Misunderstood, the genre-defying debut album by Kansas City outfit We The People, reads like a musical manifesto. The title track opens the record with a declaration about the future of music, vocal samples sliding out between scratches on DJ Keith “Kethro” Rodgers’ turntables: “There’s not going to be any symphonic music, there’s not going to be any jazz music, there’s just going to be music.” It’s to that end We The People simmers its so-called “urban gumbo” sound, mixing jazz pianos, dance beats, rap verses, funk bass, cosmic synth melodies–whatever turns up in the cupboard–into nine snappy tracks dripping with flavor.
On one level, it’s a repudiation of the history of racist gatekeeping in American music. Frontman Eddie Moore, who plays keys and serves as co-executive producer on the record, has spoken in interviews on his frustration with so-called authorities, who inspired him to write tracks like “Freedom Fighter” and “Misunderstood.” “I wrote these two pieces in response to these ‘organizations’ that sometimes call upon me to share my culture and art as a Black American artist, yet tell me how to play, and what is not accepted,” he told Live Eye TV earlier this year. And he elaborates on the album in “KFC.” “They still tell us what to wear, what to play, what not to play, what not to wear,” says a modulated vocal sample. “ I mean, that’s not cool. That’s not really even part of the culture.”
Through that lens, in its most basic structures, Misunderstood celebrates the democratizing power of improvisation, beholden to the moment and not supposed cultural monoliths. Even the group’s name, We The People, alludes to that. It’s a transformative power that courses through the history of Black music, from jazz and blues to the slightly-more-contemporary practices of sampling and freestyling, and it weaves through Misunderstood brilliantly. Take “Enough,” for example–on the macro scale, as a soul-styled intro slams into a jazzy house midsection and then a proggy drum breakdown (hats off to Zach Morrow). On the micro scale, there are Angel Gibson’s expert vocal riffs and Moore’s keys to match.
On an even more fundamental level, the no-holds-barred anti-formalism just yields a lot of visceral listening satisfaction, no matter your background or your preconceived ideas about words like jazz or pop or R&B. “Misunderstood”–call it the overture to this urban gumbo suite–establishes a super-catchy theme that weaves between the bass and synths. “50th Law” feels like high-octane, symphonic jazz-rock fusion. The lyrical reflections on tracks like “Worst Nights” are just as resonant, appealing to hope in the most difficult times and in the face of repressive authorities. We The People isn’t coloring outside the lines so much as reminding us there are no lines–it’s heartening to hear the group jam right through them.