Pittsburgh's hip-hop scene has been largely a local phenomena until blowing up recently, and in the long run that's probably been a good if often frustrating fact of life for the region's urban music scene. It never developed into a single genre, but sent offshoots in several directions; gangsta, party, social, and fusion, a smorgasbord of sound that stimulated rather than stifled local artists.
Several Pittsburgh acts have gotten varying degrees of national love - Wiz Khalifa, Sied Chahrour, Mac Miller, Jasiri X - and another isn't far behind that pack: Formula 412.
The crew has been duly recognized in City circles; they've won five Pittsburgh Hip-Hop awards, including 2011's "Best Group" honor. Last month, they released the album "Reality Show," and it had quite a lead-in for a hip-hop release. The usually staid Pittsburgh City Council proclaimed April 12th (yah, 4-12; who sez Council doesn't bother with the details?) as "Formula 412 Day."
It fit; all the band members are Pittsburgh bred and raised. The crew consists of: Masai Turner – vocals, songwriter, MC (Strict Flow), Byron “Nasty Nash” – guitar (Sporadic), Akil Esoon – keyboards (BEAM), “Bigg Cliff” Foster – bass (Sho’Nuff), and Dennis Garner Jr. – drums (various gospel groups).
The band formed in 2006. The players had all crossed paths on stages across the local urban circuit and were looking to put together their own unique beat, having backgrounds in rap, R&B, jazz and gospel. That's part of the reason for their name - "Formula" is from the mixing of their various styles, while the 412 (area code) reps where they come from.
The band’s music is undeniably hip-hop, but instead of the usual bass & drum-heavy rhythm thump, they use guitar riffs, jazz/rock drumming and the keyboards to create a more eclectic sound, ranging from funk to rock. It's not Run DMC/Aerosmith (think Roots), but the fusion carves out a niche Formula 412 doesn't share with many urban acts.
Their songs range anywhere from autobiographic to socially conscious to life's observations as themes; they're not just instrumentally new-school, but topically, too.
If there's one thing that all Pittsburgh groups, no matter what genre, share as a storyline, it's that nothing ever comes easy. The crew isn't represented by a major label, and all the back room chores - production, marketing & sales, bookings - are handled by the band and friends.
The good thing is that artistic control of the product is guaranteed; the downside is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and expenses can eat through a day job paycheck in a New York minute.
Formula 412 knows the business drill, though. They primed the pump for "Reality Show" by releasing a pair of tracks on vid beforehand: "Step to the Rear," shot on a PAT bus rolling through the City, and "Got to Give," filmed at the old USX Carrie Furnace site.
The crew has gotten their music to the public by utilizing the 21st century template of iTunes, Amazon, and other digital outlets. Of course, they have their own web page, smart phone app and Twitter account.
They've managed to get their show on the road, too, performing recently as the opening act for groups like Method Man, 50 Cent, N.E.R.D and Busta Rhymes. The group will kick off the College Music Journal Conference in New York this fall (they're heavy into college tours). And on June 9th at 7:30, they'll play on the Dollar Bank Stage in Point State Park as part of the Three Rivers Art Festival.
Wiz is there, Slim has been there; Mac is on his way and Jasiri is kicking on the door. Now Formula 412 is on the verge of adding their name to Pittsburgh's national crews.
Formula 412 - "Step To the Rear"