Home > Around Town > Local Rapper Sankofa Hammers Out His New Project, The Silversmiths

Local Rapper Sankofa Hammers Out His New Project, The Silversmiths

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader


In preparing to cover/review the new album A Tandem / of Giants, by semi-local hip-hop group The Silversmiths, I reached out to Stephen Bryden (aka Sankofa), the local part of the group, and asked him to give me a “brief bio.” What he sent me was so. . . well, you’ll see. I found myself unable to chop it up, as doing so would just be like giving 2/3 of a poem by Neruda. I just couldn’t do it. So here’s the brief history of The Silversmiths, according to Bryden:

“In 1996, Sankofa discovered the internet. Not in an Al Gore way, but one of his classes required use of the internet. Back then, Sankofa was called Stephen Eric Bryden. He listened to rap and discovered other people on the internet who not only enjoyed rap, but also posted raps on message boards. Stephen had many embarrassing screen names, the bulk of which are best left to the dustbins of apathy.

Soon in this age of Real Audio, Sankofa was knighted lord of people who use rap words on the internet and gathered about him fine friends well versed in the ways of internet rap words. JON?DOE was one of his crew, a group called the Sons of Zadok. After leaving the internet behind, Sankofa found himself in China with lots of spare time, some mixtapes from his brothers in internet rap words, and a desire to turn his rambling epics of arcane social references with an utter lack of rhythm into actual songs. Because it’s important to have clubs, Stephen proposed a club called Society of NIMH. NIMH consisted of Spon, JON?DOE, Kashal-Tee and some fledgling upstart named Sankofa.

Upon returning to the land of Minnesota, Sankofa refueled with brats and stuff, then flew to Sweden for a 2 week apprenticeship under sensei and all around awesome beer drinking hockey loving rapper Kashal-Tee, took a bath in a huge tub (Swedish bath water is the best!), went back to his mom’s plush digs, then visited JON?DOE.

JON?DOE was a real rapper and even had JON?DOE tattooed on his lower back (this pre-dated the term tramp stamp). JON?DOE taught him more stuff and then Stephen went back to his mom’s house to not pay rent, work graveyard shift fulfilling rebates and answering motorboating chainsmokers who wanted to check in on their Tareyton addiction, all the while saving money to move out to California. As fate would have it, Sankofa/Spon/JON?DOE’s landlady in Los Angeles cherished her Tareytons.

Stephen and Tom met on internet rap message boards late 1996.”

As for the album, at first listen, you can tell that the title A Tandem / of Giants, is appropriate. Both JON?DOE and Sankofa obviously know the other’s style well, and they play off one another to create a two-prong verbal attack that, while definitely at times features one more than the other, is overall an effort by two rappers who work together as equals, with the end product being the most important thing.

For my money, the standout track on the album is the first, “Back at Last.” This song has it all, period. First off, Agent Orange’s stutter-stop beat is as funky as Limburger cheese stuffed inside a month-old pair of socks. JON?DOE kicks off the lyrical part like he’s giving a clinic on verbal styles — hollering like a hype man, then holding back like he’s gearing up for something, before finally launching into sections that make you wonder if he ever breathes, ever. Then, of course, Sankofa jumps in with his unmistakeable baritone, and proceeds to offer up some verbal gymnastics that would make The Gift of Gab blush. “Back at Last” is also fairly representative of the rest of the album. That is, it’s reminiscent of the ‘90s underground style popularized by the likes of Kool Keith, Del tha Funky Homosapien, and, later, The Gift of Gab’s group, Blackalicious.

That’s not to say that A Tandem / of Giants is a one-trick pony. “McLovin’ It” is sort of a cooling-off point on the album — more laid-back, with beats culled from some old soul music, and is more of a ballad dedicated to relationships that don’t work out. “It’s a Monstaaah” has more of a dirty south vibe to it, with thick bass and that constant hi-hat on top that helps give the genre its signature sound.

I have to say, one of the things that endears this album to me is that the fact that it stays away from a lot of the trappings that makes modern hip-hop so boring and, well, bad. Have you heard one Lil Wayne song? Congratulations, you have now heard every Lil Wayne song in existence. So much commercial rap is just that, commercial, and all of it sounds the same. A Tandem / of Giants avoids that model. Agent Orange’s beats come from every area of music, and JON?DOE and Sankofa make it known that they can be laid back and smooth one minute, and downright virtuosic the next. The Silversmiths approach this album like they don’t care what anyone thinks, and in doing so, make something unique and utterly impressive.

More info on The Silversmiths can be found at atandemofgiants.com.

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