The Urban Sophisticates, a broken van and dreams deferred

by Ryan Snyder

It was supposed to be a breakthrough summer for the Urban Sophisticates.

The band was riding a wave of good fortune set forth by the success of their second studio album, Coward’s Anthem. They had just begun to make a name for themselves regionally playing their own dates and opening for Ozomatli and other, more widely known acts. Urban had strung together a successful run and the next logical move was to release another album. They already had material prepped and ready to lay down, but that’s about the time that everything started to go wrong. Arguably the most important thing for any touring act to have is transportation and when Urban’s tour bus at the time blew three cylinders, it was like the band suddenly crashed into a brick wall. Their momentum was parked right alongside their wheels, only they were faced with the prospect of pushing uphill after a $13,000 auto repair bill came their way. To add insult to injury, a deal that was struck with a small indie label over the summer fell through after the company lost its funding. This sudden dearth of support money set the release of their third fulllength album, Classic Material, back over a month. Things were not looking good, but that was still no reason to just call it quits. The band rebounded with a series of strong pre-release performances in their staple cities and climbed out of their financial hole. Two out of the three album-release shows sold out, Greensboro and Clemson, with Raleigh coming only a handful of tickets from doing the same. They had even converted their new tour bus to run off of grease, which helped to safeguard their tight travel budget during critical times. Lead vocalist, producer and band manager Benton James feels that the band is starting to regain the momentum that it had before adversity struck. “The feeling among the band and our fans is that things are really turning the corner,” James said. He lends a lot of that credit to the outstanding support the band has received from not only the fans, but a much larger music scene in general. “Urban is a big family of musicians and the family of folks I’ve gotten to know after I moved to Greensboro isn’t limited to the guys in the band,” James said. “It’s a bigger community than just the seven of us.” That same family for musicians also came through for the band on Classic Material. Fatin Horton and E-Minor provided production support, while Vanessa Ferguson lended the chorus vocals for “My Crew.” Former Urban guitarist Tim Hooker and Boxbomb’s Ryan Gustafson also guested on “Dance With Me,” a single currently receiving heavy rotation in the region. Even after the band experienced Hooker’s transition from guitar, they didn’t lose anything musically as they’ve received support from Joel Kiser of House of Fools on several dates. “You go to make a record and with the sound we make, it’s really cool to bring in different guys to get a different feel on each track,” James added.

The band took a slightly different approach with the new album than it did with Coward’s Anthem, a record that James felt overachieved but still offered them some small semblance of fame. With Classic, the band looked to tone down the experimental tendencies of Anthem and substitute it with the mark of a true hip-hop album. “With Coward’s Anthem, we were really learning who we were as a band and what kind of sound we wanted to make,” James said. “Classic Material is really more defined and truer to the hip-hop genre.” James doesn’t feel that the new approach will turn off fans of their previous work, however. He’s aware of the fact that bands who are still looking to define their sound will sometimes alienate a portion of their audience, while simultaneously getting others involved. Urban will in fact have plenty of opportunities to grow their fan base in the coming months. The band recently added numerous tour dates to their calendar, playing as far north as Maryland and as far south as Louisiana through the moth of December. James notes that touring for them isn’t yet the constant that it is for many larger signed bands, but they are seeing more consistency in their schedule. The band is also enthusiastic about supporting Flobots on several dates in November, along with playing some shows with Michael Jackson tribute band and labelmates Who’s Bad. James is extremely optimistic about the bands future and is ready to make their music available to a wider variety of fans. “The underground scene has an appeal for us but I feel that overall, the market will take to us,” he said. We’ll see if I’m right or wrong in the next six months, but its just time to see what comes from the momentum that we’ve gathered.