A few members of The Real Clash are still enrolled in the MIRA program, others have graduated and juggle full-time jobs, internships, other bands, solo careers, family. But as Rashad puts it, “Everyone makes the time for this because we all really enjoy playing together. There’s no egos, nobody stepping on each others’ toes … we realize there’s enough room for everyone to get their shine. And when that happens, the whole group shines.
“One thing we couldn’t predict was how the chemistry was going to flow. We all knew each other’s work just from being in the program. But you don’t know until you get together and see, if it’s going to work,” says Rashad, “But it works so good, it gels so good.”
The name, originally The Real Clash of the Titans (for the SPC mascot), mostly represents a clash of styles. “But not in a bad way, or in a way that doesn’t work; it’s going against what you might expect,” Rashad says. This includes diving into other genres — funk, reggae, Latin, rock, R&B — to get to the Real Clash’s eclectic sound. “Jay came up with a tagline we’ve adopted. ‘This is hip-hop redefined.’ That’s how I approach composing something new and whenever we talk about the live performance, I think, how can we redefine the status quo?”
This includes tearing down stereotypes about what, exactly, hip-hop is. Rashad isn’t trying to work a message into every song, but he recognizes the power his words can have and uses them as wisely as possible. “Just being the way I was raised, I’m gonna try to say something substantial, something that could enrich your life, enrich your thinking, make you a better person or make you want to pay it forward or say something nice or encouraging to the next person. As a lyricist, I’m going to try to say that as creatively as possible. I hate it when you can predict what an artist is gonna rhyme.”
Lyrics are thought-provoking and intelligent but not always serious; trademark set-closing track “Effigy” comments on hip-hop clichés, posturing, and staying true to yourself no matter what your background. The chorus — “This what hip-hop looks like, thought it was all thugged out like Suge Knight? All I need is a beat and a good mic, putting stereotypes to bed like, ‘Good Night!’” — seems to sum it up perfectly. “It’s definitely about trying to make people think something different,” Jay says.
The group is diverse in background and age (from 21-year-old guitarist Andrew Roden to 44-year-old drummer Mark Vance), but that diversity — and their easygoing camaraderie — helps them complement each other’s strengths. Rashad takes command of the crowd as soon as he steps to the stage, all bluster and punchlines, while Jay brings the more deliberate flowing, laid-back creeper attack. Eliana Blanchard is the soaring vocal anchor and hype gal in their midst, not to mention an eye-catching stunner with flowing hair and a 100-watt smile. Jordan adds sonic layering, texturing and grooves, while Mark trades off drumming and percussive duties with Travis Young, also a beat-boxing whiz. Bassist Taylor Gilchrist covers the low-end frequencies, DJ Rollin Covell complements the rhythm section with digi turntable scratches, sound effects, and audio samples, and Roden adds rocking guitar riffs and searing solos.
The band is currently a dozen tracks deep on a debut album for 2014, but haven’t set a concrete release date yet. They have a title, however: Clash Wednesday. “That’s the day that we practice; we get together on Wednesdays and make the magic happen,” Rashad explains.
The Real Clash has played several off-campus gigs since their first this past April. While the biggest one so far — opening for Method Mad and Redman at Cuban Club last month — wasn’t quite what any of them expected (the set was cut short and they were only able to play three songs), they all seemed to take something from the experience. Plus, they were exposed to a new appreciative audience and got to unleash a brand new track, “The Kraken,” that got everyone’s attention.
“Looking back at the video, I see us performing and lights flashing.” Rashad says optimistically. “Everyone was trying to get a shot of us. I just thought that was pretty cool.”