The first day of a new year is set aside for reflection and resolutions, a chance to hit refresh, start over and to set off in new, unexpected directions. For local hip-hop collective the Flying Spiders, Jan. 1, 2014, was about all of those things and more: It’s a date that now represents their resurrection.
It had been almost four months since the suicide of local music legend Isamu “Som” Jordan, who founded the Spiders and was the group’s lead emcee. The remaining Spiders refer to Jordan’s death as the “apocalypse”: His voice was so singular and his socially conscious vision for the band so firmly established that they weren’t sure they could forge ahead without him, and they were meeting on that January afternoon to determine whether the Spiders would live on.
“I remember there was a lot of suspense,” said Cameron “Sparky” La Plante, who plays sax, flute and keyboards for the Spiders. “Nobody knew what everybody else was thinking. … We came to that meeting, and that was the first time we’d shared our thoughts with each other.”
They unanimously decided that the best thing to do was to press on, to keep performing as the Flying Spiders and pick up where they had left off. Friday night marks the Spiders’ first show with new material since Jordan’s death, and it serves both as an artistic rebirth and a tribute to the legacy of a friend, artist and collaborator.
They affectionately call Jordan “control freak,” a reference to the title of an old Spiders’ track as well as to his dogged perfectionism.
“If we all do 10 times as much, it would not equal what he did,” said Andrew “Nobe” Hauan, who has taken over as the band’s primary vocalist. “He was the decider, the general. The kind of networking that he was able to do, he was a powerhouse at making sure this thing was moving in a direction.”
The remaining eight members of the Flying Spiders have been working on new music since that January meeting, and Friday’s set won’t feature any tracks from the Spiders’ albums. “To just take Som’s words out and have something else was too hard on those songs,” La Plante said. “We’re not going to perform anything off those EPs for this show, but that doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. Now we get to create new music and bring everything to the table, and that was pushed aside for awhile. That was exciting for us to figure out: What do we want to play? What do we want to create?”
Although their sound hasn’t strayed from the jazz-inflected hip-hop they’re known for, the Spiders say their songwriting process has turned more collaborative without Jordan’s authorial hand leading the way.
“There’s more people talking, which is nice,” said Michael Janson, who raps and beatboxes for the group. “We made it a point to say, ‘If you have something to say, say it.’ Emotions flare from time to time, but in the end, I still love every single one of them and I know it’s reciprocated.”
Now that Hauan has stepped into Jordan’s shoes as the Spiders’ primary rapper, Janson is essentially his backup vocalist and main assist, a role that Hauan once played for Jordan. “The master left, and when the master leaves, usually another master will come up,” Janson said. “I’m a master of beatboxing, but he’s a master of emceeing, so I’m kind of his Padawan in a way.
“It’s a balancing act. Andrew is constantly saying, ‘Man, I remember when I was in that spot,’ because now he’s pressuring me, ‘You gotta write that song. Get that song done.’ ”
“I can feel how frustrated Som must have been with me at the time,” Hauan said. “There’s not a thing I don’t write that before, during and after do I not think about what he would have thought about it. When I first started rapping … he was the first person to give me affirmation that I was doing a good job. It’s like he’s always right behind me.”
Jordan might be physically absent, but his presence lingers, and the grief and confusion that followed his death have drawn the band’s remaining members closer together: They’re not just playing for themselves; they’re playing for Som, too.
“The more we play, the more we practice, the more we keep being the Flying Spiders, the better we’re going to get and the more material we’re going to have,” Janson said. “The relationship is going to be unbreakable.”