If you like jazz bands and you like hip-hop, you'll enjoy the smooth sound of The Mouse Outfit, the finest nine-piece hip-hop collective to play their way out of Manchester, UK.
The first time I heard their music, I was hunting for a pair of Air Max 90s on a British sneaker blog and I figured there was nothing more appropriate then listening to a song called 'Air Max' while shopping for sneaks. I clicked their video and was so impressed by the soulful sounds of their trumpet I abandoned the shoe hunt for a Mouse Outfit marathon. Dope tracks were aplenty but I wanted to learn more about these talented English blokes and the net proved insufficient. I decided to interview them myself.
According to Defty - bassist, videographer, and one of two original masterminds behind MO - the group started as the in-house act for "In The Loop", a hip hop jam where Manchester's local rappers came to freestyle over MO's live band. If I were a rapper I'd kill to freestyle over two saxes, a trumpet, a bass, guitar, and some drums or in the very least I'd pay to see it live. And as Defty explains to me over e-mail, "Our focus initially was much more on the live show than studio material."
It was only about three years ago that MO started to put out fully produced tracks on their Youtube account instead of live recordings of their shows. Since then many of their slickest tracks have been accompanied by some equally wavy visuals, garnering the best of their music videos hundreds of thousands of views.
In May 2013 MO released the 19-track 'Escape Music' on Bandcamp which UK hip-hop blogs received with heavy praise. It went on to win music magazine Wordplay UK's Hip Hop Album Of The Year award, was listed as one of ABC News' top 50 albums of 2013, and received a deal from Germany-based label HHV to be released on vinyl a few months later. Huge accolades for a band whose members mostly work day jobs on the side. "We knew that we had some great tracks," says Defty. "But we never thought that the response would be so positive and immediate."
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The Mouse Outfit's sound is a fusion of soul, funk, reggae and the undeniable smoothness of classic jazz sampling reminiscent of golden age big city hip-hop, perfectly executed. It's clear at first listen the group laid its foundation in live performance; there's an audible unity in their tracks only a collective of experienced musicians can achieve. Their roster of lyricists include Dr. Syntax, Truthos Mufasa, Dubbul O, Black Josh and Sparkz - all heavyweights in the UK rap scene - who offer quippy and masterful wordplay over instrumental blending perfection. The result: easy-listening tracks that actually have something to say. It's a throwback to the classier appeal of old school jazz hip-hop and to artists like Guru, Freestyle Fellowship, The Roots and Buckshot Lefonque, all songwriters who've received "plenty of airplay in the Mouse Outfit HQ over the years." As for being a component of that 90s sound comeback, the band says they're "happy to be a part of it."
Since the success of 'Escape Music', these melodic Mancunians (Manchester folk, apparently) have quickly moved onward to gain further footing as major players in the EU's underground hip-hop scene. In September they performed at Outlook Festival in Croatia, sharing lineup cridentials with legends like Busta Rhymes and Lauryn Hill. In December they delivered 'Born Lupers EP', an unsurprisingly smooth 8-tracker with American rapper Mattic, available on Bandcamp. A new album, 'Step Steadier', is slated for February with UK tour dates to be announced in March.
As Defty tells me, "There are surprisingly few egos for a band our size!" With quality music, clean visuals, and an endearingly candid and humble online presence, The Mouse Outfit is a group of honest artists I don't mind throwing my weight behind. "The next step for us is to try and make The Mouse Outfit a full time job," says Defty. "Some of us still have day jobs and would all love to dedicate all our time to producing new music." I have no doubt these musicians will continue to impress and can only cross my fingers they'll one day breach the greater North American consciousness. Their response to whether Toronto will ever be a tour destination:
Hook us up! We have a few shows in New York in the pipeline but we're concentrating on Europe at the moment just because taking a 9 piece band to North America is quite a big undertaking. A US tour is part of the plan at some point so if that happens we could make the short trip up to Toronto.
I guess it's up to me. Stay tuned.