The Beast’s feature story in The Indepenent

Check out this article on The Beast, featured in The Independent… (wasn’t I just talking about my alma mater, EK Powe?)


Even as a kindergartner at Durham’s E.K. Powe Elementary School, Pierce Freelon loved hip-hop. Rather than adoring the tunes of his mother, Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon, he idolized those of LL Cool J. But as a preteen, he accompanied her on tours of Japan and Finland. Everything changed.

“I knew it would change him in many ways,” Nnenna says. “Traveling allows you to see yourself through other people’s eyes and can expand your notion of what it means to be you.”

“Her show was full of people old enough to be my grandma,” Pierce jokes. “It could have been the antithesis of cool, but kicking it with the musicians and getting to experience what it’s like to live on the road … really gave me an appreciation for the life of a live musician. Every room, every instrument, every vibe had its own character and brought a different type of performance from my mom and her band.”

Freelon delved into records by Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny when he returned to America, but his first foray into music was hip-hop. He formed the group Language Arts just before college with fellow Bull City emcee Aden Darity. During a collaboration with Raleigh brass band Children of the Horn, the trio broke from its usually DJ-dependent instrumentation.

“It was kind of an epiphany,” Freelon remembers. “I didn’t realize at the time that it would be the direction that I would end up taking musically with The Beast, but it was so different and invigorating.”

The Beast is Freelon’s exploratory, enthusiastic quartet that welds jazz and hip-hop in bold, socially aware maneuvers. Freedom Suite, the group’s new and incredibly rich third record, pushes the group well past its previous limits, wrangling an all-star list of collaborators into an album that’s interested in the past, present and future of hip-hop. One of the most exciting acts on the Triangle circuit, The Beast’s inclusive vision was born of serendipitous circumstances.

In 2008, Freelon was finishing his master’s at Syracuse University. His thesis presentation—Sankofa: Pan-African Migrations in Hip-Hop Music and Culture—needed live musicians, so he asked childhood friend Stephen Coffman for help. A drummer for area outfits like the Michael Jackson tribute band Who’s Bad and salsa ensemble Orquesta GarDel, Coffman also studied in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s jazz studies program. He recruited two classmates with whom he often played, bassist Peter Kimosh and pianist Eric Hirsh, to join him for Freelon’s thesis.

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Published on February 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm. 1 Comment.
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