Ethel Bobcat, the first album from the hip hop duo known as &More (rapper Chill Moody & vocalist Donn T.) comes out on April 5th. For many people it might end up being the soundtrack for the summer of 2019. In any case, it’s one of those increasingly rare albums that should appeal across generations of hip hop listeners (and fans of R&B), recognizable and nostalgic for those who grew up with the music in the 80s, and relevant to today’s massive audiences. Melodic, funky, & conscious, &More casts a backward glance to Sly & the Family Stone and embraces nearly everything since, especially 80s & 90s British neo soul and its American counterparts. Depending on the track, Donn T’s vocals evoke Roberta Flack or Caron Wheeler, while Chill Moody’s style hearkens back to Eric B and PRT-era Wise Intelligent. An old school vibe permeates the sound - imagine if you will a mash-up of Poor Righteous Teachers and Loose Ends, spiked with a bit of Public Enemy. (Chuck D introduces the album’s final cut, “Whoa”).
Bilal turns up on “War,” a track built on a sample of War’s “The World is a Ghetto.” “War” might best encapsulate the contrasts and conflicts that makes Ethel Bobcat such an immediately inviting album — a mix of ennui, hope, frustration, and positivity that reaches for something akin to a state of grace amid turmoil and sticks it with an irresistible groove. Of the album’s 9 tracks, only “4ever 1st Lady,” a tribute to Michelle Obama, somehow fails to convincingly hit its mark. The closing cut (and first single), “Whoa,” might roll through your head for days. The first minute is given over to Chuck D, recapping who (the fictional) Ethel Bobcat was and what/who she represents, before Donn T and Chill Moody get into a musical yin and yang about hate and love over a “Funky Drummer”-style beat that had me hitting the repeat button half a dozen times.
After garnering some great press over their appearance at SXSW, &More will be appearing on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Monday, March 25 before kicking off a tour that comes to Songbyrd in DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood on March 30th (all ages welcome). In all likelihood, they’ll never perform at venues this small again. Check them out:
3/31: Brooklyn, NY - Brooklyn Bowl
4/1: New Haven, CT - Cafe Nine
4/9: Toronto, ON - Horseshoe Tavern
4/10: Syracuse, NY - Wescott Theater
4/11: Boston, MA - Middle East
4/12: Portsmouth, NH - Music Hall Loft
4/13: Portland, ME - Portland Empire
4/26: Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda’s
6/2: Nashua, NH - Riverwalk Cafe
6/3: Brattleboro, VT - Stone Church
7/26: Lakehurst, NJ - Joint Base
8/2-4: Happy Valley, OR - Pickathon
8/23: Durham, NC - Durham Central Park
Here’s &More’s official bio, furnished by the Missing Piece Group:
When it comes to the dynamic between rapper Chill Moody and singer Donn T, the two couldn’t be more aligned. The Philadelphia-based musicians, who met at an industry party in late 2016, knew of each other’s music prior to their first encounter, but soon decided to share ideas with one another in the studio and independently came to the same conclusion: to form a group and create along the same wavelength.
“There are a lot of instances of finishing each other's sentences or those unspoken things,” explains Chill. “Right now, music is the vessel we’re using to advance the message of inspiration, motivation, healing and upliftment,” adds Donn T. “But, at the core, that’s who we both are. So, it’s not surprising for us to have some kind of community service initiative or social justice effort connected to our shows or the music, something or other that we’re a part of, that helps make our surroundings, the world or maybe just one person’s life, better. That’s key.”
Debuting as &More (Chill Moody & Donn T) at the annual Roots Jam Session last January in the lead-up to Grammy week, the pair settled on a band name in reference to festival lineups that state “and more” at the bottom of fliers. (“I could be ‘and more’ one day, just joking along with that,” says Chill.) But &More’s missive is grounded in the times, surveying the world at large and exploring a variety of topics along a political and societal spectrum. It’s a perspective that drives their debut album Ethel Bobcat, inspired by the maternal figure in black communities who kept the neighborhood under her purview and offered sagacity where needed.
“What she represented is what we felt we were missing in music and our communities now,” says Chill. “When that figure is no longer, we gotta understand the correlation in the fact that there are no more old heads in the neighborhood looking out for that.” “We now all have to be Ethel Bobcat,” adds Donn. “But the music,” continues Chill, “is Ethel Bobcat. So the album is what Ms. Ethel would be saying to you.”
Ethel Bobcat, released via D-Tone Victorious/nicethingsMUSIC and distributed through The Orchard, is a testament to &More’s intent. The set, touting production from Jake Morelli (Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars) and Ben “iAMBNJMiiN” Thomas (Jazmine Sullivan, Ty Dolla $ign), as well as guest appearances from Chuck D and Bilal, coasts on Donn T’s velvet-lined vocals and Chill’s multifaceted rhymes against a hip-hop-meets-soul backdrop. Lead single “My Own Light,” which premiered on Okayplayer in early 2018, embraces self-love in the wake of heartbreak and the realization that moving on can lend itself to epiphany. Standouts include the soul-speckled “This Is War” featuring Bilal, a rebuff to those close to you who you learn don’t have the best of intentions, while the molasses-coated “4ever 1st Lady” pays homage to Michelle Obama—“the ultimate Ethel Bobcat,” says Donn T, who joined Chill as &More to open for her at College Signing Day in Philadelphia last May.
Prior to joining together as &More, Chill and Donn respectively built notable careers as solo artists. Chill, who has released several albums including last year’s West Chilly II and his 2013 debut RFM (Running From Myself), was voted “Best Rapper” in Philadelphia Magazine’s annual Best of Philly issue, named Philadelphia’s Music Ambassador and is a member of The Philadelphia Music Industry Task Force, created by Philadelphia Councilman David Oh and Mayor Jim Kenney. Meanwhile, Donn released her album Flight of the Donn T in 2015, earning her a nod for CBS Grammy Artist of Tomorrow the following year. Her music has been featured in Ava Duvernay’s BET film I Will Follow, as well as Lifetime’s With This Ring starring Jill Scott, Eve and Regina Hall.
With 2019 performances including dates in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and a slot on Oregon’s Pickathon Festival, &More is focused on spreading its message of social purveyance with Ethel Bobcat, in hopes that it makes listeners more aware of the world around them. “I want the project to speak to the ones who may be stuck just doing the same day to day, getting by, trying to get the coin, understanding your purpose is bigger than you may even know,” says Chill. “When you're on a platform, you've got to use it for something worthwhile or take a step off of it and make room for some people.”
“I hope that it motivates people to get active, where they are, makes them question,” says Donn T. “We’re all questioning, but I want Ethel Bobcat to inspire folks to get up and do something somewhere, to take a step and make a difference out there. The fight we’re in, will take all of us, it has no sidelines.”