The Midnight Hour

Tuesday, Sep. 17, 8 p.m., $25–$40

Motorco Music Hall, Durham

One is a member of hip-hop’s most legendary trio, A Tribe Called Quest. The other is a distinguished producer and composer who collaborated with Ghostface on the concept album Twelve Reasons to Die. Together, they are The Midnight Hour, and they’re coming to Motorco with a ten-piece live band September 17.

Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge share a love for all things hip-hop, soul, and jazz. Previously, they co-produced a track (with vocals by CeeLo Green) that appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered album, which featured unreleased demos from To Pimp a Butterfly. The duo also created the sonic backdrop for the acclaimed but short-lived Marvel superhero show Luke Cage. As they tour their self-titled debut album of “sophisticated hip-hop jazz,” the INDY reached them on a three-way call and learned about how the multi-instrumentalists’ rapport, steeped in classic records and hip-hop culture, allows them to achieve a creative state “separately in unison.”

INDY: How has Luke Cage influenced The Midnight Hour, and how has The Midnight Hour influenced Luke Cage

ADRIAN YOUNGE: Well, The Midnight Hour is just us really being in a room together. We like working with each other because we’re both individually filled with so many ideas, and we like each other’s creative thoughts so much that when we come together, it’s easier for us to go where we’re supposed to go. 

The Midnight Hour essentially started when I was producing The Souls of Mischief album [There Is Only Now] in 2013 and I asked Ali to be a part of it. [When] we stopped Luke Cage, we just said, “You know what, where are we going and how can we take it a little different from Luke Cage?” We put some thoughts together and it became The Midnight Hour, which is something that we like to coin as “sophisticated hip-hop jazz,” professionally.

The two of you have acquired legendary status and collaborated with a number of revered artists, from Kendrick Lamar to Raphael Saadiq. How has your past experience influenced The Midnight Hour album?

AY: I would say all of our music is really influenced by old records that we love. Ali and I started out as DJs—every aspect of our career, every single person that we’ve worked with, our ideas, it’s all derivative from studying the great music that came before us and trying to make new music based on the old standards.

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: First and foremost, we’re fans, and we’re fans who aspire to be great musicians. That’s really what The Midnight Hour has been, us acquiring information and it becoming part of our DNA. We can simply say Curtis Mayfield inspires us, but it’s not like we sat and listened to his music while we were making The Midnight Hour. But the spirit of what he has offered is just part of us now. So now when Adrian and I get together, it all just pours out.

What was the collaboration process like for the album?

ASM: Both Adrian and I play multiple instruments. Usually we’ll sit together, and he may be at the piano. He’ll play his idea and I’ll jump on drums, and we just start building and constructing. Adrian will grab the bass and add on parts and vice-versa, or it could be something where I have a piano idea and I’ll play a part, but Adrian is a way better piano player than I am. I’ll show him what I’m thinking and then he’s like, “Oh, cool, I got it. Let me add this to it.” We just continue to build from there.

The one thing that makes working together really special is that our start as DJs was under the schooling of hip-hop. We have a strong desire to take and innovate the process of what would be a simple four-bar or eight-bar sample. We both have made self-improvements as musicians to learn how to really go outside of a loop. And so when we sit down with these instruments, that’s just us taking a unified approach to making hip-hop music, but then just making great compositions offhand because we both are able to play multiple instruments.

We’re able to [develop our ideas] kind of separately in unison. We think alike, but we would never play the same way. We have different styles of playing the piano, different styles of playing the drums, different styles of playing bass. The starting point is similar, and we know where we both want to end without even speaking. We speak the same language in that regard. But the way we get there is somewhat different. We have a lot of fun. We push each other to be great. It’s great to be in partnership with someone who thinks like you think. For an example, hip-hop drums have to be fat; the bass has to be thick, and there also has to be a soulfulness aspect included—things we don’t have to speak about because we know. We just know what it is.

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