Out 18th September, ‘What It Is’ is the second LP from Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer Sly5thAve; his first new music since the critically acclaimed project ‘The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre’. Having spent the past three years performing the project (which had the support of Dr. Dre himself) with orchestras around the world, ‘What It Is’ sees Sly5thAve retain the high-quality that fans and critics alike have come to expect from him while stepping out with something considerably different, delving deeper into the worlds of hip hop, jazz and soul.
Celebrating not only his own versatile musicianship but that of his collaborators and friends, ‘What It Is’ is a collection of tracks showcasing the best of the multi-faceted musician. A sought-after collaborator himself, Sly5thAve has attained much respect from his work with a host of highly fêted musicians including; Prince (as a member of the New Power Generation Band), Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Taylor Swift, Janelle Monáe, Freddie Gibbs and Quantic. From the NYC-Texas inspired sounds of “More Or Less” featuring prolific New York rapper Marlon Craft to the politically charged Brazilian-Portuguese “Expatria” recorded with Grammy-nominated Thalma de Freitas, the album spans a myriad of genres and offerings from fellow talented musicians and has seen early support from the likes of Gilles Peterson, Lauren Laverne (BBC 6Music), Jamz Supernova (BBC 1Xtra), Tim Garcia and Tony Minvielle (Jazz FM), EARMILK and KCRW.
“It’s a little jazzy, there’s some hip hop in there, a little bit of orchestral chamber vibes… ‘What It Is’ - It’s me.”
Having moved to New York over a decade ago, Sly5thAve found a home at The Clubhouse (AKA The Clubcasa or BKLN1834) in Brooklyn. Home to a host of New York talent, Sly5thAve credits The Clubhouse as being largely responsible for his entire sound; “We hung out together, wrote music together, lived together. That house was our paradise where we could learn and grow... our Camelot. I came straight in from a jazz school mentality and pretty much had to forget all of that when it came to making music in order to vibe with these guys… and I did in a major way.”
Impressive features from former Clubhouse members are sprinkled across ‘What It Is’. Melissa McMillan - one of Sly5thAve’s oldest friends and collaborators - provides vocals for the uplifting “The Night”, exploring the universal feeling of melancholy that can wash over us all from time to time, providing assurance that these dark times will not last forever. Meanwhile, former Recess bandmate Sene showcases his musical and lyrical abilities on “Daddy Warbucks” with a play on Dante’s Inferno; “his brain is so creative and what he’s able to do with words has always blown me away”, Sly5thAve enthuses. Bringing the vibe of a hip-hop party, sax-fuelled title track “What It Is” is a reunion for Sly5thAve and Clubhouse regulars Scienze and Lexus. Delivering on the self-assured message that rings true throughout the release, the track challenges the deafness and small mindedness that is present in society, especially between different cultures of people.
The album also sees several appearances from Texas-born and Brooklyn-based vocalist, lyricist and musician Denitia. Having met at The Clubhouse shortly after moving to New York, the pair immediately started making music together under the code name “Strawberry Jam”. “It was really our excuse to get together and write music together because we loved it so much”, Sly5thAve recalls. “She has always been one of my favourite songwriters. I think a lot of it has to do with her coming up in the Nashville tradition of storytelling; all of her songs take you on a journey. I can always see a picture and she does it so effortlessly”. Across four tracks, Denitia entices the listener with tales of intergalactic long-distance love (“With You”), the power and royalty of the black community (“Boulevards”), undying affection (“Right Here”) and the battle for human connection in the age of technology (“C-Side”), continuously demonstrating the versatile musical insight of the pair.
Binding ‘What It Is’ together and bringing the final part of Sly5thAve’s flair into the mix are four instrumental transitions. All referencing earlier incarnations of album tracks, these interludes shed light on the workings out of Sly5thAve’s fluid production. From eccentric loops, additional woodwind offerings and endlessly enjoyable harmonies, to the sound of the saxophone fizzingly out at the end of “Consequence” - like the sound of a night out ending - these additions complete the album in bringing it to life with the charisma and zest of the artist behind it. “There’s a lot of self-reflection that goes into putting out a piece of music. Is it better than the last? Is it finished? Is it good? Eventually you have to quieten the inner voices and accept it for what it is”.
With a core underground following, Sly5thAve’s previous projects have been backed by Jarobi White (A Tribe Called Quest), The Roots (for whom he recently performed as part of The Roots Jam Presents Solo Sessions), Gilles Peterson (BBC 6Music), Downbeat Magazine, Noisey, NPR, The Fader, Jazz Times, Indie Shuffle, EARMILK and more.
PREVIOUS PRAISE FOR SLY5THAVE…
"Really great always, he makes brilliant music and that new track 'With You' is really strong." – GILLES PETERSON
“Great one” – LEFTO
“Sometimes when I am pottering about in the kitchen something will take my ear [on BBC 6Music] and I’ll go “ooh that’s nice”, and I will go out and buy it, and that’s exactly what I did with this.” – MARTIN FREEMAN
“Sly always comes correct with his own take on covers but also pushed new boundaries on his original work. Don’t sleep on Sly!” – ANTHONY VALADEZ (KCRW)
“That’s a great cover!” – LAUREN LAVERNE (BBC 6MUSIC)
“Sly5thAve keeps on delivering”—THE FADER
"He’s got many musical influences, including West African, soul and jazz." – CAPTAIN KIRK DOUGLAS (THE ROOTS)
"That's beautiful isn't it?" – NEMONE (BBC 6MUISC)
“While Sly5thAve has long been a highly sought-after collaborator with artists like Prince, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Janelle Monáe among others, his solo work has quickly been turning heads as of late. – EARMILK
“This is beautiful!” – JEREMY SOLE (KCRW)
“Everything he touches is GOLD!” – COSMO BAKER
“My beat of the week!” – HUEY MORGAN (BBC 6MUSIC)
“Tall, gallant and bittersweet, Sly and his ClubCasa Chamber Orchestra once again tease out depth and nuance from pop glitz.”—INDIE SHUFFLE
“He’s evolved from a novice player with a horn to an insightful composer drafting life’s chronicle.” – THE JAZZ TIMES
“Great musician, do like that guy, the wonderful Sly5thAve.” – TONY MINVIELLE (JAZZ FM)
"He's transformed Kendrick Lamar's "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home," & Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" into lush instrumental versions” – NOISEY
“I’ve picked ‘The Invisible Man’ as one of my albums of the year.” – CERYS MATTHEWS (BBC 6MUSIC)
“Intense and confident. It lands like a big surprise.” – THE MERCURY NEWS
“This is a project that you should play on repeat and school the younglings to the truth… arguably Sly5thAve’s best record to date.” – OKAYPLAYER