On the heels of a glowing weekend at The Essence Festival, Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands announced a new album is on the way. “The Urban Hymnal” is a gospel album produced by Gospel recording artist “Sir The Baptist” and executive produced by Grammy award-winning producer Dallas Austin.
The album is in the final stages of production with several acclaimed artists still lining up to participate.
“We have a nice amount of vocals in. There are a lot of gospel artists standing up and wanting to be involved. So it’s kind of slowing up the process in a good way. So with all of these people jumping up like John P. Kee, Fred Hammond, Take 6. So many people. Mali Music, Donald Lawrence, everybody’s jumping up and saying, how can they be a part,” said Sir The Baptist.
Both he and Dallas Austin are connected to Tennessee State in more ways than just this album. The duo received honorary degrees this spring from Tennessee State and Sir The Baptist was also the Artist in Residence at with the Aristocrat of Bands for the spring semester. He taught a class every Friday, often with an assist from Dallas Austin.
“Every single Friday, he drove from his home to Nashville. Every Friday. He brought in guests. Dallas joined us for several calls. So he was very much locked in, but Sir was definitely dedicated out of this world,” said assistant band director Larry Jenkins.
Bringing the studio to the Aristocrat of Bands
“So what ended up happening was on some of those Fridays, we would get the entire band together and we’d go to the band room, we’d have mics set up, and we would record literally in the band room. We turned the band room into the studio and made some amazing, amazing music. Amazing, amazing sounds in these sessions,” Jenkins continued.
For Sir, he realized it was a matter of not overproducing and just chronicling and recording what he was hearing in real time.
“So I spent most of my time producing, so of course I couldn’t turn that side off. But I had to focus in on what you’re doing right now, more so capturing instead of recording. Because when you’re capturing, it’s more so like, you’re getting your chance to document history. Right? And it turned me into more of documenting acoustically,” said Sir.
“Then Prof (Jenkins) has this crazy ear to where… he’s writing this stuff as he’s humming it, and then distributing out through everybody’s iPhone and then they’re playing it straight off their iPhone. And then, “okay, let’s change this note.” So it was more of such a collaborative moment to where it was more documenting than recording,” he continued.
Started on a napkin
Jenkins is producing the album along with Sir and the two still marvel at how the project morphed from an idea into a reality.
“I can think of one time when we were at a Mexican restaurant, this is almost like the genesis of it in my eyes, where we sat and kind of wrote out a whole plot on a napkin and brainstormed everything that we were thinking. And next thing you know, it was up to the point like, “Hey, we need to do an album with this,” said Jenkins.
For Sir the idea of the album first him at a football game. He traveled down to TSU spending the day with the Aristocrat of Bands and seeing something special with the kids.
“It was definitely homecoming that just reminded me that the culture of Black people and music and HBCUs, all of that coming together was really amazing. I saw then that it was needed for the gospel community as well. So all of this music, R&B, hip hop, everything comes from gospel. It’s what kept us from the cotton fields to wearing the finest cotton. It’s kind of helped us get through it all.”
Super producer steps in
After the Tennessee State game one of the first calls that Sir made was to his friend Austin.
“After I came to the game, I was just like, man, I got to get Dallas on this. Because he hasn’t touched marching bands since Drumline. Like he needs to get back on this. And it just happened to be the 20th anniversary of Drumline, so he jumped in, Prof came down to meet him at his house. Once we all met, he loved Prof and the band and all of that, so he jumped straight in and helped us move the project along as well.”
Sir The Baptist thinks this album with the Aristocrat of Bands is going to be impactful, not only to the ears, but to the gospel music genre.
“So to be honest with you, this album is birthed because somebody’s got to save the genre that we all come from, which is gospel. And the way they’re playing these hymnals makes you feel like the walls of Jericho with Joshua and those horns that tore the walls down, like they’re literally tearing down walls that are cultural, cultural walls,” he added.
The tracks on the album are original but in many instances you can expect to hear a transition into something familiar. The reference to the roots of Gospel along with a fresh, modern approach is immensely impactful according to Sir.
“So it has the new vibe of what we’re creating, because we wanted to stay youthful and all of that sort of setup. But at the end of our single, (Dance Revival) we go into Wade in the Water. The dance revival is with Jekalyn Carr, it goes into Wade in the Water, but the first part of it has singing and rapping and horns and all of that, but it still has that connection to the roots.”
“And another song has Kierra in it and she’s singing Going, Going, and then she starts singing Going Up Yonder with the marching band. So Going Up Yonder is Hawkins family and we had to get that approved, but we did. So it references the roots of gospel while also giving you a taste of something new.”
Having the record solidified as a true gospel album is obviously in the wheelhouse for Sir. He is a two-time Grammy award-nominated writer, producer, BET Award nominee and winner of the BMI 2021 Songwriter of the Year. But more importantly he feels that the gospel genre needed the boost.
“It’s the most dying genre right now, it’s the one that the Grammys are trying to pull from the ceremony. It’s the ones where people are wondering, does it still matter? Does spirituality still matter to Black people? What this album will do for the church will help Black people remember their history. This band, they’re playing superhero to a culture that’s gone. We’re all over the place, so to bring church to the field and have that spiritual moment and still be fun and energetic, and the sophisticated ladies and everybody still having fun, but feeling the chills when they play Wade in the Water, you connect to your ancestors immediately. So this has to be gospel because that’s our history,” he said.
More to come this Fall
Tennessee State Aristocrat of Bands fans can expect to hear a lot of what is on this album on the field this football season.
“Oh, you’ll see this the fields, stands, album. Any and everywhere we are, we’re bringing it with us because we think that the world needs to hear this and our people need to hear this and feel this, so this will be something that when you see the AOB, you hear it. We’re carrying this with us,” said Jenkins.
The album will be out no later than September and will be available on every major platform. The Aristocrat of Bands will produce as its own independent record label while going through Dallas Austin Distribution which will help retain half of the profit from sales and streams. Also there are additional legs to this project that are on the way. A music video is on the way along with a documentary that will premiere later this year at Carnegie Hall.