a reverence for the other person. “Growing up I always thought you were an old soul,” Kapok sings.

Kapok is among the fresh hip-hop vocalists of today who blend rapping and singing in an always tuneful way, so I look forward to more releases from him. Every member of this collaboration has great taste, and as a jazz listener I feel at home in their vibe.

Tobin plays keyboards, but he really plays bass.

I enjoy this track even more because Tobin deeply understands bass playing; each track he touches has a killer bass part regardless of whether or not a person with a four-string bass guitar was involved. I asked him about this talent:

“I really have fun doing synth bass. So, either I’ll do a tone that’s really reminiscent of a real bass, or I’ll go in the opposite direction and make it super-synthy, or subby […] I think in a past life I was a bassist, and I think it can really propel a song.”

That’s music to my ears!

The PNW hip hop odyssey takeaway

This team of four artists brings the best of jazz into other genres, because they make all of their carefully-crafted parts sound fresh and spontaneous. I know they each have their own new music in the works, so I’ll be following them.

By Will Chernoff

William Ross Chernoff—known as Will to friends and colleagues—is a jazz musician, podcaster, YouTuber, and writer. He records and performs under his own name, William Chernoff.