Elk Grove’s Mind Majors innovate

Elk Grove duo Mind Majors kicks hip-hop stereotypes in the grill

David Ott (left) and Jonathan Bengco (right) risked life and limb to take this rooftop photograph.

David Ott (left) and Jonathan Bengco (right) risked life and limb to take this rooftop photograph.


Check out the Mind Majors-produced track “Just Wait,” featuring Runt Rock (from Live Manikins), 5th Ave and Mahtie Bush at www.myspace.com/runtrock.

Hip-hop producers suck. No, it’s true, they do. But don’t fire off a nasty e-mail just yet; stick with me here.

An example: The biggest hip-hop production trend last year was to take a classic soul-singer track, like Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” which for all practical purposes is perfect in its original form—heart-wrenching, vulnerable, timeless—and then sample it at the part where Aretha sings in that thick, pleading tone, “Ain’t no way for me to give you all you need.”

That sample alone is enough to make you want to rip out year heart and throw it against a wall. But instead of leaving that ideal sample alone, you, as a dynamic hip-hop producer, pitch it up so high that Aretha sounds like a goddamn chipmunk.

And there you have it: the hook to a modern hip-hop song. Now, you can make millions of dollars because you sound just like Kanye West. How? Because the ridiculously bland people who buy mass-produced hip-hop come in very large numbers.

That’s just the way of the world; it’s the douchebags-by-the-dozen effect.

But some hip-hop producers insist on doing their own thing. Like Elk Grove duo Mind Majors, consisting of the verbose David Ott and the painfully reserved Jonathan Bengco. These two stand out as producers, for one, because they’re both classically trained musicians. Ott began his music career as a jazz saxophonist. Bengco started out playing guitar. And bass. And piano. And drums.

They’re prodigies, and they actually wince a little bit when they’re referred to as “hip-hop producers”; Ott and Bengco playfully call modern hip-hop production “B.O. that’s smothered with deodorant.”

Mind Majors tracks are rooted in jazz concepts—but not necessarily the sounds of jazz. “The nature and progressions of jazz are wild and crazy; you can’t really get a grasp on them,” Ott says. So, the unpredictability of jazz is appealing to the duo.

“We’re just trying to stray away from the usual,” Bengco chimes in.

“Instead of using a piano, we’ll use a harpsichord or a wine bottle … or a fart,” Ott explains. The duo’s willingness to experiment results in a sound that’s layered, organic and interesting, bearing traces of Jamiroquai, John Coltrane, John Legend and James Taylor.

Ott laments how sound nowadays is “pressed up to the max” and lacking dynamics, unlike how things sounded in the ’60s and ’70s. “Listen to how soft a Beatles record is compared to Young Jeezy. There should be depth, not loudness,” Ott argues.

For instance, Ott points out the Mind Majors track “Rollers,” which sounds like the Strokes meets Depeche Mode. Or a slower-paced track, such as “Ocarina,” which uses a kick drum on the up, not the downbeat, which Ott describes as “really backward, but [having] a really groovy bass line; nice, pretty synths; poppin’ snares and an actual ocarina,” which is a type of flute.

The Mind Majors philosophy: Depth is greater than noise, and the pursuit of taking risks is certainly not about pleasing people. But this, in turn, unexpectedly pleases people—including the impressive roster of musicians the duo has worked with, like locals Live Manikins, Righteous Movement, Neighborhood Watch, Mahtie Bush and Mic Jordan.

And these artists certainly benefit from Mind Majors’ touch—heavily instrumental, surprising, intelligent, a little bit mad and, perhaps most importantly, organic.

In an age when computers make it easy for anyone to claim they’re a producer, Mind Majors’ track record proves their legitimacy. “Anyone can be a dancer if they move,” says Ott. “But does that make you a good one?”

We all know the answer to that.