Chart-topping Floridian figures like DJ Khaled, Trick Daddy, and Rick Ross have all but guaranteed the Sunshine State a seat at the table when it comes to representing the South’s role in popular rap music of the past few decades. But anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Florida can tell you that just as the state itself has more to offer than the popular South Beach stereotypes, the scope of hip-hop that is created there goes beyond the sound of the most popular artists whose music expands onto the national radar.
There’s probably no better example of said phenomenon than Asamov, the Jacksonville-quartet, whose lone 2005 full-length And Now… (6 Hole Records) stands as one of the more overlooked albums from indie hip-hop’s renaissance era. Similar to the way in which North Carolina’s Little Brother boldly embraced a musical aesthetic that betrayed the status quo of the region from which they came, Asamov’s brand of hip-hop was decidedly more boom-bap-friendly than what audiences up North might have expected from a collective that called Florida home.
Powered by the sample-heavy production of group member Willie Evans, Jr., the brothers Asamov—J-One-Da, Basic, and Therapy (now known as Paten Locke)—treated the songs on And Now… with a fun, loose vibe that saw the four emcees seamlessly trading bars with one another from verse to verse, harkening back to the type of group interplay that was rare then and damn near non-existent today.
And they weren’t alone in their mission. And Now… also featured production from then-ascending producer/6 Hole labelmate 9th Wonder, as well as guest spots from J-Live, Wordsworth, Akrobatik, Cassidy, and Mr. Lif, who was featured on lead single “Supa Dynamite”—a song that flipped the same sample that Jay-Z and Alicia Keys would use on their enormous hit “Empire State of Mind” four years later.
When Paten Locke relocated to Jacksonville from Chicago-by-way-of-Boston in 1995, the music of buzzed-about Willie Evans, Jr. immediately caught his attention.
“That, to me, was the sound of Jacksonville. I hadn’t quite heard that take on sampling; that dude is just Southern, and there was such a great emphasis on being funky,” Paten recalls. “A lot of indie hip-hop from that era just had a lot of stiffness going on. Willie and I talked a lot about what it means to be funky—interjecting humor, being very rhythmic, and just trying to swing as much as possible in all aspects.”
“Everything we did was just fun and natural. We didn’t tend to overthink things. The way we put out music was never forced,” he continues. “I think that a lot of that had to do with the fact that Willie made a particular sound of hip-hop that we all liked and it was its own thing. I imagine it’s what it was like with J Dilla and the people who grew up with him.”
In the midst of working on his second local release and intrigued by the rapper/producer/DJ triple-threat vibes that Paten brought to the table, Willie and his roommates J-One-Da and Basic began collaborating more frequently on newer material. Though the group never explicitly set goals to record an album together, things organically evolved to the point that they collectively caught the interest of 6 Hole CEO/ex-MLB player Desi Relaford. After signing a record deal and releasing their debut, Asamov hit the road, bringing their brand of hip-hop to audiences across the country.
“Out West, they have always showed love. I think that’s because they looked at us like the up-and-coming outsiders like they were at one point. In the Northeast, there were a lot of folded arms, like ‘who are these clowns?’” Willie says. “We were used to not always getting love and not really caring about that. Jacksonville is a very fickle city in terms of appreciating any art form, but very specifically hip-hop. Because we were making a kind of hip-hop that didn’t fit with the scene, we knew how to just do our thing and win audiences over.”
It’s at this point that we reach the “Behind The Music” Act II Break part of the Asamov narrative. Coming off their breakout year in which they snagged national coverage from Billboard, URB Magazine, Okayplayer, and HipHopSite—who named Asamov “Rookies of the Year” in their 2005 year-end review—a bizarre cease-and-desist order from the estate of science-fiction author Isaac Asimov not only resulted in a halt on new retail orders for And Now…, but also forced the group to officially change their moniker to The AB’s (The Alias Brothers).
“Looking backwards, I think that the cease and desist took the wind out of our sails. We pivoted, but I think that not everybody pivoted mentally,” says Willie. “My thinking was, ‘let’s change the name and keep going.’ Some of us were down, and some of us were maybe a little less enthusiastic. We started working on new stuff, and essentially we got pulled off course as offers for individual deals started popping up. And I think what happened is that we all sort of winded up taking the path of least resistance.”
Willie shifted his focus to a solo album to be released via 2007’s Rawkus 50 deal, an initiative that saw the historical indie powerhouse provide digital distribution and endorsement for 50 underground artists. Paten also released a project through said initiative with his side project the Smile Rays, while Basic and J-One-Da shifted their focus into launching their b-boy-centric Bofresco clothing line. Though half a dozen Asamov Alias Brothers songs for the second album were finished or close to completion, the dynamic had shifted when it came time to reconvene.
“We were all in different mental spaces, both artistically and life-wise,” says Willie. “When we made the first album, we all basically either lived together or saw each other every day, but along the way, everyone seemed to shift their laser beam focus towards their particular thing.”
But unlike those same “Behind The Music” groups whose dissolution stems from internal tension or drama, Asamov’s members are all still friends and frequent collaborators. The Bofresco clothing line is still active and Paten and Basic continue to DJ both in Jacksonville and across the globe. Willie has put out solo projects both instrumental and as a rapper (the most notable being his 2011 Introducin’ album via High Water Music), and he and Paten also create music in their own newer group, Dumbtron. Paten, meanwhile, has put out solo records, is one half of southern hip-hop duo Full Plate, and has toured/collaborated with the likes of Edan, Mr. Lif, and Black Sheep.
“I definitely feel like if we made another record, it would have put us more in the conversation. But as a person doing it in a group, I can only be happy with whatever the experience was, good or bad,” says Paten. “Throughout the whole process, I remember thinking that it was always more important to be friends than to do anything else. For me, if I can still bug out and laugh with these cats, then I’m good. They’re my favorite dudes, and I was lucky to be able to hang out and create with them. I’m very proud of what everybody’s doing now. If we really thought about it, we all could have predicted how things would turn out because we’re all following the path of the temperament that we all displayed at the time.”
Though the members of Asamov have a refreshingly centered and grounded take on the course of the group’s career, they do also agree that And Now… represents a special place in time for their journey in music—and more importantly, their personal lives. Because the four of them continue to have an active presence in one another’s paths, the idea of a reunion isn’t exactly a pipe dream, either.
“Of course I want to make music with them again, because what we make together is not something I can do by myself,” says Willie. “If the opportunity presented itself again, I would jump on it with the quickness, but at this point I wouldn’t care if anybody bought it or downloaded or listened to it. We all still talk and doing it again would be something that I would love, but I’m generally happy with what we’re all doing now. My friendship with them is far more important. We can never make music again as long as I can call one of them and cuss them out whenever I want to.”
“But if they came in right now and said they want to rap, I definitely got beats.”