PNW hip hop "Odyssey" has 4 artists

Jonny Tobin, The Drum Temple, and Kapok are from Vancouver; BrandonLee Cierley is in Portland.

PNW hip hop "Odyssey" has 4 artists
The original image for this review is the music’s cover image.

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

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

The PNW hip hop odyssey begins

I talked to Jonny in early October 2020. He phoned me hands-free while driving across town, because I caught him between family visits.

Jonny 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.

Jonny and Shaq 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 Shaq 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

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

Inspiration from the “Milky Way”

The first track that Shaq released as The Drum Temple was a remix of the track “Milky Way” from Jonny’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 Shaq, Jonny 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

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

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

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

This change in the track’s groove was Jonny’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.”

Jonny sums up the easy decision to bring both Kapok and BrandonLee 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. Jonny 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.

Jonny plays keyboards, but he really plays bass.

I enjoy this track even more because Jonny 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.