Rappers on the verge

How the Precipice’s words and beats create hip-hop’s yin and yang

<p><b>No crap-rap here.</b></p>

No crap-rap here.

photo by luke fitz

Catch the Precipice at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at the Blue Lamp, 1400 Alhambra Boulevard. The cover is $10. Learn more at www.facebook.com/theprecipicemusic.

About a year ago, two Sacramento-raised rappers moved back home.

They first met at a San Francisco open-mic, cultivating a friendship based on respect for one another’s craft. One started with slam poetry; the other began as a 12-year-old choir boy. One graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in creative writing; the other was expelled from high school, homeless for two years and most recently a San Francisco Art Institute dropout.

They are Anthony Giovanini, a.k.a. Sparks Across Darkness, and Tyler Maciel-Todd, a.k.a. TIP Vicious. On a recent afternoon, Giovanini’s suit and tie sharply contrasted Maciel-Todd’s T-shirt, jeans and long, gauged ears.

Giovanini: “We’re like yin and yang.”

Maciel-Todd: “Yeah, but we’re still trying to figure out who’s yin and who’s yang.”

Separately, they’ve been working hard to break into the local hip-hop scene ever since they both—coincidentally—returned to Sacramento in 2014. And about eight months ago, they released their first collaboration track, “Find My Way,” an eclectic, uplifting indie hip-hop song with the pair trading off verses. It planted the seed for their new hip-hop duo, the Precipice, which debuts at the Blue Lamp on Wednesday, March 25.

Expect to hear a little Sparks Across Darkness, a little TIP Vicious and then a little Precipice action, along with a stacked local hip-hop lineup including Charlie Muscle and Brutha Smith.

As Sparks Across Darkness, Giovanini constructs songs like poems, focusing on content, employing literary devices and discussing dark, personal topics. As TIP Vicious, Maciel-Todd speaks his mind in a more straightforward way, preferring to get raunchy, comedic and political. Though different, they both dig the other rapper’s style.

“Tyler’s got a more flow-based approach to his rap,” Giovanini says. “It’s definitely about the flow. He’s got a bit more flair and energy when he delivers, and a lot of stage presence.”

That flair—how Maciel-Todd chooses to enunciate each word—might come from his singing background. On “Find My Way,” the chorus comes from his soulful pipes.

“Anthony’s voice is really unique for hip-hop—that contrast between his sort of monotone voice and his deeper lyrics,” Maciel-Todd says. “His stage performance is just wild. He’s so hyped, but his voice and his music are a little more noire.”

It’s all about contrasts. At the same time, both rappers make small adjustments with the Precipice. Giovanini tones down the emotional vibes while Maciel-Todd tones down the dirty words. Together, they channel a classic, raw feel.

The Precipice’s debut EP is written, and the duo plans to release it before summer hits. They’re already working on songs for the full-length, while also making progress on solo albums they hope to release sometime this year.

And the group name? Maciel-Todd chose it from the 2008 science-fiction movie The Day the Earth Stood Still: “You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right,” says Professor Jacob Barnhardt, played by John Cleese. “But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.”

“I figure with hip-hop, there are so many weird directions it’s going in right now that you either evolve and change to better hip-hop as a community, or be one of those one-hit-wonder, trend-following, crap-rap-style losers,” Maciel-Todd says.

“We’re trying to do something that’s not like everyone else,” Giovanini says. “We’re trying to evolve.”