Have you ever discovered a local band that touched your heart so much they instantly became one of your all-time favorites? Suddenly they’re competing with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, and Outkast for rotation time on MERadio, and eventually you find yourself memorizing their lyrics and album track listings. Then the band breaks up and leaves you with the most awful void a music fan could ever feel, one that can only be filled by marathon listening sessions of what have now become some of your favorite albums and the joy you get from introducing the group to someone who enjoys them as much as you do. No? Just me? The act that inspired the above hypothetical in my life is a hip-hop group from the ATL (that’s Atlanta, GA) called Live On Arrival.
Comprised of Ben Hameen (guitars and vocals), Tommy Wright (drums), Colin Tatum (bass guitar), Austin McMurry (congas), Gordon Thornton (guitar), Ian Shearer (vocals), and RT Steckel (vocals), LOA formed in the early 1990s and quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the underground hip-hop scene in Atlanta. In the vein of The Roots, LOA is a hip-hop group that plays instruments, one set up in a traditional rock format but playing a fusion of reggae, jazz, psychedelic, soul, and hip hop held together by extremely insightful lyrics about everything from smoking blunts to civil rights issues to profound social commentary.
The group’s first album, Live On Arrival, was self-released in 1995 and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest hip-hop albums to ever be recorded. Everything from the music to the way the vocals were delivered was completely new and fascinating to me. Ben Hameen (lead mc/vocalist) would lead you through these very passionate personal allegories, causing you to question society as a whole with one song and then have you bobbin’ your head and tappin’ your feet on the next track.
You often got a sense of vulnerability from Ben, which I think I related to because I was a tween/teen coming into his own at the time, and “vulnerable” was my middle name. It’s very rare in hip hop that you can find a group as serious as cancer one second and as fun as House Party the movie the next, but Live On Arrival pulls it off.
Their second LP, Presentation, was self-released in 1999 and is nothing short of a masterpiece. Whereas their self-titled debut was more of a marrying of various forms of rock and hip hop, Presentation was an embrace of soul and hip hop created using instruments. Presentation was the pinnacle of LOA’s sound. Deep and full of texture both sonically and lyrically, the group had reached another level entirely.
More aware of their role as a “truth rap” group, Ben and LOA set out on Presentation to inform and spread a message of equality for everyone regardless of age, sex, race, or religion. It’s almost like listening to a sociology major’s thesis paper, but it doesn’t get preachy or entitled. The album includes covers of “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder and “Summertime” by George Gershwin, as well as the song “Hold You Close” by neo-soul artist Amanda Williams, who did all the female vocals for the album.
Their third album was also self-released and featured a different lineup then the first two albums. The horns from Presentation were mostly gone and most of the instruments were replaced with traditional hip-hop sounds; it was basically as close as Live On Arrival would ever come to being a “normal” hip-hop group. Perhaps it was a message or perhaps it was just time, but they split shortly after their untitled third LP was released in 2004 and have not played shows or recorded anything together since.
The band split in 2004, but their approach to fusion hip hop not only changed my taste in music, but also destroyed all my preconceived notions of genre roles, what you could and could not do if you played “this” or “that” style of music. Their upbeat and positive messages were contagious, and their brutally accurate social commentary was refreshing to hear because it was presented not only as beautiful music but also as intelligent and concerned activism.
You can download both of Live On Arrival’s LPs for free off their bandcamp site, and I highly recommend that you do so, RIGHT NOW! I promise you one listen through Presentation, and you will fall in love. If you like what you hear and, like me, memorize every song, note, scale, chord, and lyric and just need something new that is related to this band, check out the group that Ben is in now: Collective Efforts, also from Atlanta. They aren’t Live On Arrival, but the “truth rap” element is there, and Ben is there, and that’s enough for me.
If you don’t like the albums, leave me a comment and tell me why! Or if you loved a group that never made it out of their hometown, let me know about them below.
To request original CD or vinyl versions of the records please email firstname.lastname@example.org