If you haven’t heard of The Urban Renewal Project, explaining their sound is about as easy as teaching Latin to a toddler. Regardless of how one might choose to describe the funky, soulful jazz/hip-hop fusion heard on last month’s 21st Century Ghost, the well-orchestrated — and slightly chaotic — tunes bend seamlessly around genres while providing the kind of upbeat energy that’ll get even the most stoic of listeners to start tapping a toe. Even the 15-person group's conductor, R.W. Enoch, has to use quite a mouthful to explain to people what it is that Urban Renewal Project actually does.
“We’re a big band that plays a mix of soul, hip-hop and jazz music,” Enoch says. “We have a singer, a rapper, a horns section, guitar, bass and drums, and we play really original, groove-based music that blends a lot of different styles together in a hopefully cohesive way.”
With a sound that covers so many different styles, it's no surprise that Enoch and his crew play a wide variety of shows around Southern California. This weekend, for example, they'll go from the marijuana-themed Kush Stock Festival in San Bernardino on Saturday to a more family-friendly gig at the Topanga Community Center on Sunday. It's also not surprising that getting a 15-piece band together to perform, rehearse or record an album takes quite a bit of effort. For that reason, Urban Renewal Project don’t get to play as often as Enoch might like, and 21st Century Ghost — which also features numerous guest vocalists, including hip-hop duo Camp Lo and R&B singer Gavin Turek — took over two years to put together from start to finish.
“It’s hard to get 15 people available at the same time," Enoch says, "and even if you can get them available at the same time, it’s hard to pay everyone fairly or find stages and venues that can afford to pay a group that large fairly. It’s been a lot of putting in the hours on borrowed time and making sacrifices for the love of the project and the love of the music while hoping that it pays off down the road.”
Urban Renewal Project’s combination of vibes old and new comes straight from Enoch’s background. The self-described millennial grew up with a saxophone in his hand, but while he was learning the jazz and big-band music that went along with his instrument, he also was jamming out to hip-hop, mainstream pop and modern rock music in his free time. And while the hip-hop and rock crowds may think their music has nothing to do with the tunes their grandparents once danced to, Enoch’s love of music theory and composition enabled him to find similarities at every turn.
“As I was coming of age and considering doing music as a career, I started seeing that people tend to put music in very distinct categories and view genres and artists separately, whereas I’ve always seen more of the similarities between types of music,” he explains. “I didn’t see a lot of people putting together styles that I thought had a lot in common in one performance group. I wanted to put this group together that basically highlighted the similarities between jazz, hip-hop, soul music and pop music that can be enjoyed by hopefully almost everyone.”
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SHOW ME HOW
Even if you're a hip-hop fan who doesn't like jazz, or vice versa, the band’s live show is worth the price of admission every time. Urban Renewal Project's sheer size provides a truly unique experience in L.A.’s crowded musical landscape — and the organic sound of 15 musicians coming together (with minimal electronic enhancements) channels the energy of a classic swing band, but with a more modern feel. But beyond all of the blurred genre lines and complex musical compositions, Enoch and his bandmates ultimately still have the same desire as many other bands: They don't want to see anyone sitting down when they're onstage.
“The goal at the end of the day is really that we want to make music that is a joy to listen to,” Enoch says. “We just want it to be something where people are up on their feet bouncing to the music and having a good time. We don’t want to just be a quirky large ensemble or some multihyphenate artist; we want to make banging tunes.”