"If Jimi Hendrix did hip-hop, that's exactly what that shit would sound like."
It's a Monday night at the Blue Iguana on Richmond, and the person making this claim is a house DJ impressed by the half-hour set just turned in by Freedom Sold. Unfortunately, the spin doctor makes his announcement with such an air of a put-on that the crowd doesn't even acknowledge it. Even the two men who make up Freedom Sold, Kwame Anderson and Arthur Salazar, admit that the comparison is a little far-fetched. "I mean, Jimi Hendrix was hip-hop," says Anderson.
Actually, the fact of the matter is that Freedom Sold, while impressed with the notion that they could ever be on par with the deceased maestro of the guitar, see themselves as an artful alternative to hip-hop. And for the past 30 minutes, Salazar (better known as DJ Space Ghost) had made that point while commanding turntables and keyboard samplers as Anderson (a.k.a. MC Kwam) two-stepped and -- when he wasn't wagging his tongue like Michael Jordan with a microphone -- spouted medium-paced rhymes. "The thing with the tongue is, I was really inspired by Prince," Anderson explains later, "and Prince used to stick his tongue out when he played guitar."
Their show finished, Anderson, 22, and Salazar, 21, convene to a nearby Mexican eatery, where they're joined by 24-year-old sound man Gram LeBron. While ordering a post-performance meal of tacos and Dos Equis, Anderson and Salazar discuss the philosophy, the aesthetic if you will, that makes up Freedom Sold.
"Freedom Sold came from the idea that in order to gain something, you must lose something," says Anderson. "It's like the sins of the sacrifice. So it's basically [built] around the idea that, you know, [you] question what you value, so to speak. That's the pretentious spin answer."
LeBron steps in and gives a less dramatic reply. "Freedom Sold is really a play on words," he says. "A lot of people think it's really S-O-U-L, but it's S-O-L-D. And I think that makes all the difference."
Anderson seconds the motion. "It makes all the difference," he says.
Originally, Freedom Sold was a side project for the Atlanta-born Anderson and Houston-native Salazar. They began it in early 1995, when they were still members of Seeds of Soul, a quartet of substance-over-style hip-hoppers who opened up for more popular rap artists around the city. ("We were a professional opening act," Anderson notes mockingly.) But being standard-issue rap performers began to take a toll on Anderson and Salazar, and one result was that Seeds of Soul broke up last summer over what Anderson calls "creative differences."
With Seeds of Soul officially defunct, Anderson and Salazar put more emphasis on Freedom Sold. "We kinda decided that we wanted to do something different," Anderson says. "And under the influence of people like Public Enemy and Sonic Youth and -- "
"Gangstarr," Salazar adds.
" -- and Gangstarr, Ultramagnetic MCs and such, we got the idea that we wanted to do something a little different. It took us a while to get it, but we finally did."
Freedom Sold is the kind of spry musical project that late musical daredevils Sun Ra and Frank Zappa would likely have approved of. Citing influences from the old-school rap of Eric B & Rakim and EPMD on one side and the post-grunge guitar moves of Pavement and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on the other, Freedom Sold serves up a sound that both Hilfiger-sporting club kids and black-clad pretentious types can bounce to. With Salazar mapping out the beats and Anderson checking the mike and, as a bonus, wailing away on guitar, the music can only be described as multilayered mayhem.
"It was really kind of a thing where we were listening to a lot of rap records at the time," says Anderson, who picked up his first guitar on his 21st birthday. "And then, we were listening to Sonic Youth records. So we saw something different, especially in, like Sonic Youth records. And even in, like, jazz records, the songs weren't really as one-dimensional. So we wanted to do something that was expansive on sound.
"And then, we figured, I'd gotten a guitar; we were really into, like, doing feedback and stuff. But now it's, like, more conceptual. It's sort of thematic, like an opera -- sort of."
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The topical commentary that Anderson and Salazar build into their music is purely intentional. "Most of the songs are inspired by unrelated events," states Anderson, "but really just things that you know are points that my friends and I discuss. Things that I think people don't pay enough attention to."
Salazar, who has spent the interview packing shredded lettuce into his taco, finally sounds off on his creative process. "The way I come up with a song is pretty basic to me," he says. "I just play records, and whatever actually sounds good, I try to go with the flow. I never really sampled like straight, two-bar loops or anything like that. I just try to be different with, like, every song I make. I don't really like whether people like them or not. It's just a personal thing."
Anderson and Salazar plan to release their first CD, titled Wheres, sometime early this year. They'll be pressing around 500 copies and channeling them through places that, they hope, will lead them to touring outside of Houston.
"With the group, we're not trying to take hip-hop to the next level or whatever," says Salazar. "To the new frontier of hip-hop or anything like that. We're just trying to -- I mean, even if people don't, like, catch it now, hopefully they might catch on. And really, if not anything [else], just respect what we are doing.