Take it from Loud Minority Records' newest roster addition, Tanya Morgan: Image means nothing. Study the album cover all you want, but nothing there says, "Hip Hop," "trio" or "men," for that matter. But the radiant smile of a brown-skinned lady masks a clever inside joke on A&R and their "hit it or quit it" nature of selecting artists. Furthermore, it would take more than two Soul Train Scramble Board contestants to figure out how the letters in Tanya Morgan came from names of MCs Von Pea of Brooklyn and Ilyas and Don Will of Cincinnati, who check peoples' assumptions that Tanya is more incense and candles than break beats and Hip Hop.
If this is what you believed, the joke's on you, jack. "We wanted it to be some shit where you would literally stumble across it," Don Will says. "It was pretty much thought out and executed, even down to pressing up cassette tapes prior to anything else. We thought out and orchestrated everything. It wasn't happenstance."
Dubbing tracks from their debut, Moonlighting, as "running man music," Will describes their sound as "futuristic/retro."
While the running man reference triggers thoughts of brothers stepping in genie pants and black patent-leather kicks, Von Pea feels it aptly describes the LP's throwback, light-hearted mood.
"My favorite is 'We Be' because it reminds me of Leaders of the New School," Von says of their second 12-inch. "To me, that's like the definition of running man; when I hear that song, I can see myself back in fifth grade, dancin' to Leaders of the New School."
At a nonstop pace, he and Cincinnati native Brickbeats fearlessly sample and manipulate breaks throughout the CD while the three MCs trade rhymes and insults. "Pretty," "Ode to Tanya" and Ilyas' Reggae-inspired "Just 'Cause I Got Locks" show the guys invoking a little slapstick into rhymes, modeling themselves after trios like De La Soul.
Replicating Prince Paul's classic technique of seaming together album cuts with side-splitting skits, Moonlighting follows a dissatisfied customer who bought a Tanya Morgan cassette under the pretense that it's "some real shit," tries to return it, but slides it to some unsuspecting "nerdy dude" who looks like he loves "underground Hip Hop" and "anime." Nerdy dude flips it to a friend, his polar opposite who keeps it "gutta." The tape finally ends up with someone who'll give it a shot because they appreciate music.
"I've always been a huge fan of De La Soul," says Von. "That's one thing I've always liked about them, how they'd have the skits."
"(Von's) good at sequencing," Will says of "The Beat Maker." "He knows what's supposed to go where, when it should come in; so he put his foot in it with the sequencing aspect."
In grade school, Von recorded skits of his friends' lunch table discussions on a boom box he received one Christmas. Plugging a beat underneath with panned street noise for color, his fascination with sound became his signature.
A little more than a year ago, Tanya Morgan clandestinely slipped its EP, Sunset, into certain people's mailboxes, which did little but stir speculation. Who was this Tanya? Eventually, they received modest reactions from press and from reputable MCs such as Phonte of Little Brother. But after 500 pressings, Sunset eventually faded.
Will compares the EP's scarcity to a pair of limited run sneakers. The idea was to make the owner feel elite and privileged, and owning the EP granted access to a following.
"When you know about something, you take pride in it and you want to pass it on," Will says. "We didn't want (listeners) to think that we were letting the industry or the label be responsible for passing us on to people, we wanted to give the people ownership again."
Von feels that much like the seminal Hip Hop LPs they favored as youths, Moonlighting will carry significance 10 years from now.
"We're not doing anything trendy," he says. "It's not like the flavor of the month or the latest movement. It's more of what comes natural to us, and I don't think that when you're natural, it can wear off."
For more on TANYA MORGAN, go to tanyamorgan.com.