The Genre-Bending Sound of BadBadNotGood is Better Than Ok

Although the four members of BADBADNOTGOOD  probably look more like Dungeons and Dragons nerds than thuggish beat creators, the last several years of success in the hip-hop world has done a lot to shatter stereotypes. Though they’re not afraid to shy away from them, or even embrace them. The video for “Lavender” featuring Kaytranada  off their new album VI depicts the band shackled to a card table in a garage playing a seriously twisted game of D&D that’s almost as mind bending as the music they create. But regardless of how they’re perceived, for these baby-faced jazz heads from Toronto, it’s always just been about the music.
“I guess early on we ended up playing hip-hop covers because it was an easy way to get to know each other and get more comfortable with playing together because of time constraints since we all were in school when we first met,” bassist Chester Hansen says. Hansen’s band, consisting of Matthew Tavares (keyboard), Alexander Sowinski (drums), and recently confirmed permanent fourth member Leland Whitty (sax/guitar) made a name for themselves by combining a unique and distinct blend of modern jazz and hip-hop rhythms.  This then led to them working with artists like Ghostface Killah, Tyler the Creator, and Kali Uchis.

Over the past few years the band have slowly switched towards only doing original music and writing all kinds of different stuff, and working with different people, combine pretty much everything they listen to.  “It doesn’t really matter, we love so many different kinds of music, it ends up being a crazy mix,” Hansen says.

In a genre that has been taking over by samples and loops churned out by recording devices, BBNG is a live ensemble of four guys academically trained in the Toronto area, spawned from jazz, spurned on by their mutual love of hip-hop.  “We bonded over our love for hip-hop, and jazz as well, but more specifically hip-hop because not everyone in school was listening to it, or as up onto the new stuff as we tried to be,” Hansen says. “So that was our common thing.”

The quartet signed by LA label Innovative Leisure brings their musical mind trip to The Observatory Saturday, February 25th as they work through a short California stint after being all around the world touring in support of their most recent album, IV. Released last summer, the album signals a major step in recognition for the band, and was even selected as BBC Radio 6 Music’s #1 album of the year. Prior to that, their third album, aptly titled III, saw the band finally lock down a process of songwriting and trying to put a bunch of songwriting ideas together.

“I guess the biggest difference is our boundaries expanded,” Hansen says. “Now, one of us could be on xylophone, one of us could be on piano, violin, whatever.  It doesn’t really matter, any combination of instruments.  We’ll come up with an idea and instead of being like, ‘it’s done,’ sometimes it can go through ten different versions.”

Their perfectly present manner of score-like composing includes constructing waves of vibe mixed with a weighty mood—somber but light, melting like acid but still structured, gentle but forceful, demented yet ethereal.  However you describe the sonic scenes they set with their compositions, it is causing hip-hop, rock, soul, and electronic lyricists and producers alike to collaborate and create some of their most poignant work, including Kaytranada, Sam Herring of Future Islands, and rapper Mick Jenkins.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to how we meet people, but I think we generally prefer to work with those that we have kind of hit it off with, and ideally we’ve met before we get into the studio,” Hansen says. “We love tons of different people and whoever comes our way, we’re down for it.”

BadBadNotGood perform with Hodgy and Landon O’Connor at The Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana (714) 957-0600,, Sat. Feb. 25, 7 p.m. $20, all ages.

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