You press play on the latest EP to find its way to your inbox, as always, you never know what to expect. As you start to crank it up, you find yourself smack in the middle of a thrashy, aggressive, rocked out rendition of Dru Hill’s 1998 hit “How Deep is Your Love?”. ‘Great cover!’ is probably what you’d assume............but you're wrong.
Tamir Ruffin, better known in the music world as Nokio the ‘N-Tity’, just recently kicked his newest project into high gear. Having enjoyed a good run of success after forming the R&B group Dru Hill, Nokio felt now might be the right time to attempt a project he’s been contemplating for a while. “I've always wanted to do a rock album,” said Nokio implying perhaps that timing was everything, “The opportunity presented itself to not only make the album, but make it with some guys that I consider brothers.” Black Angel Down’s debut EP features an All-Star lineup from some of Baltimore’s most talented rock musicians as well as fellow Dru Hill vocalist Antwuan "Tao" Simpson. So given that he co-wrote the reworked hit that spent three weeks as the hottest R&B track in the country in 1998, that definitely rules it out as being considered a cover don’t you think?.
Having only a few samples to go on before getting a chance to hear the EP, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from Black Angel Down. A big part of me honestly thought all I’d hear would be a gimicky EP full of retooled R&B songs, but after hearing the first song I came to a very different realization. Nokio’s passion for this project is evident as he and the rest of Black Angel Down deliver nothing short of an amazing effort on this rocking debut EP.
Pure rock to its core, this album is dominated by screaming guitars. The driving riff and soaring solo that kick off the EP on “The Wind” set the tone for the rest of the guitar goodness that is to come. Black Angel Down has an aggressive guitar sound that they’re not shy about using and they let it run loose on “Bitter Son” and “Save Me”. This aggressive style also contrasts extremely well with the slower tempo on a few of the tracks like “Pretty Face” and “Rokstar”. It draws the attitude of the guitar out even further. Alongside the guitar, the N-Tity’s vocals are smooth and remarkably well suited for rock. Black Angel Down was able to create some excellent harmonies through the accompaniment of Tao and layering Nokio’s vocals. It makes things sound bigger and deeper on much of the EP.
I found “Sniper Scope” to be the show stealer on the album. It opens with a taunting guitar and a thunder of drums. The song’s got a great rhythm that cruises along thanks to Nokio’s lead vocals and an equally impressive guitar solo. “Sniper Scope” is rife with energy and showcases the true skills and potential of Black Angel Down.
In and of itself the “How Deep is Your Love?” remake is reason enough to check out this EP. Nokio did a killer job re-inventing the track in a way that makes you forget the original even existed. (As far as I’m concerned, this is truly the first time I’ve ever heard the song). Including this track on the EP is pure marketing genius as people generally gravitate towards things that are familiar, especially when it comes to music. I think using this song as the bait to get them to press play is the best way to overcome that barrier. Once they get a chance to listen to the rest of the album they won’t have to hear Nokio ask how deep their love is anymore, it will simply be a footnote to the seven other pounding rock songs that are on the album.