Renaissance Men 

Platinum Pied Pipers move away from neo-soul to reinvent pop

"I hate that neo-soul bullshit," mutters Platinum Pied Pipers mastermind Waajeed. While that may be a sentiment shared by many who feel the genre is mired in a stagnant haze of generic nostalgia and artistic irrelevancy, it's an odd statement coming from the person who is supposed to be saving the subgenre. After all, Waajed has collaborated with neo-soul poster boy Dwele and is a former member of Slum Village, a hip-hop group that helped propel neo-soul into the national spotlight with creamy, organic beats and conscious lyricism. But after the neo-soul sound was co-opted and lobotomized in an effort to sell everything from cars to soft drinks, it's understandable that one of the genre's architects would get a little bit antsy when the subject is broached.

"We've done everything we possibly could to get away from neo-soul," Waajeed says. "At this point, you know what to expect from neo-soul and it's boring."

The man has a point. While Platinum Pied Pipers' debut, Triple P, contains many of the same ingredients of neo-soul - hints of live instrumentation, pre-electro funk and soaring vocalists - Triple P is more muscular, robust and decidedly forward-looking. Where neo-soul is ostensibly about swoon and seduction, Platinum's tracks such as "Deep Inside" (featuring the red hot SA-RA Creative Partners) bounce in a way that recalls the best work of fellow Detroit beatsmith J. Dilla.

The idea for Platinum Pied Pipers began when Waajeed was recording his contributions for Slum Village's 2002 album, Trinity (Past, Present, and Future). While Waajeed was a founding member of Slum Village, it wasn't until that album that he was able to step behind the boards and focus on what was becoming his primary passion: producing. Waajeed began to imagine what would become the Platinum Pied Pipers. Originally, he had in mind a strictly studio project that would serve as a platform for his productions. But the plot shifted when Waajeed met multi-instrumentalist Saadiq. Saadiq was a former pupil of songwriter Barrett Strong, who had collaborated with R&B legend Marvin Gaye, among others. After witnessing Saadiq's extraordinary live chops, Waajeed decided to expand the initial concept of Platinum Pied Pipers and incorporate a prominent live element.

"The way our partnership works is that Saadiq does the stage production and I do the in-house production," Waajeed says. "I did 98 percent of the album and Saadiq's job comes in when we perform live. But ... the stage show was a great influence on the album."

The effect is palpable. While the album retains much of the gritty boom-bap flavor of Slum Village, there is a strong sense of melody on songs such as "Your Day is Done." Also, "The Pees" and "One Minute More" hinge on loose grooves that seemingly arose from an improvisational setting.

But trying to track down the album's various influences or pin a particular sound to the album is difficult. Like most of the great music over the past three years - whether we're talking about Andre 3000's The Love Below or Mos Def's The New Danger - Triple P draws its power from its ability to seamlessly skip from genre to genre while maintaining a cohesive and singular artistic voice. In fact, Waajeed draws inspiration from Andre's masterpiece and feels that it's at the forefront of what he hopes is a renaissance in pop music.

"[Andre] helped establish a new consciousness in regards to pop music, and that's what I'm trying to do with Platinum Pied Pipers," Waajeed says. "Pop music isn't a bad thing, but it's been made into something that has no hop to it. But there's definitely a renaissance going on, and we're doing our part."


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