It starts with a slinky, syncopated drumbeat drifting through the quiet Harlem air, filtered by the thick wall of a secluded log house.
A little closer and the bass can be heard, weaving in and out of the percussion track. Closer still and shards of muted trumpet and piano, electronically filtered so they sound like lost music from a forgotten ballroom, become audible.
And then Mike Parker and Nick Davis, who record and perform under the monikers MCK2 and Shorty Raw begin to rap.
The duo's lyrics, like their music, defy many of the given rules of hip-hop. They don't detail life in Compton, Calif., or gangs or girls or guns. Instead, they confront issues and try to teach a positive lesson.
"It's something that happened naturally," said Mr. Davis, leaning against the small sampler and mixing board where, over a period of 10 months, he and his partner recorded their new, self-released CD The Art of Reflective Evolution. "We didn't come in saying we wanted to be positive. It came from the chemistry and energy that we have together. We wrote together, and we made beats together. And this is the product of those creative energies."
Given the approach the pair took toward recording, the album sounds remarkably clean. They credit painstaking patience and the discovery of an interesting acoustic chamber for the sound.
"This is where we recorded all the vocals," Mr. Parker said, motioning to a closet containing shirts, pants and a microphone stand. "What we knew is how we wanted this record to sound. It took 10 months, sure, but we have a positive CD that doesn't sound like anything on the radio."
Mr. Parker said that the true magic behind the project comes not from the electronic manipulation of sound or the positive message or even the closet. It comes from the relationship he shares with Mr. Davis, whom he met when they both performed in the local act Infinite Cycle.
"Nick and I seem to have what you might call a musical soul connection," he explained. "Even when we create things separately and then bring them together, we find we're still on the same page."
Mr. Davis said that the sound of the CD, which is notably jazzy, was as much a surprise to him as anyone. Something of a jazz novice, he wrote music to please himself and has only recently discovered the similar tones and beats of Duke Ellington and others.
"What I try to do is find a horn from here and a piano here and a bass there," he said. "I'm challenged by being creative with snippets of sound. It turns out the results are jazzy, and so now I've become very interested in that."
Mr. Parker said he tends to avoid labeling the music as jazzy or positive, preferring to let the listeners decide.
"It's funny, because when we tell people this is positive hip-hop, they shy away, thinking this is religious rap or something like that. I think what it is, if anything, is conscious hip-hop. It comes from who we are."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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