Great songs, or memorable songs at least, tend to be timeless. Something about them captures not only the essence of the times in which they were written, but also something deeper that taps into the collective consciousness -- the great and indescribable experience of life. They seem to come out of nowhere, and it's hard to imagine a time when they didn't exist.
Right now, somewhere in Broken Arrow, a pair of performers is quietly piecing together an album of songs they hope will stand the test of time. They call themselves The Decades -- a name the members say reflects their desire to cherry pick the best aspects of all genres of music -- not only of their generation, but of just about everything that's come before.
At its core, The Decades is a hip-hop group comprised of two performers with their own musical histories. Matt McLean is a 31-year-old who calls himself "Mister Popeye." Karl Poplion, 22, goes by his initials "KP." Both have performed as solo artists in the past, and it was at one of Popeye's shows about a year ago that the pair met.
"I was playing a solo gig in Kansas City and KP came to see the show," Popeye said. "I liked his style and he liked mine."
The two stayed in touch, and KP eventually came down to Tulsa to jam with Popeye. It wasn't long before they'd written their first song together -- a synth-laden club-banger called "Berserk." Despite its generic and occasionally crude lyrics, the song had a tight groove and was musically strong enough to keep the group moving forward. It also laid the groundwork for future collaboration, and proved the two performers could work to bring their separate styles together.
"I'm more of a traditional rocker, while KP is more hip-hop," Popeye said. "Sometimes we clash, but sometimes we come together and I'll be more hip-hop and he'll be more rock. We're both suckers for ballads, or more emotional songs."
In September 2010, The Decades released its first album -- a self-titled mix of songs the emcees had written separately for their previous solo acts, along with a few new tracks the pair had written together. The group has since played shows around the country, but has yet to play in Tulsa. They've instead been spending their time writing and recording their second album, The Next Generation, which is due out in May.
"We figure people will assume the title is some sort of Star Trek reference, so we're going to play into that," Popeye said. "KP's going to dress up like LeVar Burton and I'll be in some other costume. We figure if people are going to make the connection, we might as well clown a little bit and make it first."
The Decades record most of their music at Popeye's Cheerz 2 U studio and record label in Broken Arrow.
Popeye's had the company for close to eight years now and has recorded all kinds of artists -- everything from hip hop to rock n roll to an old lady with a sitar. These days, though, he uses the studio mostly for The Decades, trying to hone the group's sound into something more sophisticated than their earlier efforts.
"I stand by our early stuff," Popeye said, "But we're trying to make it classier now." At 31, he says he's experienced a lot and would like to be a good role model for younger artists. Popeye surprised me during our interview by mentioning the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and his role in making cleaning up the band's early, scruffy stage presence by dressing them in suits.
"I had a Brian Epstein moment," he said. "If I'm going to be classy -- if that's what I want to be -- then it's time for me to walk the walk and not just talk the talk."
Popeye and KP hope to expand their role as mentors in the future, and are planning to work with fellow artists Playya 1000 and The Deeksta to take a positive hip hop message off the streets and into schools, camps and other organizations.
"I want to show kids that instead of taking the drug route or the crime route, you can turn to music -- and not necessarily rap or hip-hop even. Just channel that energy into something positive," Popeye said.
2011 promises to be a busy year for The Decades. The group is planning a big tour after the album comes out, and already has a few shows booked, including one in Ohio and one in England at a London pub.
Local shows are also planned, but dates and venues have yet to be selected. Before any of that can happen, they've got to finish auditions for their third member -- a DJ to play their backing tracks and some additional live parts.
The Decades hope to eventually have a song on the charts in every genre, including country. It's a big goal, but one the group certainly has the enthusiasm to pull off. Will they be able to successfully harness the power of so many different musical eras and use it to create something unique and meaningful? Only time will tell.
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