If you haven’t heard of Project Lionheart, they exist just to the left of the city’s current rap resurgence, focusing more on offering live hip-hop as a full band. That doesn’t mean they’re kicking out jams like the Roots, nor are they a polyphonic powerhouse like local band Big World Breaks. Instead, they rest somewhere between those camps, delivering conscious, anti-pop rhymes that challenge the monotony of radio rap. Performing at venues like the Tractor Tavern or the High Dive, they rock out as a five-piece, with guitar, drums, bass, Senegalese percussion, and former Mob Law drummer Caleb Cunningham (no relation) as the group’s lone MC. The Senegalese aspect is an important one, as Cunningham has made numerous trips to the West African country to learn Senegalese drumming, which he incorporates into Project Lionheart’s sets. Lately they’ve been gearing up for the re-release of their debut album, The Art of Resistance, which came out independently last year but is now being reissued, with new songs, by the band’s new label, Sound Records.
“What happened is, Sound is a small indie label out of Everett that’s signed all these national acts like Keith Murray, Canibus, [and] Bronze Nazareth—but they didn’t have anyone local,” Cunningham says. “Now that we’re on the label, they wanted to get us in the studio and add some [guests] to the album.”
The feature MCs who were added—Canibus on “Ancient Art” and Bronze Nazareth on “The Rain”—give the disc a more polished feel. Cunningham proves himself a capable lyricist, and while he’s never preachy, he’s clearly taking a higher path and tsk-tsking lowest-common-denominator rappers who applaud only themselves.
But one guest spot that isn’t on the album is perhaps the most promising. Recently, Project Lionheart has spent time in the studio with Erick Sermon of EPMD, one of the more recognizable figures of the late-’80s/early-’90s rap world, who has agreed to do an EP with the band in 2010.
“He’s a really cool guy,” Cunningham says. “We’ve done about four songs together, and we’re just going to keep working. We’re all excited to see what comes of it.”