Twelve weeks ago I sat down to interview senior Tyler Brooks about his experience as a member of the three-person soul/gospel group the Chicago Collective. Responding to questions about his musical background, he focused the discussion on his jazz piano training and experiences singing for the trio. He failed to mention that he was a rapper. It turns out that Brooks, or EAGLEBABEL on the mic, is a founding member of the Stanford hip-hop collective The Outsiders, a creative revelation making a sudden and emphatic impact on the campus music scene. And he wasn’t hiding anything when I first met him — this nine-person collective sprinted from conception to debut in less than a month. Last time Brooks and I talked, The Outsiders didn’t exist. Today, they’re popping up all over campus with live performances, promoting their debut tape and selling merchandise. They’re a living, breathing testament to hustle, an embodiment of artistic potential unleashed.
And it’s far from just Tyler’s project. While Brooks takes a leading role in the collective’s direction and organization, The Outsiders don’t have a RZA-like abbot ruling with an iron fist. In fact, they’re not even a hip-hop group in the expected Wu-Tang or Tribe sense — rather, they’re a tight set of like-minded independent artists, each with both the tenacity and talent to pursue a solo career and the maturity to know that they won’t get there alone.
There’s a sense of kinship on the tape that’s immediately apparent in the tracklist — the spotlight rarely shines on a single artist, and most of the 18 songs are products of collaboration, whether in the form of traded verses, hooks, beats or straight hype. Just check the spoken word interludes by Meetus (sophomore Daryle Allums Jr.) and Eli Arbor (senior Elliot Williams). Lyrical enough to be a coffee shop slam but personal enough to be a letter to a dear brother, Arbor’s a cappella interlude speaks to the bond he shares with Meetus and lights a fire under the young rapper, pushing him to really believe in his music. The effect of this pep talk is felt immediately, as Meetus responds with the anthemic “Believe It,” produced by C4 (Chance Carpenter IV ’15), an introspective but confident reflection on his struggle to find direction at Stanford.
EAGLEBABEL’s “Harvey” touches on similar themes of soul-searching. Rapping about loving but complicated relationships with his hometown and family, Brooks laments the uncertainty of a future in music: “Daddy stressin’ cause I’m Kanye to the colleges / Knowin’ he ain’t finished so he hate to see me tarnish it.” Any musician’s desire to make art more than a hobby is risky, and a Stanford education only complicates the choice between passion and pragmatism, reward and reality. On a campus like this, it takes a measure of courage to step outside.
But while The Outsiders excel at the inward-looking, reflective side of hip-hop, they’re no strangers to playful summer jams, banging drill music and moody, echoing R&B. In other words, there’s a whole lot packed into the tape. Some of my favorite tracks are the soul-flipped faruhdey (Chris Russ ’15) production “Peace,” featuring mic-melting verses from Eli Arbor and EAGLEBABEL, the high-energy trap-influenced “beenaboutt$” by MZZZA (Muzz Shittu ’17) and the dynamic “Hurr About Us” with Meetus, Arbor and EAGLEBABEL bouncing hype off each other with a heavy beat from DJ Doza (Mike Mendoza ’14). For slower jams I’d recommend Jessica Ellenn’s (sophomore Jessica Spicer’s) “Edge of Fury” and Jae’s (junior Janei Maynard’s) “Bad Enough,” both songs demonstrating that these singers are good for more than just hooks.
It’s clear that The Outsiders are pushing each other, both creatively and professionally. Like I said, the group grew from a passing thought to a premiere in a matter of weeks. The resulting tape is a vivid medley of styles and ideas, each track full of personality. And while an amateur sound is evident here and there, the overall quality of work and production is pretty stunning. There’s a lot of passion and artistry bouncing around inside this group, and from the maturity demonstrated on the tape it’s clear that this talent’s been developing for a while. What happened to make this group a reality? Simple: They came together, then stepped outside.
You can contact Benjamin Sorensen at bcsoren ‘at’ stanford.edu.