On Friday evening in June 2021, saxophonist Alabaster dePlume heard the silky vocals of Karl Benjamin and Elisa Imperilee seeping through the walls of Root73’s recording studio in the Total Refreshment Center in Dalston, London. Inspired, he grabbed his instrument and improvised a spectacular melody for their new track in one take. “He added magic and then screwed up,” says Jaden Osei-Bonsu (AKA Eerf Evil), who co-founded the silhouettes project with Asher Korner (AKA Kosher) for times like these.
With live events and a 2020 debut album that featured over 30 rappers, singers, and producers, the Silhouettes project acts as a mouthpiece for hip-hop, jazz, soul, and R&B artists who might be overlooked by mainstream artists. streaming services and arts funding bodies. . Some of them, like the witty and talkative rapper Enny, have burst into the mainstream.
The excitement over the Silhouettes project was palpable during a sold-out show at Camden’s Jazz Cafe in April: adoring fans had learned all the lyrics during lockdown, and after performers took turns on stage, supported by a group of six people with jazz accents, the night ended with a frenzied frenzied singing. “No one was coming for one person, they were coming for the whole sound,” Eerf Evil says now, smiling as he spreads his long limbs on a studio couch. “These artists may not be making it a playlist on their own, but with the collective energy around the project, people are making it.”
Kieron Boothe, an East London rapper who has been making music professionally since 2014, considers the Silhouettes project a turning point in his career. After releasing no peace, his introspective rap about self-love with the soulful voice of Morgan Lorelle, his monthly listeners on Spotify more than tripled; the track reached over 2.4m of flow. “With the right push, the attention took over,” he says.
“You’re much stronger in any musical movement when there are people doing it together,” adds Nix Northwest, a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, who produced Enny’s song. For the South. He first met the shy singer during a regular Silhouettes jam at the Total Refreshment Centre. “It was like a little update of where everyone was at,” he says. “It felt like a real family atmosphere. Even the first one, when I didn’t know anyone there, I felt welcome and appreciated.”
“It was a really welcoming environment,” admits South London singer Elisa Imperilee. Filled with friendly competitiveness, the rappers spewed livewire rhymes and improvised musicians for an audience of like-minded people. These jams were held every six weeks before the pandemic halted live music. “The pandemic has made me really appreciate what playing live does for your music,” says Imperilee, adding that being able to continue collaborative work in the Studio Root73 “makes you fall in love all over again with why you do what you do”.
Kosher launched Root73 as a nonprofit recording space in 2016, before setting up the Silhouettes project with Eerf Evil in 2019. “We don’t max out and squeeze every penny” from artists, says- he.
He became disillusioned with the music industry when he saw how artists were treated on the basis of race, class and gender, while working for some of the biggest record companies in the Kingdom. -United. Last year, a study revealed that 63% of black music creators in the UK have experienced racism; misogyny and sexual misconduct remain pervasive; and abusive label deals and low streaming revenue don’t provide enough compensation.
“Music is unlike any other salable product,” Kosher says. “His [the artist’s] voice, their heart, their feelings,” and conflict can be created when those feelings are packaged and sold. At the heart of the Silhouettes project, however, is an egalitarian philosophy, where proceeds from any live show or album are divided equally among the creatives involved. “We are not here to abuse, we are here to do something [for artists].”
Streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify accounted for 80% of the UK industry’s total £1.7bn revenue in 2021, and have become tastemakers you have to please. “I feel like the more people at ground level feel it and push it, the more the rigs don’t have an option [but to play us]says Kieron Boothe. “Because you make so much noise, you gain so much traction.” Kosher likens his work to Rinse FM, the once-pirate radio station that played the UK’s most uncompromising grime MCs. “That’s kind of what the Silhouettes project is,” he says. “A place where you can find new artists and engage with a community.”
On a new album, which is due out in September, the artists have taken it up a notch after seeing the dazzling success of the first Silhouettes Project tracks: everyone seems more confident. “It challenges the industry,” says Eerf Evil, “and shows what happens if communities had the resources to create.”