Kev Choice, officially arrives with his critically-acclaimed new album, Oakland Riviera. The album’s 15 full-fledged compositions blend expert musicianship, funky grooves, jazzy moods, poignant lyricism, and sophisticated arrangements. Kev Choice wears many hats, and all of them fit. Not too many classically-trained pianists who hold Master’s degrees can rock microphones with blazing 16s.
Over the years, Choice has been an in-demand keyboardist and session musician, recording and touring with the likes of Michael Franti and Spearhead, Zion I, Too $hort, Martin Luther, Dwele, The Coup and Goapele. In 2007, he toured as Ms. Lauryn Hill’s keyboardist and musical director after auditioning at a Bay Area studio, a gig which took him to 12 countries. Hill, he says, “was very influential in my musical development as an artist “.
With this album, a musical love letter to his rapidly changing hometown, Oakland’s favorite sideman is primed to take center stage. Choice’s musical background adds layers of nuance to his tongue-twisting, hyper-articulate lyrical approach, which combines technical virtuosity with social awareness, whether evoking Gil Scott-Heron on the polemic “Crazy Illusions,” addressing changing societal and economic demographics on “Shed Light,” touching on injustice on “Can’t Be Free,” or rhyming in 5/4 meter on “Golden Chariots.”
Atmospheric keyboards, melodic guitar, crashing drums, and an upright bass groove inform the opener, “That Life,” which alternates between Choice’s self-reflective lyrics and soulful harmony vocals by Viveca Hawkins, Marty Luther, and Jennifer Johns. “One of the goals of the record was to do things that are musically familiar, but take them to another place,” Choice explains.
Meanwhile, “Make Believers” wraps around a sinuous vocal hook tethered to an orchestral beat replete with violin and sitar. “This song was originally written for me to expose to people that I’m a real rapper, not just a musician who raps… I wanted to come extra hard with the flows, content, and delivery.”
There isn’t a single “throwaway” track on Oakland Riviera, an instant classic which will go down in history as one of hip-hop’s most musically-ambitious albums, ever. Yet Choice and his extended family of collaborators–including vocalists Martin Luther, Lalin St. Juste (of The Seshen), Jennifer Johns, Stevie L., Donye’a G., Steve Knight (of Flipsyde), and Viveca Hawkins (of the Memorials), saxophonist Howard Wiley, bassist Marcus Shelby and guest emcees Zumbi (Zion-I), Mistah F.A.B., Erk Tha Jerk, Phesto Dee (Hieroglyphics), Young Fyah and Tony Vic (Choice’s brother)–pull it off, with a spirit which upholds Oakland’s cultural legacy and the Bay Area’s independent music tradition.
Kev Choice Ensemble-“That Life” Live at Yoshi’s Oakland
Kev Choice-“Crazy Illusions” Live at Yoshi’s Oakland