In hip-hop, as in life, there are few things more important than family. And no one embodies the bonds of brotherhood better than The Lytics, the five-man Winnipeg crew whose bid for genre supremacy has long been a family affair.
Quite literally, in fact: Brothers Andrew and Anthony Sannie have been trading rhymes together since childhood — as has cousin Mungala Londe, who moved in with the family as a teen. The beats come courtesy of big brother Alex Sannie, who in the early days handled production duties from his bedroom and basement studios, while newly-“adopted” brother DJ Lonnie Ce has plenty of practice whipping dancefloors into a frenzy.
Proudly committed to making music “real people” can relate to, the Lytics have never been much for empty boasts and bravado, preferring instead to promote the same brand of street-level optimism espoused by early influences Mos Def, The Pharcyde, and A Tribe Called Quest. Their live shows, in particular, are straight-up life-affirming affairs, during which the group’s easy beats and infectious enthusiasm can win over the most hardened of cynics.
And that same penchant for positivity is reflected in the act’s sound — an amalgam of old-school soundscapes and boom-box bangers that celebrates, inspires and challenges. In recent years, The Lytics have expanded their scope to include everything from funk-rock to Afrobeat to ‘60s R&B; their shared turns on the mic are like a masterclass for emcees, and their vocals add a sense of soulful urgency — whether engaged in wistful rumination, or a rousing call to arms.
Eager to showcase their evolving technical skills and musical maturity, The Lytics embrace an even broader sonic palette on sophomore full-length They Told Me.
Following up on the success of their eponymous 2009 debut, the group here explores an impressive array of new territories, from the working-class escapism of Can We Run Away, to the mod-rock backbeat and orch-pop stylings of Stay Calm. The radio-friendly Ready blends spacey synth stabs and indie-rock guitars, Dear World’s jazzy affirmations get a boost from New Jack trumpet fills, and empowerment anthem Toot Your Own Horn mashes platoon hollers, a runaway drumline, and a marching band riff even Timbaland would be proud of.
As always, the Lytics’ much-lauded lyrical skills remain worthy of the hype. The languid delivery on display in The Sequel is offset by fractured vibraphone runs, and the retro vibe of On Top is enhanced by a funk-rock keyboard riff and falsetto flourishes. But in all cases, the beats get equal billing: witness the blaxploitation-tinged Charles Bronson — all pimp rolls and ‘70s swagger — or the stop-start rhythms of Drown Me Out, whose frenetic pace gives way to a truly triumphant chorus.