To the last snare
Davis hip-hop crew Nostalgic Progression creates novel structures from a seamless web of obscure jazz and funk loops
Dante looked surprised. Milin was late, but once he got there, he had pretty much the same look on his face. They were surprised to be sitting in the coffee shop, to be answering questions about themselves and their music while a tape recorder picked up every word.
As MC Mr. Milin and beat conductor Il Dante, two-thirds of emerging Davis hip-hop trio Nostalgic Progression, they should get used to the attention. Their first album, Phonograph Timepod, debuted at No. 37 on the CMJ hip-hop chart, and positive word of mouth has kept sales brisk.
“It’s totally unexpected from our part,” Dante said. “All we’re doing is making music. There’s a guy that downloaded our CD off the Internet, and it ends up he’s the webmaster for Solesides.com. So, he put a link on Solesides to our Web site in bold letters that’s like, ‘Check this out.’ People are actually listening to it and liking it.”
The sudden success may be surprising, but it’s no fluke. Along with Recluse—Augustin Nguyen, who handles half the group’s production duties—Milin Ratanasen and Dante Salvetti have spent the last three years putting Phonograph Timepod together.
“The first day of college,” Dante explained, “I met up with Milin and Augustin at DJ Riff Raff’s radio show. We started talking about different things, about hip-hop, and we kind of just met up at Augustin’s house the next week and started clipping beats.”
Having to balance music with school and work, the transition from making beats and rhymes to making an album was a gradual one. Each member worked at his own pace, motivated by a growing curiosity about each other and the group’s music. “We went track by track; we didn’t conceptualize it at first,” Milin said. “This is a total collaboration between the MC and the producer. They have total say on the beats and the audio landscape, how it was constructed and everything like that.”
Dante and Recluse put that landscape together meticulously, arguing, as Dante put it, “to the last snare.” The result is a seamless mix, wedding obscure jazz and funk loops to intricate rhythmic structures. For Milin, making music was a learning process. “At first, I was just into that MC aspect,” he said. “I didn’t know how a beat was made. I didn’t know how a DJ scratched. I learned a lot from Dante and Recluse, just listening to KDVS. A lot of that went into the songs. It’s really important in hip-hop to always be looking back.”
Looking back and moving forward: Milin is a versatile lyricist, shifting easily from elaborate narratives to passionate political polemics. Vocals from honorary fourth member Prophecy round things out, along with spoken word by Three4 and violin by James Terry, paired with Dante on a brilliant instrumental. The result is a diverse sound that rocks hard and leaves plenty for hip-hop heads to deconstruct.
After making Phonograph Timepod, Nick Glass stepped in, signing the group to Samplistic Records and pushing the album heavily. Things started falling into place, but the group knows it won’t all be this easy. Recluse is already in pharmacy school, and Milin plans to go to medical school, but the guys know it takes hard work, such as constant touring and promoting, to sustain a career.
“Personally, I feel as if we’re going to continue doing this for as long as we can,” Milin concluded. “I’ll always be able to write, and he’ll always be able to make beats.”
Dante agreed. “Actually needing to be in the same room, in contact, is very limited,” he said. “Recluse has been in San Francisco for the last year, and it hasn’t slowed anything down. It’s all about the music and the friendships that grew out of that. There’s no doubt in my mind: If I have a beat, I’ll shoot it to Mil, and he can do what he wants with it lyrically because I know it’s going to be a quality product.”