Since the Howard Theatre reopened in 2012, this landmark venue has featured a wide range of music styles, but never bounce beat, the raw-edged brand of go-go that began in this century. That will change tomorrow, when promoter Power Elite Entertainment brings in a matinee event billed as a “Young Swagg Team Takeover,” with three bounce beat bands, TCB (aka the Kingz), ABM and AJA, plus young local R&B male heartthrobs 4EY The Future (above).
Marketed by the bands via YouTube videos, Twitter, Instagram, and fliers, this gig will serve as a big showcase for bounce beat, which has few available venues for performance, even fewer since Prince George’s County established strict “dance hall” licensing requirements in 2011. While bounce beat shows occur on occasion in places like Ibiza in D.C. and other locales in Maryland and Virginia, longstanding allegations that the music attracts violence have kept it out of more halls and clubs. Old-school go-go fans complain that bounce beat is too noisy and doesn’t swing in a historically rooted funky manner, which hasn’t helped the cause.
But bounce beat has its own online radio and YouTube outlets that help keep the music alive for those who do like it. Tweets from the bands note that this show is all-ages—-middle-school and high school students are encouraged to attend. I spoke with members of two groups on the bill, ABM and AJA, over email.
AJA goes by multiple names: the All Jokes Aside Band, AJA Nation, and AJA CrankNation. The newest of the three bounce beat bands on the bill, the group formed in 2008. Its lineup includes a lead talker, a rapper, three vocalists, three keyboardists, two percussionists, and a bass player. AJA lead talker Nico Beaner notes that the band members range in age from 18 to 24 years. “Everybody has day jobs and one of our members, Dominique Williams, is a U.S. Marine,” he says.
Where once bounce beat was largely just guys talking over the ferocious roto-toms, timbales, and keys- and bass-led bottom, today, most groups include members of any gender who can sing or at least sing-song melodic and sometimes syrupy R&B choruses. “My band listens to various genres of music and incorporates it into go-go,” Beaner says. “Some of our popular songs now we cover are ‘Jealous’ by Nick Jonas, ‘Lifestyle’ by Rich Homie Quan, “Love Em’ All” by K.Michelle and “No Love” by August Alsina just to name a few,” he adds.
The group also pens some of its own material. “We are all very musically inclined, so it’s pretty easy to come up with original material both musically and lyrically,” Beaner says. The band’s new studio album, New Crank, New Era, drops this March. Beaner describes the chance to play the Howard Theatre as “a monumental moment and a very humbling experience,” and notes that “Duke Ellington, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and more [sang there] and to be one of the first and youngest bounce beat bands to perform is very exciting and a honor.”
ABM, which is short for All ‘Bout the Money, formed in 2005. Led by vocalist Shooters, the group includes two talkers, a singer, three keyboardists, a bassist, a percussionist, and a drummer. “All of my band members are out of school and work full-time jobs. We were in high school when we started and the band took off so fast, nobody even wanted to go to college—-we just wanted to play go-go,” Shooters says. He’s from Suitland, Md., and most of his bandmates also live in Prince George’s County. ABM has had gigs further south in Waldorf, Md., sometimes at strip joint Spice Lounge. “People seem cool coming out there, ’cause it’s a new club where go-go is just getting its feet wet,” Shooters says.
ABM has been on a few DVDs and has put out five studio CDs. The group transforms songs like Schoolboy Q”s “Studio,” Lorde’s “Royals,” and Meek Mill‘s “Ooh, Ooh Kill Em” into rough and ragged bounce beat. Although it seems that ABM is doing more R&B-friendly material now, Shooters insists that ABM’s music “didn’t really change. We stick to the sound we created called slow bounce. We wanted to make it stand out, so that’s what we did.”
Shooters quickly acknowledges that the group TCB pioneered slow bounce. “Don’t get me wrong, though, TCB are the bounce beat kings, and we give them the respect for that. There would not be a slow bounce without them.” When asked about some online comments critical of newer songs, Shooters says, “Yes, I read the comments on YouTube, and a lot of people say they like the songs from older years back. But as a band, you can’t keep hitting everything you used to. You have to change up and get new stuff. That’s the biggest problem we have with our fans, ’cause we have so many crowd favorites, we can’t hit them all.”
Like the members of AJA, Shooters is excited about the chance to play at the legendary Howard Theatre. “To be playing on this show means so much to me. It’s like a basketball player playing at Madison Square Garden.”
Young Swagg Team Takeover ft. 4EY the future, TCB (The Kingz), ABM, and AJA Cranknation plays at noon, Saturday Jan. 31, at the Howard Theatre. 620 T. Street NW.