For the Record: Prophecy by The Stakes

stakes prophecy 01by Mark Anderson
Senior Editor

After years, the wait is finally over. The Stakes, Phoenix’s premiere live hiphop band, have released their debut full-length album, Prophecy.

And believe you me, the album was worth the wait. To quote a friend, “this shit is fire right here.”

After years of gigging here in Phoenix and all around the state, The Stakes have formed a solid line-up of “self-made rappers, university-educated performers, cover artists, and lifelong gospel musicians” for a roster that truly does impress.

Marah Armenta (vocals), Lord Kash (emcee), Zeedubb (emcee), Ben Scolaro (piano), Luis Martinez (guitar), Paul McAfee (Moog synthesizer – droppin’ those fat basslines), and Kevin Phillips (drums) form the core group but the addition of Alan Acosta & Tyler Bauer on saxophone and Jimmy Barrios & Danny Torgerson on trumpet add an extra cool dimension to the Stakes smooth sound on Prophecy.

“5 Minutes of Gold” opens the album and I honestly can’t argue with that song title at all. Luis’ guitar is soon joined by Ben’s keys and then the vocals pop in and Kevin’s drums and then >BOOM!< Stendhal syndrome takes full effect.

The hits keep coming with “Then And Now”, Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and the title track, “Prophecy”.

With an intro featuring Amber Tabares, “Blue Jean Grey” opens the Stakes into some of their best, experimental arenas yet while “Crosseyed”, their excellent Michael Jackson cover of “I Can’t Help It” and “Requiem” prove the Stakes are the best at what they do.

Closing track, “Unified”, features I-Dee and is a straight head-banger. Make sure to stay tuned for that secret track too…

The Stakes took some time out their day to answer a few questions I had about the new album, their contemporaries, and what’s next for one of the hardest-working bands in town.

Mark Anderson: Prophecy is a couple years in the making right? Did any songs change over the course of making it? Please describe the feeling of being finished with and releasing it to all the long-time Stakes fans!

Ben Scolaro: We are truly grateful to all the Stakes fans who have followed us over the last 4 and a half years. So much has changed as we’ve developed our sound. Not to mention the world around us has influenced our direction.

Take the title track, “Prophecy.” When we first started writing that song 4 years ago, it was inward-looking, about personal triumph. However, with the rise of Trump and White Nationalism, we rewrote some of the lyrics and added samples at the beginning, transforming it into a call to action against the running narrative, or “prophecy”.

Our focus is to constantly improve, so our songs evolve over time.

Paul McAfee: Absolutely. The songs have generally kept the the same structure, but the groove, feel, textures, riffs, etc. change a little bit each time. This is inevitable when every member of the group is so open and creative.

What is the Stakes songwriting process like? Does one of you come up with a main progression and everyone else elaborates? Or maybe you guys just jam and things develop themselves?

Ben: All of the above. Our greatest strength is our diversity as a group — we’ve got the full spectrum from completely self-taught to university-studied musicians, which allows us to approach songwriting from every direction.

Paul: Sometimes we just jam and develop a song as a group. Maybe somebody starts with a 4 or 8 bar groove and everyone joins in and develops their own contribution. Some of the more intricate songs were thoroughly written by a single band member, but sometimes the structure or feel is edited by the group depending on what makes sense for the vocalists and lyrics.

I consider you guys a pretty unique band but maybe I’m wrong in the sense that there may be more out there than I realize. Is there a solid hiphop/jazz/funk scene here in the Valley in your opinion? To me, your only contemporaries here seem to be House of Stairs!

ZeeDubb: I’m not a native of Phoenix but I know that it has a pretty rich history of underground rap bands through the years. I know Drunken Immortals are still going hard. When The Stakes had started, the only other band mixing in jazz was The Brother Cosmos, but they broke up.

Currently there’s The Color 8, Nick Perkins Band, Ramses II, House of Stairs, The Geibral Elisha Movement, Deliyonne & Hudson… trust me, the fusion of hip-hop and other genres with live instrumentation is alive in Phoenix and The Stakes are honored to be in the forefront.

The scene is here, the promoters just have to catch up, or we’ll do it for them.

stakes 01Could you delve into the idea behind the album title some? I’m picturing multiple layers here…

Ben: Since you asked for layers…

Layer 1 — The Idea

It’s easy to fall into the trap of passively watching things happen, like a “prophecy” unfolding. But the future is not written; we all play a part in creating it, whether by acting or failing to act.

Layer 2 — The Image

Our actions today do become a type of prophecy for future generations by creating the world they will inherit. That’s why the album art features children — because their future is at stake in our actions today (that’s Lord Kash’s son on the cover).

Layer 3 — The Action

After the election last November, we found ourselves asking what we can do to help shape the future for the better. That’s why we’re collecting signatures at our shows to stop the expansion of Arizona’s private school vouchers.

This expansion would take money from public education and give it to wealthy people who send their kids to private school (you can read all about it at sosarizona.org). We’re part of a state-wide effort to put a referendum on the ballot so voters can reject this law. We’ve collected more than 70 signatures and will have more petitions at our shows until Aug. 1. If you come through, PLEASE take a moment to sign.

Paul: For me, Prophecy fulfills a top criterion: it sounds cool and mysterious.

Ben: That too.

I love the “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” cover. Is there a story behind that song getting picked to be covered?

ZeeDubb: It’s funny because we were suppose to do a full reggae show but only had time to crank out, maybe 3 reggae tunes, and “Master Blaster” stuck. Marah picked the song cause she loves Stevie with her heart and soul. You can really feel the purpose of the original lyrics when she sings it.

Paul: When we jammed on the groove, Kash dropped a killer verse with a flow that developed beautifully. We often work with a horn section, and I felt inspired to write horn parts for this song in particular.

What’s in store for the Stakes? Do you guys already have new songs in the works? Where would you like to see the band go from here both literally and figuratively?

Paul: We have old and new songs that haven’t been recorded yet, probably enough for an EP. We want to continue to write new songs until we have more than enough to select for for a new LP. We will be working on a music video soon and continue to keep the visibility up and play shows. My personal dream would be to open for the Roots.

ZeeDubb: In 2017 you’re going to see more videos, more loosies and singles, and another EP or album. Collaborations with other bands, musicians and artists are in the works. We have a lot of ideas and plans to execute. Some I wouldn’t share for the sake of the surprise.

Is there any thing else about Prophecy or the Stakes that you would like us to know about that I failed to ask?

Marah: It’s finally out now! Available on iTunes, as well as our website, TheStakesMusic.com, where you can see all of our upcoming shows.

~

For more info on The Stakes, check their Facebook page. Catch them live at A Stoneypie Pool Party with Paper Foxes, Haze that Saxy Rapper, Mr. UU, The Psychedelephants, Hostile Work Environment, the Bittersweet Way, De Leon & the Desert Beats Saturday July 1 at 4 PM.

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Top 5 Shows of the Week: May 26 – June 1

Lots of rad shows happening this week in addition to what we got here. You can check out more shows happening in the Phoenix Metro Area on our Upcoming Shows page here! You can also click on the show flyers below for more information about those events!

7 Stellar Live Music Performances

AJJ
“White Worms”

Live at Little Elephant

The Stakes
“Master Blaster”

Jackie Venson
“Rollin’ On”

Blaenavon
“Alice Come Home”

Needle Time
“For Millions of Miles”

Time | Wise
“The Girl from Ipanema”

Sensae
“Lamb Chop”

A Tribute to Jules Demetrius

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by Carly Schorman
Senior Editor

For many of us, 2016 was filled with an incredible sense of loss. From musicians to silver screen icons, it seems as if our daily news feed revealed another hero snatched away from the world we know every week. But, for Phoenix, the death of Jules Demetrius stands out as the most personal and heart-wrenching loss faced this year.

Throughout his long battle with cancer, Jules continued to pursue his true calling: ART. Jules’ legacy will long live on in everyone he inspired through his unwavering commitment to his craft.

To celebrate his life and work, friends and fans will be gathering at the Crescent Ballroom on January 5th for a fundraiser. Much like his life, the event will be a celebration of music and art and community.

I had a chance to ask one of the event organizers, Mike Pfister, a few questions about Jules and the upcoming event to be held in his honor…

YabYum: For our readers unfamiliar with Jules and his work, would you mind telling us a little about Jules Demetrius and how you came to know him?

Mike Pfister: Jules Demetrius is a cat that’s truly unforgettable. I came to know Jules when I happened upon his artwork at Songbird Coffee and Teahouse about three years back. They had a variety of his paintings up, but there was one of the Beastie Boys that just instantly resonated with me.

Most of Jules’ work was first designed on his computer, then he hand cut the stencils, and used spray paint on canvas. It’s really hard to explain his overall aesthetic, but if I had to, I’d say it has a visual dynamism, and sense of play that jumps out at you.

At the time I was fairly connected to the downtown Phoenix music scene, but I didn’t know that many artists. So, beside the painting was his name and number. I really loved his aesthetic, so I figured I’d give him a call and see if he could do a commissioned piece of Tony Williams (famous jazz drummer) for me.

Long story short, I called Jules and he ended up inviting me over to his place. At that point he was battling cancer, but was still strong and energetic. We ended up having a three hour conversation about everything: art, his methods, his kids, music. It was like we were friends for years, he had that way about him. I left the house, and when I got home, I remembered what Jules said about knowing he was going to die and that he was worried about his daughters being taken care of after he passed. So I decided it might be cool to do a fundraiser for him. I got back to Jules and told him what I wanted to do and he was incredibly gracious.

I reached out to a variety of bands, poets, and another artist I knew, Adam Dumper. Adam explained he had previously organized a benefit for Jules and would be happy to donate and be part of mine. Alas, due to logistics and schedules, it ended up being delayed. I finally got things going in late November 2016 and, within the week, I found out Jules was in a coma. Then, sadly, he passed.

It was at that point I was determined to fulfill the promise I made to Jules and do something big. Jules was a cat that had a big heart, was incredibly funny, and a singular artist. He connected with so many people in Phoenix and was relatively active in the music scene as well.

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Abe Zucca

So, you’re are planning a benefit for Jules on Jan. 5th. Can you share a little about what folks can expect at that event? Who will be performing? Will there be artwork on display? Live painters?

I’ve planned a benefit and tribute to Jules on January 5th at Crescent Ballroom. After Jules passed the first two people I reached out to were Leah Marche (Black Poet Ventures/Radio Phoenix) and David Moroney (Crescent Ballroom and Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra). Leah and I had worked together on a Prince Tribute at Crescent- incidentally Jules donated one of his last Prince prints to the event for a raffle to raise money for a local music program- and David was immediately open to the idea.

We plan on having some major Phoenix bands: The Stakes, Dr. Delicious, Discombobulator, and a few other surprises that I can’t confirm yet. We’re also planning on having live painting. Abe Zucca is donating a piece he did of Jules. Matt Brown and Andrea Bunnell have also reached out to us. There will also be DJ Sets (DJ FACT135, DJ PNYCE) and a silent auction. We want to raise some money for Jules daughters and we’re also working to find a local arts organization that works with kids that some of the proceeds will go to.

Most importantly we want it to be a night for the Phoenix community to come together, celebrate Jules’ life, his art, and heal.

Who is helping organize the event?

As I mentioned, David Moroney from PAO and the booking agent for Stateside Presents was immediately on board, and has been active in working to coordinate the event at Crescent Ballroom. Leah Marche is also helping with securing hosts, artwork, and logistics. Leah and I have worked on a number of large scale projects together and she always helps to keep the things on track.

To be honest I couldn’t have done this event without her partnership. We really want to make this a night where Jules friends, family, the artistic community, and those that want to learn more about Jules can come together and celebrate his life while doing something positive for his daughters and the community.

~

For more info, including how to get tickets, head to the Crescent Ballroom event page.

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Radio Phoenix Podcast: The Stakes

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The Stakes joined us in the Radio Phoenix studio back in July for another fresh edition of Rise! They brought along some great tracks and we certainly had fun discussing the new full-length album, the band name as a verb, and, of course, warehouse shows. Take a listen, and check out the complete playlist below.

Complete Playlist:

The Stakes “5 Minutes of Gold”

Lando Chill “Early in the Morning”

Blaine Coffee + Mega Ran “Change the Game”

Lord Kash “3 Fragment”

Jerusafunk “El Zopilote Mojado”

The Stakes “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”

ATM ft. MysticBlu “Elevator”

Haze “Nothing in Return”

Fairy Bones “Demons & Dogs”

Mega Ran “East Coast”

I-Dee “Pass It On”

Cedrice – “Jehene Aiko – My Mine Remix (Produced by Jr Jarris)”

Recorded live on July 20, 2016

3 Astounding EPs You Should Be Listening To

YabYum Music & Arts - AZ Music BlogMike Montoya

KIND

Are you fucking kidding me? That was my very first thought as I starting listening to the new EP from Mike Montoya, formerly known as Fatigo. KIND is one of the best things I’ve heard this year. From the moment it starts through to the very end, Montoya proves his commitment to unique and thoughtful songcraft, delivered in distinctive, southwestern folk. The EP opens with the song “Trailboss” which features Nowhere Man and a Whisky Girl (as does the closing track). The duo’s posthumous appearance only add to the subtlety embedded mystical undercurrent felt throughout this completely unassuming EP. “Catch a Fly” has an easy-going summer feel that made it an early favorite. “Hold Mine” and “Copters” are shorter tracks, each clocking in under a minute and a half, but they are every bit as compelling as the longer songs heard on KIND. “Cactus Grave” closes the EP and offers listeners the second appearance of Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl. I would say it’s my favorite song, but I realize that I’ve changed my mind on each and every listen. From beginning to end, KIND is my kind of album: a dusty, desert folk masterpiece. Find out for yourself here.

 

The Stakes - YabYum Music & Arts - AZ Music BlogThe Stakes

The Stakes Music Vol. 1

The hiphop-jazz-funk fusion of The Stakes has been making its way around the Valley scene for a few years now honing their skills and solidifying their sound. The release of The Stakes Music Vol. 1 earlier this year was the culmination of that work. The six-track EP offers the smoothly flowing hiphop that has defined the band’s live sound. Mixing the emcee styles of ZeeDubb and Lord Kash with vocal powerhouse Holly Pyle, The Stakes achieves a perfect symbiosis of sound. Ben Scolaro (keyboards), Caleb Veazey (guitar), Alex Meltzer (bass, MPC), and Kevin Phillips (drums) are the talented players that complete The Stakes’ lineup. The release opens with “Hi-Lo”, a super cool number that starts with a meandering pace but quickly gets amped up. Other emcees should take notes on lyrical prowess from The Stakes Music Vol. 1. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” offers a perfect example of the successful sharing of vocal duties that really sets The Stakes apart from other hiphop acts making their way around the Valley circuit. Holly Pyle’s move from smokey and sultry to an all-out flurry of energy and power. Fans of hiphop, jazz, and good music in general will enjoy this first collection of music from The Stakes. Let’s hope this is just the first of many releases to come. Listen for yourself here and get ahold of your very own copy.

 

Sunset Voodoo

Strange Things

The psychedelic indierockers known as Sunset Voodoo have been hard at work on new material. They released their EP, Strange Things, earlier this year. Sunset Voodoo has a sound made for those of us that kept our Incubus albums past 2003. Lots of folks beyond this grouping will find Sunset Voodoo jam worthy, but if you fall into this aforementioned category, Sunset Voodoo will be your new favorite locals. They have that same style of melody-heavy alt-rock, but with their own modern take. The EP opens with the title track; a song that dynamically shifts throughout, a signature move for the band. “Summer Haze”, one of the singles from the album, achieves that listless summer mellow that defines the season with its thoughtfully restrained rock. You can sample tracks from Strange Things here. The EP is also available for purchase through iTunes here. Sunset Voodoo is a band you have to see live. While you’re at it, I suggest checking out the music video for “Summer Haze” as well. You can view that here.

 

3 Ways to Get Your Funk On

Hexs and Miranda

The H&M EP

Dropping that old school flavor within a modern context, the superb combination of beat-master/producer Hexsagon and rap connoisseur Mr. David Miranda results in Hexs & Miranda and their first album, The H&M EP.  Now both of these gentlemen have been in the Phoenix rap game for quite some time but as Hexsagon put it on his Facebook page, “We took a different approach on this project and stepped outside the box.” I believe it shows. With throwback references a-plenty, tracks such as opener “Like The 80’s” and single “Down” are party head-bobbers while “We Go Far” and “Dreams Now” focus on the more serious side of hiphop all while maintaining a chill vibe. “Pushin’ A Benz” and “I Don’t Know” showcase a lighter, comedic side to the duo which I really connected with. With both of them consistently releasing music under their own monikers, I hope to see Hexs & Miranda release more music in the future. Listen to their EP here.

The Stakes 

The Stakes are good. I mean really good. Reminding me of past Phoenix live hiphop act Antedote or even Drunken Immortals and Cousins of the Wize, the Stakes are a full band that definitely shakes things up. I just so happened to catch the Stakes at Bud’s Glass Joint during this past September’s First Friday and boy was I impressed. Comprising of Emcee’s ZeeDubb and Lord Kash, vocalist Beth Jeffress, pianist Ben Scolaro, guitarist Caleb Veazey, bassist Alex Meltzer, and drummer Kevin Phillips, the Stakes lay down that stoned soul picnic kind of music for sure.With smart lyrics and musicianship, I strongly recommend heading to the band’s SoundCloud page to hear a recent live set. With their debut, full-length album set to drop in the spring of 2014 engineered and produced by Clarke Rigsby, this is one Stakes fan that can’t wait!

The Hourglass Cats 

432

When I first checked out THC’s music on their Bandcamp page, what I noticed first was the extensive use of the number 432. Not only is it the name of their debut EP, the price of the album is $4.32, and it was described as being recorded in 432 Hz. Now I don’t know about you but I had to look into this. So while I put the album on and began grooving to “Sense,” I did a quick internet search on 432 Hz. At least I thought it would be quick. I ended up falling down the rabbit hole of Pythagorean tuning and the conspiracy behind switching the note of “A” from 432 Hz to 440 Hz (and thus every note by a difference of 8 Hz) following the persuasion of J.C. Deagan (inventor of the xylophone, aluminum chimes, orchestra bells, marimba and many other instruments) and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Sounds nuts right? Well apparently music in “A432” frequency provides a natural resonance throughout the body and that the seemingly ever-present degradation of our American society is due to the fact that music for the last 100 years or so has all been in “A440” and it has slowly demoralized our entire state with the universe. By the time I got to “Yoga Butt”, the last track of 5 songs, I was completely hooked on THC’s Slighly Stoopid-esque vibe and neck deep in researching the 432 Hz phenomenon! Thanks a lot, Hourglass Cats. Check out their EP here.

by Mark Anderson
Editorial Staff