By Mike A. Bryan, Staff Writer
As Aesop once said, “appearances can be deceiving.” If you’re not paying attention, Alex Yentumi, senior, civil engineering, and William Berkowitz, senior, international business, both seem to be normal, everyday college students. Once you get a chance to interact with one of them, however, you will be impressed and delighted by an extremely funny, intelligent, and articulate manner, mixed with a healthy dose of hip hop aphorisms. The allusions to hip hop in their speech are the first indication that these students have creative sides as wordsmiths and beatmakers. If you dig a little deeper, you will find out that Berkowitz goes by the moniker Will-Be, while Yentumi is known as Zen Mugen, and both are MC’s in the local live hip hop collective, LOOPRAT. They grew up on the same block in University City, and have been working on music together since long before they joined the collective. The name was invented by Berkowitz at an open mic with Yentumi in late 2013, and refers to all sorts of loops – beats, life cycles, and the Delmar Loop. Some quick facts about each student:
Ages: Berkowitz – 21, Yentumi – 23
Origins: St. Louis born and raised, mostly in University City
Biggest musical influence: The Roots
Both cite classic blues and jazz as major influences, as well as golden-age hip hop— mostly east coast—driving the live band and hip hop combination. They both revere Black Spade and Price E.A. for their contributions to St. Louis music. The live show is reminiscent of the hip hop band vibe of The Roots or Ozomatli, combined with the dynamic MC style of Jurassic 5 or The Beastie Boys, but not quite like any of the aforementioned bands and more akin to Guru’s Jazzmatazz series. Seeing them live is always a unique experience–the dynamics of the collective produces an energy that defines the idea of live hip hop and jazz.
The duo work on projects outside the LOOPRAT collective, and Yentumi will be dropping a solo album soon. As MC’s and beat makers, they revere the jazz, soul and funk style of DJ Premier, which can be heard in their work with LOOPRAT. While Berkowitz played some piano in his younger days, he spent 2-3 years playing percussion in middle school. Both are members of the Pierre Laclede Honors College, and intend to graduate with honors. In their down time, they are fans of anime, with “Sword of the Stranger” a favorite.
They were working on music together when they decided to join forces with the band that makes up the LOOPRAT collective, and another MC named Nat King Flo. The collective now includes even more members, up to 13 total, with two more MC’s in the mix, Armani and David Bohlen. Armani has also just released a solo project, and Bohlen also produces music under the name Napalm. The band includes guitar, keys, bass, drums, saxophone, and trumpet, in addition to a backup singer and the five MC’s. Berkowitz and Yentumi are grateful to the Kansas City entertainment label Indyground for support during the early years by putting LOOPRAT on lineups at local shows.
The story of the band is fascinating, with almost all members having been close friends and playing music together since elementary school at a place called the Sunrise Conservatory in University City. All original members of the LOOPRAT collective, with the exception of two, are from University City, and have strong connections to the Sunrise Conservatory. The group is dynamic, meaning that a slightly different collection of artists performs at each show; the recorded music reflects this diversity as well, with some songs featuring all of the MC’s and some focused on just one. The group has been producing music together since late 2013. Their music is “innovative, but timeless and relevant,” said Yentumi of music that is a combination of hip hop and jazz, with a little funk and soul, but “more energetic due to the presence of the live band.” According to Berkowitz, it is “some s*#t that your mother could appreciate.”
The collective has been busy lately, making appearances at various festivals, along with some special local shows. At the Delmar Hall Slumfest Awards this past summer, LOOPRAT was awarded “Best Hip Hop Group.” Earlier this year, they especially enjoyed the experience of playing the Riverfront Times ShowcaseSTL. In October, the collective paired with the culinary experts at Spare No Rib to produce a sold-out pop-up dinner and concert experience, called “Soul Food for Thought.” There are plenty of opportunities to see LOOPRAT perform live this fall and winter, and the best place to find information on the collective is at www.LOOPRAT.com. Their music can be found on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp, and is available for free download.
Looprat has been featured on 104.1 and Fox News, and is currently played on 88.1. The UMSL radio station, The U, does not play them due to the need for clean edits of their songs. They truly are a home-grown group, playing a modern style of music that so many people can appreciate. Two of their gifted MC’s grace us with their presences here on campus at UMSL. If you get a chance, go see this group perform, and watch your fellow Tritons kill it on the mic. You will not be disappointed. The next show is on November 4th, and details can be found at www.LOOPRAT.com.