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Elevator 15: DoseOne

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Back in 1997 I made predictions about Adam ‘DoseOne’ Drucker’s rap career. I was dead wrong and I’m happy I was wrong. I told my brother and various other hip-hop heads, ‘Wow, this Dose-1 has to be one of the best rappers in the world; it’s just a pity so few people are ever gonna hear him.’

I love his demeanour, his imagery, his multiple complex flows, his voice, his ready-to-pounceness, his unabashedly theatrical delivery.

I guess I thought that other people just wouldn’t dig him. There is no one quite like DoseOne. My wife calls him ‘The Worm’. This is what he sounded like in the late 90’s.

I first met him a few hours before he freestyle-battled Enimem at Scribble Jam 1997. We planned to hang out during the months I lived in Cincinnati but it didn’t work out. I still have a tape of him freestyling on a radio show called ‘B-boys Underground’ from around that time. His intensity clearly made an impression on a number of like-minded left-fielders. He co-founded Anticon, moved to Northern California, worked his ass off, toured extensively and sure enough, he’s made many colourful, ambitious, experimental and dynamic records since. I was wrong. Other people do dig ‘im.

Here’s his man-being-chased-by-a-? collaboration with Slug

This is the doused-in-angst, perfectly delivered ‘Soft Atlas’

I love his work with Jel as the group Themselves.

How ’bout Good People Check or Oversleeping?

To call his shows [especially with his band Subtle, which is really a deluxe version of Themselves] engaging would be an understatement. Dose’s stage presence is immense. He beguiles the audience by cracking surreal jokes, by pulling plastic forks out of a painted skull and by whispering in individual audience members’ ears. He dares you to mock him. He might not have the same exact motives as comedian Andy Kaufmann, but he clearly wants the audience to be impacted by the show, by the interaction, by his carnivorous poetry filtered through growls and roars, by Jel’s nifty finger work on the MPC, by the spectacle even if it means being heckled and misunderstood.

By the way Subtle are the best hip-hop band I have ever seen: tight, epic, surreal, melodic, ethereal and funny.

Amazing in the studio too:

In this interview with close friend and collaborator Yoni Wolf, Dose talks about his early musical journey and his childhood.

Dose will treat you, the listener, like his sparring partner, his local corner store owner, his ex-partner, his best friend, his therapist, his art teacher, his rap battle nemesis, his muse, his fellow wanderer. Listening to a DoseOne record is like stumbling through The Wood between the Worlds in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew dotted with mystery pools, some leading to worlds of hope, beauty and innocence, others to sloughs of existential doubt, nightmares and ‘deathiness’. Dose One is undoubtedly a disorientator and an elevator.

Here’s his artist page on Anticon.

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Elevator 14: Dave

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Dave from De La Soul is in my opinion is one of the greatest voices in the history of rap music. De La Soul formed in Long Island, New York in 1987. Their very first demo song ‘Plug Tunin’ is one of the highlights of 1980’s rap music. For a while De La Soul were unignorable.

Dave is a team player, so much so that you rarely hear about him without hearing about Pos, the other rapper in De La Soul. These emcees share verses and frequently back up each other’s lyrics and ideas. Unlike Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav or Andre and Big Boi of Outkast, the De La Soul vocalists are on the same wavelength. So what does Dave have that’s distinctive?

Dave’s vocal delivery exudes the melancholy and soulfulness of the rhythm and blues tradition – he doesn’t flaunt or draw attention to it. It’s just there.

His voice has both authority and a colloquial warmth, but listen closely and you’ll hear a deep anger brewing. The anger does at times spill out like in the classic ‘Stakes is High’. Dave’s verse starts in the laundrette:

Dave less frequently opts for the uppercut punchline than Pos and therein lies his power: restraint, understatement, wicked satire. His verses are like an unbroken stare that makes you second-guess yourself.

My journey with hip-hop music began properly listening to Doug E Fresh and Whodini but it was De La Soul’s startlingly creative album 3 Feet High and Rising and its follow-up De La Soul is Dead that spoke to me in a way that was life changing.

The tragic narrative of Millie Pulled A Pistol on Santa blew my mind, as did the up-tempo defiance of Say No Go. De La Soul managed to conjure up the image of Much Ado about Nothing set in a Burger King and exhibited satirical wit and sincerity in equal measures. These albums made me believe that rappers could be limitlessly creative, playful and dead serious. Dave is all three.

De la Soul will release a new album this year. Here’s their new single ‘Get Away’: Dave’s verse starts 1 min. 40 sec. in with ‘And some’ll believe that they’re leaders…’

Trying People

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Elevator 13: Juice Aleem

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You know you are in the presence of true experimentalists, when in your post-gig analysis you tell the performers their songs were ‘impenetrable’ and they wear the term like a badge of honour. The event: Dedbeat Weekender 2002, the group: Gamma.

Juice Aleem, rapper with Gamma, The Infesticons and New Flesh, is a wanderer. You might spy him in Paris or South London. Is that him wandering around the dusty outskirts of hip-hop plotting a coup with bass-heavy bandits and Moorish mystics or growling out maxims from hip-hop’s epicentre? Is that a tusken raider or a shogun assassin?

Birmingham-bred Juice was the very first vocalist on the Big Dada label in 1997, has toured the globe with Coldcut and has appeared on records with various electronic luminaries for the last 15 years. A genuine MC, Juice has the ability to charm a crowd with a quick quip, whip ’em into a frenzy with a call-and-response hook or blindside ‘em with a double-time freestyle [by the way I define freestyle as ACTUAL on-the-spot improvised vocals].

Much of Juice’s material remains underexplored like ‘Understanding’ [2002] with New Flesh and ‘Permanament’ [2000] with Gamma. NME reviewer Angus Batey called the latter ‘an intense, if bewildering, experience’ and unsurprisingly misspelt the album title.

One reason why listeners are bewildered is the odd mixture of the strange beats, the dead-pan humour, the history lessons, wild flights of fancy, enciphered slang and the landmines of rage hidden throughout the various releases. But this is what happens when sonic art collides with Afrofuturism, something that Juice whole-heartedly embraces and explores.

The afrofuturist, as well as challenging the imagination, tends to bring up all kinds of inconvenient truths. Like Sun Ra and Rammellzee, Juice zig-zags between playfulness and indignation, cosmic visions and profane realities. Unfortunately the afrofuturist rapper is frequently marginalized as an irrelevant space-shit-talker.

But Afrofuturism itself calls into question what is and what isn’t relevant. In essence it transports us back to an ancient time and civilization and from that standpoint boldly shows us an alternative now and an alternative future. To do so requires alternative vocabulary too.

While admitting his own vices and foibles, Juice Aleem attempts to battering ram his way through the zombie-esque consumer culture white noise and punch a hole in our doors of perception. Can there be a future where innovation and justice are prized and Africa is a vibrant, healthy continent?

In 2009 Juice released his debut album ‘Jerusalaam Come’. It’s packed with sci-fi sirens, stern verbal battle drills, nasty thoughts, wit and whimsy, martial arts and humanities. Our family hosted the premiere crew screening of the ‘Rock My Hologram’ video in our lounge:

The vocals for ‘Jerusalaam Come’ were recorded in the house right next door and me and my daughter, who was 3 at the time, visited a recording session and added some shouting to the chorus on this track:

He is just about to unleash a new record via the forward-thinking hip-hop label Spinning Compass. Expect a thorough lambasting of the current world order, unothodox party music and a reinterpretation of the term ‘existential dread’.

Here’s the first single [produced by Roots Manuva] from the forthcoming album ‘Voodu StarChild’:

Here’s Juice’s Spinning Compass page.

The MoorKaBa LightBikes/AnuMal release is available via Itunes USA and UK

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Elevator 12: Ka

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Ka might not want me to make a big fuss about him, so how ‘bout just a little blog post? This Brownsville veteran emcee is self aware, lyrically raw and, for a rapper, unusually modest.

Ka claims: “I already know my songs are not for everyone. They’re not for the radio, the club or the masses.”

About his previous crew Natural Elements he says: “I felt like I was bringing them down. They were more lyrical than me; they were flipping a lot of fly shit. I went to start my own group Nightbreed. I got a little better. I think Kev was better than me, I still tell him that today.”

His flow is beautiful, every word placed with care. Nate Patrin of Pitchfork labels Ka’s delivery as “quietly straightforward; not an easy way to get a fickle listener’s attention.”

So, yes, Ka’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but his music is growing on me.

I think Ka is an elevator because he paints with care, creating albums with themes that permeate the tracks like a thick smog. Pain, regret, dread and as vivid a street tale spitter as anyone out there.

In this Out Da Box TV interview he says: “In the 80’s I was a teenage…Crack cocaine just exploded in the neighborhood. Some people think they was winning cause they was hustlin’ but it f**ked the whole hood up. I saw the death of the crack wars. We lost a lot. If I had a seed [offspring], I know I wouldn’t want my seed to experience shit like that. I feel like I’m hundred and something years old.”

Clearly he’s content with how his 2012 album ‘Grief Pedigree’ turned out:

Listen to the street knowledge observations of ‘Cold Facts’:

The bleak ‘Summer’:

And ‘Up Against Goliath’:

Here’s his Grief Pedigree album video playlist – He made a video for each track.

The highlights of his 2008 ‘Iron Works’ album are the melancholy ‘Sunday To Sunday’, the deadly storytelling and soundscape of ‘Iron Work’ and ‘Children’.

The refrain in ‘Children’ is a simple profound observation:

It’s the children that bring balance in the hood

So let’s not make them age faster than they should

Another pithy interview: Question in the Form of an Answer: Ka

Grab a cold drink and hang out for a few minutes with a soft-spoken street scholar. Lean in and just listen.

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Elevator 11: The Praying Mantis

11mantisheaderThere’s a steep hill just off the M5 motorway southwest of Birmingham and I’m imagining The Praying Mantis sitting up there in antediluvian body armor drinking green tea and reading scripture as he waits for creatures from the underworld to engage him in a battle for the lost spirits of Mercia.

Like the title of his recent E.P. The Praying Mantis is ‘The Unorthodox Christian’. Listening to his lyrics is like being sucked into an epic convergence of literary and filmic genres. There’s media moguls, angels, politicians, dragons, Moses, postcode gangsters, ninjas and the god Apollo, but there’s also eschatology, autobiography, folklore, esotericism and gothic horror.

His style, forged in the fiery interactions of multi-cultural North Birmingham street life, has a gruff, no-nonsense backbone. Still, there’s lyrical back flips as well as bear grips. His delivery is striking enough that any savvy hip-hop beat producer could find a memorable hook were they to mine his verses.

What makes Mantis an elevator is his feisty battle for personal integration. As he dedicates time to reach out to embittered young people who’ve been neglected or written off, he wants to prove that there’s a new breed of fathers, brothers and mentors whose word IS their bond and who WILL listen to you, spar with you, care for you. His lyrics speak of grace, justice, courage, creativity and the desire for these things to be tattooed onto his life. Mantis explains, “I am very passionate about how I relate to the beat, the mind, the street and Christ, which you’ll find deeply embedded in the rhyme schemes and themes I write about.”

Mantis released his debut solo E.P. ‘Space/Time Continuum’ in 2005 and the ‘The Rusty Halo Effect’ album in 2009 and he continues to record with lyrical partner Quartz Crystallus. Here’s two of their many collaborations [Mantis’ verses are near the end of these tracks]:

Goodness

NUMB3R5

I asked Mantis if he were introducing someone to hip-hop music which album would he get them to listen to? “I can’t think of any one album that embodies the whole spectrum of hip-hop, so I would start with KRS-One’s ‘Return of the Boom Bap’ followed by Shai Linne’s ‘Lyrical Theology‘”!

The Praying Mantis: adventurer, protector, visionary, servant, street scholar. I’m privileged to be able to call this emcee a close friend.

Download his ‘The Unorthodox Christian’ EP here for FREE: theprayingmantis.bandcamp.com.

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Elevator 10: K Flay

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K. Flay aka Kristine Flaherty is skilled. She is a musician, a singer, a hip-hop producer and a rapper.

During her freshman year at Stanford University as a dare Kristine wrote a pop-rap parody, which she enjoyed enough to start taking hip-hop lyricism and beat-making seriously. Almost 9 years later we are better off because it. She has clearly honed her writing, her delivery, her production to the point where every lyric she conjures up sounds ridiculously natural. K. Flay was made to rap.

Her cover of the Zombies ‘Time of the Season’ sounds unforced and soulful. I’m wary of musical hybrids and I tend to avoid indie-rock-electro-rap cocktails, figuring that the flavours will clash or will be sickly sweet. Yet Kristine has written and recorded some perfect songs, which feature the angst, playfulness and sarcastic cultural critique of indie-rock, the foul-mouthed ferocity and know thy self-analysis of rap music with melodic, hynoptic choruses and hooks to kill for.

Her ‘Eyes Shut’ EP is particularly strong. Check ‘Sunburn’.

And ‘We Hate Everyone’ melds tongue-in-cheek loathing with real emotional wounds that have yet to heal.

‘Less Than Zero’ has got that overcast intensity that makes me think Kristine should collaborate with hip-hop left-fielders like Dark Time Sunshine or the Anticon chaps. They would be well matched.

Here she talks to New York Music News about head-banging.

K Flay’s various recordings together form an emotionally dense, joy-meets-sorrow, confidence-meets-self-doubt, drunken-fratparty-meets-geek, lunatic-lover-of-language explosion. She elevates rap by bringing a long-overdue worldview and woman-next-door perspective in the form of winsome, bittersweet, uncensored and intelligent rap songs.

Sandra Oh’s character in the 1998 end-of-the-world movie ‘Last Night’ tells the man she’s just met: ‘You’d better hurry up. Tell me something to make me love you.’

Kristine isn’t trying to emotionally manipulate us to make us love her. But she clearly connects with her fans both in her cathartic performances and her disarming video blogs. I will certainly be following her future projects. Anticipating the various rites of passage a North American woman in her late 20s – early 30s goes through what kind of music will K Flay be making in ten years time? And how will she deal with the crazy curve-balls life will throw at her? I, for one, am dead curious to find out. I’m gonna start by listening to her new bruiser of a mixtape/album: West Ghost. Visit her site and download it here.

By the way, I realize that this post is riddled with hyphens. I’ll try to make sure it never happens again.

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Elevator 9: Oxmo Puccino

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Oxmo Puccino is a well-known rapper in France, but as we don’t listen to much French rap here in the UK, despite being neighbours, most of us haven’t heard of him. When did you come across him?

Oxmo aka Abdoulaye Diarra was born in Mali but grew up in the 19th district of Paris. Though he was surrounded by the burgeoning hip-hop culture of the late 80’s he himself first took up the pen and the pad in the mid-nineties as a part of the Timebomb crew. He explains: “I was surrounded by artistically visionary people like the graffiti artist Slice. The 19th district is somewhere a little special. We felt we were neither Paris nor suburbs. And I think that geography gave birth to a particular state of mind…where innovation was prized.”

Years ago Oxmo was given the audacious nickname ‘the black Jacques Brel’. Was it for his songwriting abilities, his poetry, his suave delivery? I don’t know yet. I’m sure one of you will tell me.

I spent some time listening to Oxmo’s back catalogue and there’s a lot of material, but it’s his recent work, which I’m most impressed with.

Here’s Oxmo’s ‘Artiste’ from his 2012 album ‘Roi Sans Carosse’ to help get you on his wavelength. Of course if you speak French you’ve a vast advantage, but I’ve enjoyed reading the translations of Oxmo’s work and this video oozes the confidence of a rap veteran and his cracking sense of humour.

Also from his new album: ‘Le Sucre Pimenté’ or ‘Spiced Sugar’

Here’s the satisfying ‘Equilibre’ a feel-good collaboration with Hocus Pocus about the struggle to find balance in life. Play it LOUD.

Oxmo’s manner and vocal tone give him this strong calming presence both sincere and melancholy. These qualities are reminiscent of MC Solaar’s delivery, for example on the superb ‘La concubine de l’hémoglobine’. Going back a few years we have the beautiful ‘Soleil du Nord’ or ‘Sun from the North’, which describes ‘cigarette-less men stuck in horrible jeans between their future and their origins’. Oxmo contemplates whether poverty might be less painful under a warmer sun.

Oxmo’s vocals are clearly compatible with more melodic hip-hop compositions, his sincerity and gravitas grounding the orchestral flourishes and flights of fancy. And the videos as you can see, unfurl in an often unhurried cinematic fashion. His style [both aurally and visually] allows for breathing space, thinking space maybe even grieving space. His music works in a way I haven’t quite witnessed in English language rap yet.

And don’t worry, there will be more French elevators to come. Vive La France!

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Elevator 8: Aesop Rock

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It was a great moment. Dj Cro looked at me wide-eyed and smiley, “You don’t know Aesop Rock? Well, you should really listen to ‘Daylight’ first. Then you’ll get all the cross references in ‘Nightlight'”. I was flicking through 12inch singles at a now long forgotten record shop in Birmingham city centre and had come across ‘Coma’ and ‘The Daylight EP’, both tracks off the Aesop Rock’s 2001 album ‘Labor Days’.

“Actually”, Cro continued, “just listen to ‘Labor Days’. It’s incredible.”

So I did. And 11 years later I still dig every minute of it. From the weaselly electric chord attack on the opener to the beautiful assonance of the chorus on ‘Shovel’ this album is a perfectly constructed hour of verbal gymnastics, vivid imagery and the ache of a working day wasted in some call-centre selling a product nobody needs for a meagre wage. Yes, Aesop nails that mood.

Also embedded throughout the ‘Labor Days’ album is a contrasting insolent mood – a rallying cry to break from the pack and find a new path.

Aesop Rock’s lyrics are often cryptic and/or abstract. The lazy reviewer might whine about how dense, even impenetrable his material is or mock Aesop’s supposedly scatterbrained non-sequitur verses, but like all well-formed hard-graft poetry, Aesop’s lyrics are meant to be mulled over. I still catch new wordplay and moments of sublime perceptiveness almost every time I don headphones and get immersed in his world. How ’bout ‘Battery’? You can follow along with the lyrics here.

He can do simple storytelling too; ‘Regrets’, his tale of 7-year-old outsider Lucy must have single-handedly won him many new fans.

‘One of Four’, the hidden ‘thank you’ track at the end of ‘The Daylight EP’ is so vulnerable and disarming that it’s hard not to feel strong sympathy for Aesop.

Aesop is not trying to constantly baffle the listener. He just wants them to dig deeper. His 2005 EP, Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives featured a 88-page booklet of his lyrics, a little goldmine of alliteration and aha! moments. In the fortnight running up to the release of his 2012 solo album Skelethon he gave a short intro to each of the songs on the album. Even with these explanations, Skelethon is a monster of an album to absorb, but it is SO WORTH IT.

With Skelethon Aesop Rock is showing us that there is new territory to cross and as a wordsmith he should be considered one of the top poetic writers in the English language in the 21st Century. Here’s the Pitchfork review.

The low end on Zero Dark Thirty is wonderful, so don’t even bother to play this on your computer. Hook this up to some speakers.

In this video to Cycles to Gehenna we see an appreciation of the beauty and grace of the female form, without anything willfully erotic to obscure the view.

ZZZ Top captures the moment of discovering and embracing the power of music and throwing your lot in with the outcrowd.

Aesop is a collaborator and he seemed particularly at ease when performing with Rob Sonic and Dj Wiz as Hail Mary Mallon. Grubstake is the 3am banter with your best mates at the diner and Smock is paranoia dropped in a vat of biro funk.

Oh, and now he’s part of a duo with singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson called The Uncluded.

With 9 lyric-filled releases since 2000 there’s a lot of Aesop Rock material to digest, but if you’re stuck with where to start, meet the man as he explains his new motto, “Take the brain out, leave the heart in”.

Here’s Aesop’s label page with the latest on his various projects

Thank you, Dj Cro for introducing me to Aesop Rock. My life and vocabulary are richer.

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Elevator 7: Soweto Kinch

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This week someone from my home city of Birmingham released a 41-track Dante-inspired hip-hop jazz concept album called ‘The Legend of Mike Smith’.

Read that opening sentence again if you need to.

Yes, you’ve read that right and Soweto Kinch is that someone.

Soweto Kinch is an unstoppable force in UK hip-hop with an insatiable desire to experiment and explore. Since 2001 he’s been sparking off projects and drawing collaborators to his bubbling cauldron of jazz, rap and dramatic narrative.

Perhaps more than most artists featured in 70 Elevators, Soweto has received high profile awards and nominations for his music. He is a respected jazz alto saxophonist and he plays at jazz events around the globe.

But he is also a formidable storyteller, rap lyricist, freestyler and hip-hop beat maker. His debut album ‘Conversations With The Unseen’ was released in 2003 followed by ‘A Life In The Day Of B19 – Tales Of The Tower Block’ three years later. Increasingly Soweto proved that proper rap and serious jazz could not just co-exist on an album but could actually compliment each other. Listen to Ridez off ‘A Life In The Day…’

Here Soweto talks about touring ‘A Life In The Day…’.

As well as recording and touring, Kinch curates The Flyover Show, an inspiring and community unifying music festival which takes place under a dual carriageway bridge in Birmingham. Here he is back in 2008 trying to visualize it.

And making it happen.

In 2012 he took The Flyover Show concept to Freedom Square, Johannesburg, South Africa. 3000 came to the show.

But let’s listen to more of Soweto the rapper. Here he takes on the persona of the tyrant controlling the tyrant and tears up ‘Axis of Evil’. Awesome delivery.

This track ‘Head For the Hills’ from his 2009 EP ‘War in a Rack’ also showcases Soweto’s unrestrained flow.

The brand new 2-hour ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ adventure ‘The Legend of Mike Smith’ is available online here and here. ‘Gula’ and ‘Avaritia’ are the stand-out tracks for me so far. Here’s a review of it.

The great thing is knowing that after this impressive, complex piece of work Soweto Kinch will produce even more unusual and beautiful music. His well has not run dry. In fact he’s still warming up to make a genre-defying magnum opus. Mic in one hand, sax in the other Soweto has dug deep and found a rich seam of soul-searching narrative hip-hop and feisty lyricism.

Birmingham is the city of a thousand styles and Soweto has mastered more than a few of them.

www.facebook.com/sowetok

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Elevator 6: Eternia

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A few years ago when I heard about Eternia’s tour of high schools as part of a Plan Canada charity initiative, I felt compelled to write her to just say: ‘Keep on doing what you’re doing – you’re changing lives’. The tour addressed women’s and girls rights. As a parent of a young girl I’d be dead excited to have a female rapper who’s not afraid to be perceived as a role-model come to speak and rap at my kid’s school about identity, self-esteem and girls rights.

Eternia, originally from Ottawa, now based in NYC, exudes generosity. She’s not content with making records. She whole-heartedly champions various causes and artists. With trademark gusto she hosts this recent free-to-download ‘World Hip Hop Women’ mixtape.

She writes heart-on-sleeve raps. In this interview with Canadian Journal This Magazine she explains: “one of the running critiques of It’s Called Life [her debut full-length release] was, “Great album, great album, too personal.” People don’t want you to go that deep, almost like it made them uncomfortable. But I can say for the most part people really relate and appreciate having someone else speak their story.”

I’m partial to this Beach Boys sampling scorcher of a track ‘Evidence’ from that early album.

In 2010 Eternia and collaborator hip-hop producer MoSS released the heavy-hitting album ‘At Last’. Album opener ‘Any Man’ certainly pulls no punches.

But my goodness, it’s this song ‘To the Future’ which just melts your heart and shows Eternia at her most personal and profound.

Last week Eternia answered a few questions I put to her:

70elevators: Which of your positive attributes is most evident in your music?
E: Probably my faith. I like to think my music has a ‘victorious’, ‘overcome all odds’ feel to it, for the most part. And that is an accurate reflection of my personality and approach to life. The glass is half full no matter what the circumstance. I do my best to appreciate the journey, even in the lowest of moments.

70elevators: If you could change one thing in the world what would it be?
E: People living compartmentalized lives and viewing the world in compartments.
Stereotyping, judging, making assumptions: this type of thinking and approach to life drives me crazy. I prefer a more holistic view and approach to all things and all people.

70elevators: If you were introducing someone to hip-hop music which album would you have them listen to?
E: That’s hard. Off the top I would probably say Nas’ ‘Illmatic’.

Here’s her music site: http://eternia.bandcamp.com

And her everything else site: http://therealeternia.tumblr.com/

Down-to-earth, undaunted, positive & profound, Eternia’s a one-woman destroyer of stereotypes and the brilliant thing about a vanquished stereotype is that when it’s gone it’s usually gone for good.