BY KEVIN TOMANKA //
“I’m a rapper from Eugene, Oregon.” The words can’t even leave the mouth of Marv Ellis without making him crack a half-smile. And, why is he smiling? Because in the Hip-Hop world – where your sound and your geographic region go hand in hand – he is an undisputed veteran MC of a beautiful slice of the world that he calls, “North West Fresh.”
For his fifth studio album Marv Ellis continues to push boundaries with the instrumentation of his new live band, WE Tribe. The five-member collaboration includes Marv’s longtime bandmate DJ DV8 on the turntables, Dorian Crow on string bass, and Matt Calkins on saxophone and Sage Lien, who lays down the drum beats on his Ensoniq ASR-10 keyboard. That’s right, a string bass and saxophone in a Hip-Hop group; this creates a very unique texture of analog and digital sounds that combine to provide stimulating melodic support to Marv’s rhymes. Conscious rap is Marv Ellis’s tool to address current situations in the world but at the same time he writes in an attempt to make lyrics will stand the test of time and never sound “dated.” Along with his brothers-in-arms they are are unified for a single goal of spreading positive Hip-Hop from their home scene in Eugene.
Like everything in this world, all this didn’t just happen overnight. in 2012, when Marv Ellis stopped playing with his last live band The Platform, it was obvious that he wanted to make the live band thing work. But having a full 10-piece group on hand for every gig isn’t very economical or even physically possible on some stages, and in the end it couldn’t survive. Not one to be stopped by a setback, Marv kept playing shows to keep his tools sharp and create new material. Some of these gigs were as simple as himself and DJ DV8 doing a duo show in a small club and holding it down. His last album Shadows Mean Light comes from this darker point of re-creation and it stands as almost a prophecy of the present – which is a balance that’s been hit between the live band sound and doing more with fewer select players, unified and sustainable.
Marv Ellis and WE Tribe’ s October full-length release Five for One follows suit with his other albums for having a significant three word title, this one easily translates to anyone who has dialed a Eugene phone number. The 16 track album has deep string bass grooves and catchy vocal hooks lacing its hit tunes like “Super Human” and “Boys in the Woodz.” There are also a few minutes paid to instrumental l tracks to show off the musical breadth of talent among the group like “Thunder Eggs” and “Jazz Men.”
It’s not a front – in case you’re wondering – these guys do more than just create conscious music, they practice what they preach and they live their art. Marv doesn’t just include a line about global climate change or helping those less fortunate into his raps because it’s trending right now; he goes home and sorts his glass from his paper in the literal sense. In the very danceable cut “Yew Would” he repeats the lyric “With eyes on the rich, we give to the poor, WE Tribe.” A shout out to the 99%, to the poor and under serviced, to all the cash strapped people out there.
But these guys bring action to those words with this album. WE Tribe has teamed up to give back to people in need with the Bend based clothing designer 541 Threads, who create Northwest designs to raise contributions to the Oregon Food Bank. Each album or a hat purchased at a WE Tribe show will help feed five people, bringing another and more important entendre to the album title.