The Urban Cartel‘s hip hop sound with a rock edge has garnered the young band a steady following in recent years. AJ Ajiboye, Funsho Adenugba, Teddy Atkins, Andy Bixby and Kwame Sackey first caught their big break at the University of Maryland, and eventually worked their way up to doing bigger shows like SXSW and opening for acts like Nelly and Big Sean. I spoke with a few members of the band about their start in music and what the future holds for The Urban Cartel.
Listen to The Urban Cartel’s recent release, The N.I.T.E, below:
DC Music Download: How did the band get its start?
AJ Ajiboye: We all attended the same high school (Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt, MD), but most of us didn’t know each other until some of the members went on to University of Maryland where the band was formed organically. We came together without the intentions of starting a band, but to just make dope music to pass the time.
The band was initially formed with me, Bryan and Teddy. Funsho had an active presence on campus as a vocalist and we asked him to join. Andy randomly came to our dorm to visit a friend. We discussed old times, he had his guitar in the car, and it’s history from there.
DCMD: How has the band grow from the first release to the most recent?
Funsho Adenugba: The first project was created as a collection of five of the best tracks we created during that time. Fortunately, the tracks happened to fit together, and it just worked. With the latest project, we were more focused on a vision we had for how we felt it should sound and flow. We hope that came across through the music by making it feel like a full experience, and not just eight dope songs.
DCMD: Several genres can be heard in your music. Can you tell us about your influences?
AA: U2, Coldplay, Daft Punk, Pharrell and Kanye.
Andy Bixby : Red Hot Chili Peppers.
FA: The first songs I could say influenced my style as a vocalist and guitarist collectively were Bob Marley songs. We all have different influences that combine to form our music, [the listener] can pick and choose a few.
DCMD: With all the combined genres, is there a focus for each album—or is it a natural, free forming process?
FA: The first project, Sounds from the Red Line, was just the band creating music from scratch and displaying our raw talent. Cassette Music had more of a direction and purpose. The N.I.T.E is the first EP in a three-part series. The title itself describes the feel of the project–relaxed and mellow.
In terms of [making music], it is a very natural process. One member will bring a cool concept to practice and we all build on it and simultaneously write lyrics.
DCMD: What’s your favorite venue in the District/ dream D.C. performance spot?
AA: The Bullpen at Nats Stadium.
FA: My favorite venue is definitely 9:30 Club.
DCMD: What’s one especially fun memory from making music or performing?
AA: The show at Temple University. That whole weekend was epic, and that was our first college show—great memorable night with the guys.
FA: While we were in Austin for SXSW, a group of people thought AJ was Kanye West and chased him for two blocks.
DCMD: How would you explain what it’s like being in the D.C. music community for someone who’s unfamiliar? What are the pros and cons?
AA: We love it. D.C. is filled with music enthusiasts that love and have an appreciation for live music. The summers are great too-we live for the outdoor festivals. I’d say it’s difficult to get mass support but we’re confident in our music and we know we will make it big.
FA: The D.C. music community gets a bad rep for not supporting local artists, but we learned early on that you just have to find your niche in the area and be crazy in your craft, and you’ll get support you need.