On a bustling Saturday night in New York’s Lower East Side, where the restaurants are scrambling for walk-ins, bars crawling with hordes of encroaching yuppies and art-craving hipsters and girls looking to pre-game before the inevitable rooftop parties throughout the night, its not easy to find the places and sounds that can really stand to you. Even more so, where musicians from across the five boroughs, and far in between, flock to be heard, as they attempt to impress the on-the-go Gotham faithful with the talents of their music. Yet, despite all the noise, one music group has made they’re mark on the City and have been increasingly noticeable to many of us native New Yorkers that take pride in what we have coined as a sound of our own – hip hop.
And they’re not just your typical boom-bap hip-hop group either, but a collective that’s ripe with such experimental sound, delightful cross-cutting genres and astounding music compositions that they can be a genre of their own - An underground outfit we’ve come to known as The Lesson GK.
Embraced in the concepts of culture, spirituality and community, The Lesson GK has become the cornerstone of the underground hip-hop community in New York City. Bred from NY’s classic borough sound, the Lesson bridges funk, jazz and soul that are perfect for any underground dance floor. The bands explosive compositions and impressive musical arrangements are an astounding component to their holistically adaptive approach. With weekly sold out jam sessions at the legendary Lower East Side venue, Arlene’s Grocery, The Lesson has become a staple for up and coming acts and A-list names alike that embrace artistry and musicianship.
Founded in 2012 by drummer/group leader, Lenny “The Ox” Reece, The Lesson GK started out as a collaborative weekly project with the goal of countering the ever-increasing social issues regarding xenophobia, police brutality, domestic violence and homophobia - just to name a few. The band’s secondary name, “Gentei Kaijo” (Japanese for “limitation cancellation”), embraces the aesthetic approach and sound of improv and experimental hip-hop, contemporary jazz and progressive soul/funk that resonates through each of their members and artists that performs on stage. With vivid imagery and euphoric sounds, The Lesson offers their audience experiences that force to remove the bounds of cultural background, race and orientation. It’s a sound and unilateral idea that captures family, the home and a place where everyone is welcome.
We were given the exclusive opportunity to cover The Lesson GK last weekend during their first ever performance at another LES classic, Mercury Lounge, all while being a part of the lucky few who experienced The Lesson’s unreleased songs and experimental sounds that blew us away.
With a glass of Bullet Rye & club in one hand, and my outdated 6 plus on the other, The Lesson was an experience to behold – and that’s not just the rye talking. The band was quite simply – phenomenal. A cradle in the art of lyricism, vocals and composition that is, unfortunately to say, a rarity in the genre today. Amongst a sea of catchy trappers and mumble rap, The Lesson challenges the mainstream sound that’s refreshing, poise and dare I say – refreshing.
Yet, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. The Lesson’s accomplished roster has a resume loaded with extensive talent and music experience that has touched the stage with some of the biggest acts in hip-hop. Classic acts such as Slum Village, The Roots, DJ Premier, Talib Kwali, Joey Bada$$, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def, Thundercat, Bilal, Anderson.Paak and others. The Lesson’s members have already accomplished an array of accolades in their music careers that bring a fruitful of trailblazing artistry, blended with an aesthetically smoothing and groovy sound, which dwells deep within the group’s hip-hop heritage.
Already pumped and eager for the show, The Lesson GK opened with a killer performance that was gorgeously decadent, with seductive keys, bulging basslines and a mean drum play that clicked perfectly with every strobe light flashing throughout a packed out Mercury Lounge. Pressed up in front, the LES crowd poured in from the bar and pushed up against the stage, cheering and screaming to The Lesson’s opening jam, all while hushing so slightly to the angelic voice of lead vocalist Jonathan Hoard. Hoard’s gentle and soothing voice lifted the crowd on the harmonious melody – “everyone has a place here –“ as we were all welcomed and invited to rejoice together, embracing in the experience that is The Lesson.
In savvy and strategic fashion, Lenny Reece (drummer), along with David Cutler (bassist) and Christian Almiron (keys) beautifully steered the production into a driving musical arrangement that illustrated a collage of soulful funk and fiercely charged keys. These guys really pulled the band together on every note and synced each composition perfectly on stage. Their command on stage pulled the band together on every note and synced each composition perfectly, as they drew out the fiery engulfed flows and lyrical tenacity of lead emcee, Phase One - a perfect contrast to The Lesson’s soothing rhythms and fluorescently deep grooves. Hoard continued to encourage the Mercury Lounge faithful to sing together as the chorus transitioned to another peaceful and melodic harmony on the gospel-esque “everyone is welcome here.” We clapped, we danced and “raised our hands high enough” to this band’s wild, crazy and experimentally soulful opener that will last in our minds for years to come.
As their set continued, The Lesson brought out local veteran and emerging emcees that exemplified the group’s hip-hop spirit. Equipped with riveting bars and dynamic flows, these emcees blended perfectly with the group’s contemporary funk and urban soul sound. Pure lyricists at their finest, their performances bore the original cloth that brought on swag, heavy-hitting jabs and poetic prose passed on by some of New Yorks greatest street disciples – pure gripping talent at its best.
The Lesson’s very own, Phase One, stood by that mantra and put on a captivating performance that displayed a lyrically strategic and bustling approach, emerging from every spoken word. His ability as a master storyteller, with gifted metaphoric wordplay, illustrated his lyrical talent as he wielded the mic to launch an array of daggering bars that sped through The Lesson’s experimental nostalgia. With a 90’s-esque boom-bap and precession cutting jabs, The Lesson’s emcee roster landed uppercuts and swift jumping bars that illustrated some of the finest wordplay in the NY rap scene today.
The Lesson GK’s performance at Mercury Lounge was one of the more impressive sets we’ve seen this year. Not just through their roaring boom-bap, experimental sounds and genre-meshing arrangements, but also by providing a unique cutting edge and an illustrious music approach that affirms The Lessons’ positive presence in New York’s Lower East Side.
With sensual vocals and a groovy funkadelic attitude, this emerging hip-hop collective encourages us to be consumed by our own musical appetite: a feast that warrants through the love of song, dance and harmony. An entre that brings us to a place where the hearts and minds of individuals deter the needs of physical attributes and orientation, but desire the need to shed a light on being together.
With raw and invigorating delivery, The Lesson has become one of New York’s greatest treasures as their family first and community vibe generously offers us a thirst quenching sound and a formidable music experience. I must say that I feel fortunate to have such an incredibly holistic band perform every Thursday at Arlene’s Grocery. Their platform for providing other artists – with the same look and feel – in which to excel truly showcases the value of experiencing some of the best music New York underground has to offer.
It’s one of the many reasons why The Lesson has become the leading voice, and artistic pedestal, in independent music today and how their efforts and conceptual music approach have helped us to raise our hearts and thoughts one note at a time.
Catch the Lesson during their residency at Arlene’s Grocery this week!