>> Eastman alum Blake Pattengale aims to be “an arbiter of good times and positive energy” with his rap project Redbeard Samurai.
Think of your favorite rap album. What do you love about it? Is it the lyrical genius that ranges from the sophisticated to the larger-than-life arrogant? Or the seamless intertwining of other genres like jazz and funk? Maybe it’s the boom-bap of the kick and snare that finds you helpless in its groove.
Blake Pattengale delivers on all accounts with Redbeard Samurai. As bandleader and creator, he wears many hats: vocalist, MC, producer, and guitarist. Backed by a team of virtuoso musicians known as the JB Dojo, Redbeard Samurai supplies hyped-up party hits that are tempered by playful interludes and introspective, melodic pieces.
The diversity of sound in Redbeard’s tunes conveys Pattengale’s musical upbringing. Growing up in Tennessee, he listened to commercial hip-hop and pop with his Mom. He remembered a seminal moment as a child when he discovered Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” on VHS tape. He joined school band and was enticed by 2000s pop culture, citing Guitar Hero and the movie School of Rock as “two killer influences for me to get into music.” Classic rock infiltrated his high school years, but he also began to take jazz guitar lessons, aspiring to study music in college.
That mission took Pattengale to Concordia University in Montreal, where he studied jazz guitar. Meanwhile, he was lured by the world of underground hip-hop. “My big influence that [made me] want to pursue hip-hop was Deltron 3030. That album was dope,” he avowed. He even made some early freestyle rap attempts in Montreal but tabled his efforts with the genre.
Pattengale transferred to the Eastman School of Music. There he was encouraged by like-minded musicians. He played a show with producer and classmate Jose Escobar and a full backing band, where he rapped on hip-hop covers. “A bunch of people came up to me after that show and were like, ‘I didn’t know you were a rapper!’ It kind of clicked,” Pattengale reflected. That support gave him the confidence to pursue his own project in that vein. Redbeard Samurai was born.
Pattengale worked on original content and assembled a solid core of musicians, AKA the JB Dojo: Eastman’s Max Greenberg and CJ Ziarniak on keyboards/bass and saxophone, respectively, and Nazareth’s Breyana Clark on vocals. Fleshed out and ready to play their original pieces, the group debuted at house parties and became a staple of that scene. They eventually branched out to local venues like ButaPub and Temple Bar. Lux Lounge has become the cherished home base for the group. In fact, Pattengale now writes songs thinking about the crowd at Lux and how the tunes will land there. “Lux has a great culture and its own vibe,” he affirmed. “When I write a song, I picture the energy I want to be conveying at Lux.”
Redbeard Samurai and the JB Dojo are much more than a live band, however. Pattengale and his crew have worked tirelessly to create a commercial-quality studio album and sensory music videos with professional production.
'Second: Banished from Highstrung Falls' is the group’s full-length album that dropped in May. It is a masterful blend of genres ranging from gangster rap to funk, from jazz to alt hip-hop. Even some classical elements are integrated.
“It’s a big process,” Pattengale said of the multi-year development of the album. First, he laid down base tracks with digital audio workstations. Then, he teamed up with Luke Okerlund and other Eastman audio recording engineers for studio sessions. Horn and string players were brought in for backing tracks and pushed out of their musical comfort zones. Pattengale noted the fun challenge of getting classically-trained musicians to make their instruments “sound like [they’re] coming out of a tin can: dirty, nasty, and gritty.”
Next came featured vocalists, like Tanya Iyer of Montreal, and voice actors, like Tyler Beardsley of Los Angeles, both connections of Pattengale’s. Family and friends made cameos in the form of crowd sounds and skits. Finally, Matt Ramerman of Rochester’s Green Room production studio did the mixing and mastering, and Raul Urias of Mexico City created an eye-catching album cover that Pattengale describes as “a work in maximalism.”
As for music videos, the crew can boast of three productions. Their newest video release for the song “Two Timing” dropped October 24. It’s a costumed and braggadocious exploration of party culture. With a “Thriller”-inspired dance scene and extended skits, it’s a quick-paced feast for the senses. The video flaunts a smattering of Rochester sites, from One Nightclub and Brown Hound Downtown to Christ Church and the Liberty Pole.
As Pattengale evolves as a musician, so does his vision for Redbeard Samurai. Much in the way that Quentin Tarantino puts his unique trademark on standard film genres, Pattengale seeks to put his stamp on different music genres like 70’s soul and funk. He is keenly aware of the artistic process and pulls inspiration from unlikely sources such as Mozart and Beethoven. “I’m trying to stretch and constantly evolve the process,” he explained.
For now, expect any live encounter with the group to have you on your feet and “engaging with the music in a visceral way.” Redbeard Samurai and the JB Dojo play with Lost Wax Collective at Lux on November 1. <<