By Ann Marie Trietley, Music Columnist:
The guys of Fortified Phonetx are worth getting my Dodge towed away for. I decided this when, out of frustration, I parked in front of a fire hydrant on a Hertel side street and hot-stepped to Taste of Thai, where the three members of the Pittsburgh-based hip-hop crew awaited me.
Gentle flute melodies fluttered down from the ceiling, steeping the restaurant in a haze of relaxation. The trio – Moemaw Naedon (Ryan Macomber), DJ Blacklisted (Chad Walker), and Connect Rhymes (Dave Heichel) gathered around a table for a late night dinner. They were here for the Frigid Giant “Not Dead Yet” mixtape release party at The Hertel Lounge (1669 Hertel Ave.). Frigid Giant, aka Kevin Delgado, hosted the evening, which also acted as his send-off to the South by Southwest Music Festival. He asked Fortified to come up, given their impressive track record playing Buffalo venues. The night also included sets from Koolie High, T.R.U.E Dialect, DJ Camaican Sensation and was hosted by Thomas “Jugalar” Starr.
Prior to the show at The Hertel Lounge (Facebook), we had all decided to bask in Thai spices and chow down on curry, to discuss Fortified’s latest album The Plastic Eaters. “Plastic Eaters – the title – means that we’re devouring all the fake stuff,” said Heichel. “Everything on the new album pertains to real life and stuff people go through every day, instead of talking about how awesome we are, cars, and girls.”
Real life served as the inspiration behind The Plastic Eaters, and the album was put together, start to finish and one hundred percent, by the three of them. Heichel did all of the mastering, while Walker created all of the artwork for the cover. No outside sources were needed.
“There’s knowledge in there, a message,” Macomber said. “There’s abstract poetry in there. We swung a lyrical blade.”
“Cut up your meat with your lyrical blade,” Delgado chimes in, motioning to Macomber’s plate.
“Spiritual straw, lyrical blade, verbal forks,” Macomber trails off, taking a bite.
The chemistry between the rappers is undeniable, which is why they seamlessly fall into recording tracks and performing together. The latest Fortified project came about when Walker and Heichel were already performing throughout their home base of Pittsburgh. Macomber joined them after finding a similar perspective within their creative processes.
“We meshed very well,” Macomber said. “I felt comfortable with these two.”
So, the trio set out to do an album together.
“But everything we did, we did so we could rock live.”
Fortified employs a unique strategy towards developing new material. Rather than focusing on post production and how songs come across after being recorded, they make tracks specifically to do live. This is perhaps due in no small part to the fact that they all see urgency with a new voice being needed in hip-hop.
“The fire that fuels me is the fact that I’m getting older, and it’s time to bring honest, raw hip-hop to the scene,” Macomber declared.
“Once you get into that [the hip-hop] culture, you feel like it’s your community or church,” Walker, who started out doing graffiti in the break dancing scene, said. “It becomes a calling. You can’t get it out of you.”
The Plastic Eaters is made up of 18 tracks: “Your Life” featuring Frigid Giant and produced by Connect was later performed at The Hertel Lounge. Blacklisted’s beats are tight while lyrically, Fortified takes a realistic stance on subject matter. Walker describes the song “Lil Bobby” as a “cautionary narrative” against making poor choices in life. Songs are about real life scenarios but described with a poetic edge. They list influences like Gangstarr, Dead Prez and Nas, while mastering their own original flow.
“It has to do with what music we came up on and seeing the state of things,” said Walker. “Music right now is really bad. There is no culture to it. I’m a very political and philosophical person, so to express myself, this is the only way I know how to get it out. It’s therapeutic.”
The Plastic Eaters is available for download at FortifiedPhonetX.bandcamp.com/album/the-plastic-eaters. Also, see Soundcloud.com/fortified-phonetx and Twitter.com/FPX412.
“It’s something that’s in our souls,” Heichel said. “Something in me makes me feel like I have to be making beats.”
Photo: Macomber, Walker and Heichel enjoy a pot of jasmine tea.