There’s more to COL and KRUNK than the music. Rev. Tim Smith, the executive director of the nonprofit community empowerment organization Center of Life, is the driving force behind both youth groups, and I had a chance to talk to him about the musical side of his endeavors.
Tim created both musical groups out of a desire to provide a positive outlet of expression for the youth in under-served communities in Pittsburgh. Tim’s interest in music and entrepreneurship informed the formation of COL and KRUNK. Both groups fall under the umbrella of the KRUNK (Kreating Realistic Urban New-school Knowledge) Movement, the student led music and health initiative Tim is so passionate about.
I’ve had a chance to listen to ONUS, the hip hop album put out by KRUNK, and In the Mix, the jazz album from COL, and in addition to fulfilling an important role in the community, both of these projects feature some serious musicianship. And what makes it all the more impressive is just how young most of the players are. In the Mix features 6 musicians, 4 of whom are under the age of 17. But their work is advanced well beyond their years. I haven’t heard too much jazz flute, but Isaiah Smith’s performances are impeccable. When I spoke with Tim, he cited Hubert Laws and the Yellowjackets as having strong influences on the sound of the album. You’d also have to mention jazz giants Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis – but not as mere musical influences. Both Blanchard and Marsalis acted as advisors during the recordings sessions. Flipping through the liner notes for the album, you can find pictures of Blanchard and Marsalis hanging out with the members of COL. If that doesn’t prove that these guys have what it takes as musicians, I don’t know what would.
Many of the individuals involved with COL are also members of KRUNK, but the sounds of these two groups couldn’t be more different. Replacing the smoothness of COL’s jazz with head-nodding hip-hop beats, KRUNK wants to stimulate the listener with topical lyrics that strive for the positive. With songs engaging subject matter like substance abuse and violence, KRUNK strikes a balance between the raw style you expect from hip hop and the emphasis on positivity that forms the keystone of Tim’s philosophy. Tim had this to say about KRUNK’s live performances: “KRUNK has performed before thousands. The crowd is what gets them hyped.”
When both groups perform at Three Rivers Arts Festival, I’m sure the crowd won’t fail to give these talented students the energy they need to really raise the roof.
KRUNK performs June 8 on the Dollar Bank Stage at 5 PM.
COL performs June 9 in EQT Plaza at 12 PM.