Napoleon Maddox : isWhat?!

Which is your course? I am headed in new directions continuing the tradition of improvisation in Hip-hop. did you follow a musical teaching ?

My first musical teachers are church choirs and preachers. This is where I learned to listen and hear different harmonies. Hip-hop teaches me rhythm theory. Jazz teaches me freedom. Soul /R& B as well as European Classical music teaches me compositon. Life shows me how to write.. I have taken some music classes of different types over the years but I am not a student of music instituions .. I am a student of the never ending Source (of life, love, pain and progress).

In which group you did take part ?

Some groups I have worked with are, ...of course "IsWhat?!" .. then there is "Burnt Sugar" (orchestra led by Greg Tate),"Ming & FS" (progressive hip-hop/drum & bass duo), "Fonda/Stevens Group" (structured improvisation collaborative), "Sotta Voce" (rock w/ sax, vocals, violin and bass) led by Roy Nathanson and "Transmitting" (creative theme music and poetry).

How did you met the other members of the band ?

We were all playing in the communities and streets of Cincinnati.

Which is the share of improvisation during the live concerts of the group ?

Maybe 65% of what we do live is improvised and we use structure to shape the improv and imporvising to arrive at the structure.

The press speaks about a movement ("Bilal", Hargrove, "Badu"...) which wants to create bonds between the jazz (its history, its improvisation) and the hip hop (its beats, its poetry) : where "IsWhat ?!" is located ?

"IsWhat ?!" is on the more free/rough edge of all of the artists mentioned here but we can also play different modes and textures and feelings within or sound. A perfect example is when we were in concert with "Bilal" and his fans loved us .. so our style uses the freedom of jazz and improv plus the energy and current feeling of Hip-hop to express reality and possibilites in a way that can touch the heart of a lot of people.

What do you think of a character like Lester Bowie which constantly wanted to bind improvised music and popular music ?

We love Lester Bowie and the rest of the Art Ensemble .. he is one of our inspirations as for binding popular music with improvising .. music is music it sound all be heard by people that need sound to live.. because people were not as familiar wit Lester Bowie as Miles Davis I would say Lester Bowie was an underground artist.. and even though many underground artists don't seem to have the influence or wealth of a big successful artist, their music always shapes pop music in the end.

What means for you "socially conscious" ?

Everyone in a way our another is conscious of how they are socialized. Or aware that they connect to other people so it is sometime a frustration for me that people make a big separation for artists that bring awareness to their music .. becuase then people that need to listen the most will not listen because they don't want the heavy message.. the big seperation I think is the fault of the 1st the companies, then the public and artist. And no matter how 'aware' we are .. it is the responsibility to act right with our awareness that is neglected.

Next recordings ? Next projects ?

"IsWhat ?!" : "The Life We Chose", "Karsh Kale" : "Broken English", "Burnt Sugar" : "More Than PostHuman" and "Sotta Voce" : "SottaVoce"

Interview by JAZZus