North Bay rappers Distant Relatives consistently deliver as an emerging force in Bay Area underground hip-hop. Raised in Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa, lyricists Vocab Slick (Brian Gibson) and Maynee (Joseph Carter), along with Ireland native DJ Ricky Switch, are 10 years deep into representing the “Boondox” of Sonoma County. After releasing their second mixtape and fourth full-length album Re-Soul, Distant Relatives join Bay Area hip-hop legends Blackalicious on Jan. 26 at the Phoenix Theater.
The group’s lyrics are relevant, weighted with content and intentionally distanced from the materialistic assault of the commercial rap game. On the title track, Vocab rhymes: “Makes no difference what your skin color is / or where your residence / town house or tenements / Long as your sentiments / are well thought like sentences / We all have dreams that outweigh our measurements.”
“We speak a positive message,” says DJ Ricky Switch. “One song at a time, one person at a time makes a difference.”
For the Re-Soul mix tape, the group took it back an era. “We were doing a lot of dubstep and getting burnt out on it,” says Vocab. “Maynee and I started rapping to these soul inspired hip-hop beats, to sharpen our songwriting and get into the next Distant Relatives album. We recorded a few songs, and it took off from there. It’s a nod to the old school.”
Re-Soul is a beat-driven followup to Distant Relatives’ 2011 album This Changes Everything, an impressive live-instrument project produced by local audio wunderkind Rick Vargas, sound engineer for TRI Studios in San Rafael and producer for Carlos Santana, Furthur and Lauryn Hill. “I linked up with Rick at Laughing Tiger Studio [in San Rafael],” says Vocab. “After sessions ended for the day, we had the use of every instrument in the place, and he can play 90 percent of them. We have Hammond B3 organs on there, Wurlitzer keyboards, live drums, all kinds of shakers and guitars, trumpets. He was the brains behind what the sound was going to be, and pretty much scripted a movie score for us to rap to.” (The record features guests the Grouch & Eligh and Zion-I.)
Even with several side projects and another album in the works, Distant Relatives are far from satisfied. While preferring to proceed without a formal label, the group continues to rise. “We are independent,” clarifies Vocab. “Strictly DIY, do-it-yourself. What you see is because we worked hard to do it.”