Thirsting For Rhythms, Rhymes

Bill Mossman
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December 07, 2011
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The dynamic producing duo of Westbrook and Let-T-Let lets the beat rock with Slapp Symphony’s latest compilation album

Perhaps fittingly, James Westbrook and Leti Leti first discovered their commonality years ago while meeting over a water fountain at Moanalua High School. Drawn together by their common Samoan heritage Westbrook, who hails from Oahu’s Salt Lake community, and Leti, who arrived in the Islands from New Zealand via California this dynamic duo soon found a much stronger bond in their love of music. Like high-quality H2O trapped underground, the youngsters were eager to spring forth and share their creative stylings with others. After all, hip-hop beats continously coursed through their veins and flowed from their fingertips, and their unique ability to tap out common rhythms on liquid surfaces and metal piping while sipping on campus water became immediately apparent to others, particularly the lunchtime crowd.

“It was funny because we would have these little shows for our classmates,” Westbrook recalls. “I would jump on the beat and Leti would act out a rhyme, and then we would switch off. And we would just flow off of each other. People would bring their lunches and watch us around the water fountain. They knew it was showtime.”


These days, the Na Hoku Hanohanonominated producers and two-time Hawaii Music Award Album of the Year winners have extended their reach beyond the Menehune water fountain.

After organizing under the name Slapp Symphony in 2006 and releasing two mix up tapes in 2008 and 2009, the pair hooked up with DJs Jami and Compose of the Nocturnal Sound Krew and released their latest compilation effort just days ago the blackdesigned, water-themed album, Drown ‘Em In Beats, Save ‘Em With Rhymes.

The CD features a collection of soundtracks from a dozen local artists, all of whom lend their vocal stylings to reggae, hip-hop, gospel and R&B music. Among the featured artists are reggae and R&B vocalist Kimie Miner, whose musical contribution, Is This Love?, has received a lot of love from listeners from here to Papua New Guinea and Australia; hip-hop artist Sylen and the gospel-singing fraternal twins Saloma and Soteria Leti, who happen to be the younger sisters of Leti, otherwise known as Let-T-Let. To guarantee the right sound, Slapp Symphony also solicited the talents of a couple of sound-engineering heavyweights: Tatsuya Sato of Kanye West and the late Amy Winehouse fame, and Sterling Sound’s Jay Franco, who has previously worked with Will.I.AM, Neptunes and Chris Brown.

The result is a 10-track album perfectly tailored for those thirsting for urban-living lyrics wrapped around deliciously smooth beats and presented in a multi-music genre soundscape.

“Being fans of so many different schools of music, our goal was to create a project that holds all these genres so that we could offer something to everyone,” Westbrook explains. “Gospel people don’t necessarily listen to hip-hop, and the hip-hop people don’t necessarily listen to reggae or R&B. But with this project, we have it all. If you like one form of music, there’s a chance you’re going to listen to the next song.”

The beat goes on for producers James Westbrook and Let- T-Let. Photo courtesy of Slapp Symphony

Musical Notes caught up with Westbrook and got him to opine a bit more about the making of Drown ‘Em In Beats, Save ‘Em With Rhymes.

MN: So where can people get copies of your latest compilation CD?

JW: At CDBaby or at local boutique stores like Fitted, Prototype, Sindication and In4mation. It should also be available on iTunes this week.

MN: Your first two efforts were mix tapes released on trinumeral dates 08.08.08 and 09.09.09. With this album, however, you deviated from what should have been an 11.11.11 release date and unveiled the CD on Black Friday, Nov. 25, instead. Why?

JW: To us, dates are important, but we wanted to break the mold because everybody knew what we had been doing. So we decided to drop the album on Black Friday because, while it’s a memorable date, it more importantly fit the whole look and theme of the album black.

MN: What’s one notable difference between your first two compilation projects and this one?

Lloyd, Nick and Alex Kawakami of ManoaDNA

JW: We had multiple engineers on the other projects, but with that came the realization that the quality control wouldn’t be the same, even though the mix tapes still sounded good. But having one engineer, Matthew Honda, on this project made it more seamless because everything like how the vocals rode over the beat at the same level just sounded correct.

MN: What made you decide to include Kimie in the project? And when it comes to working with Kimie and other musicians, how much giveand-take is allowed between you, the producer, and they, the artists?

JW: We were always a fan of Kimie. We wanted to try to do something with her and show our reggae side. So we reached out to her by sending her music, and she accepted and sent us her feedback.

As for working with Kimie and other artists, basically, we’re very open to working with them and getting their thoughts and interpretations of the songs. We trust them to come up with the lyrics and melodies, and they trust us to come up with the beat and appropriate effects. So there’s always a back-and-forth thing, but we always work together until we reach a mutual understanding and both they and we are comfortable with the final product.


SMALL-KINE notes:

‘Tis the season to give, and ManoaDNA is doing just that again this Saturday with its third annual Boys and Their Toys toy drive and concert, a benefit for the Oahu Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. “Last year, we donated a dozen huge cardboard boxes full of toys,” said group member Nick Kawakami. “This year, we hope to exceed that amount and really make a difference.” While new and unwrapped toys may be delivered to Gordon Biersch Restaurant, Lanai Bar in person, donors and others are invited to enjoy an evening of fine entertainment from 5:30 to 8 p.m with Jon Yamasato, Herb Ohta Jr. and Brother Noland. For more information, visit Manoa DNA.com.


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