Legend Haz It returns to DeKalb Friday


Legend Haz It

By Alex Fiore

Four-and-a-half years ago, hip-hop band Legend Haz It was born in a 15×11 room on the east side of campus.

Inside of a Neptune North dorm room (“Neptune Deuce” as they call it), new friends Dan Pratt and Keith Winford sat huddled around a snare drum, not knowing this would be the inception of DeKalb’s premiere hip-hop act.

Pratt improvised a beat and Winford took a breath, counting off before beginning a freestyle rap over the steady snap of the snare.

By 2009, Pratt had recruited the other five members of what would make up the band. Though most members have graduated and left NIU, when Legend Haz It returns to DeKalb to play 9 p.m. Friday at Otto’s Niteclub & Underground, 118 E. Lincoln Highway, it will be a homecoming of sorts. Just a mile from the dorm room where it began, Legend Haz It returns to bring its unique band of jazz-flavored hip-hop to the DeKalb community.

Or so the legend goes.

Legend Haz It is not Keith’s band. Nor is it Dan’s band. Legend Haz It takes the individual out of hip-hop, instead replacing it with a collection of talented instrumentalists, many of them educated at NIU. Besides drummer Pratt and emcee “Legend Mane” Winford, the group is comprised of Tim Ipsen (bass), Collin Clauson (keyboards), Ryan Nyther (trumpet) and Ron Jacoby (trombone).

I’m With The Band

In an age where hip-hop is dominated by samples and piles of deejay equipment, Legend Haz It takes the refreshing approach of using actual instruments to bring its music to the masses. Legend Haz It exemplifies the collective in a hip-hop landscape of individuals, and the members wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The hip-hop band embraces all the different elements, and takes it to another level,” Winford, now a senior communications major, said. “You don’t see to many people trying to put a band like this together. It can really be game-changing.”

Winford said working with the rest of the band keeps him accountable.

“It’s a motivation I can’t even describe,” he said. “It takes me a to a different mind-state.”

Each member of the band plays a distinct part in the creation of Legend Haz It’s music. Though the group draws comparisons to the Roots, Pratt is not the front man-in-the-back style drummer like Questlove, but instead fills the role of a father figure.

“He cares and goes hard for it like it’s his son,” Winford said. “He’s the backbone.”

Nyther and Jacoby’s brass give Legend Haz It a powerful, bright sound highlighted by Clauson’s fuzzy keys. Ipsen joins Pratt in maintaining a tight, pulsing rhythm for Winford to rap over.

Winford said the presence of actual instruments is what makes the group’s live performance a must-see event.

“It’s cool if you just have somebody making some 808s on the drum pad,” Winford said. “But when you got horns playing loud as hell, just screaming in your ear on beat, it shows you don’t even need an emcee to do hip-hop. You don’t even need a beat to do hip-hop. All you need is a thought.”

The group plays a smooth blend of hip-hop and jazz, inspired by the likes of the Roots and A Tribe Called Quest. The group released its self-titled EP in 2010, including tracks like “Catch My Dreams” and “Friday Night,” which trades horn lines with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about female orgasms. Other times, Winford’s lyrics become deeply personal in songs like “Fifth of Henn,” which was inspired by alcohol abuse in his family.

“That really had an effect on me,” Winford said. “I thought to myself, ‘I need to make a song about this.’ That’s my favorite song.”

The Legend Begins

Growing up 90 miles apart, Pratt and Winford were influenced by the music around them. Pratt was raised on MTV in suburban Wisconsin while Winford grew up hearing Tupac and the Temptations in the “Wild Hundreds” neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

“We both discovered we had the same musical influences, even though we were from different towns,” Pratt said.

Since forming in January 2009, the band has seen a tremendous amount of growth in popularity. Playing house parties and local clubs, the group even cut its EP in the NIU music building and opened for T-Pain at the Convocation Center.

Winford said the group’s unique sound is what draws a large, diverse audience.

“When I joined a band … the age range just shout out the roof,” he said. “There were people who were my grandmother’s age saying, ‘I really like the fact that you have a band behind you, and it makes me want to see what hip-hop is more about.’ The younger children were like, ‘I like the catchy beat,’ and they sing the horn riff.”

Winford said the newfound popularity was an exciting change, but he made it a point to stay grounded.

“For a second it was kind of unreal,” he said. “I have to be humble at all times. No matter what type of magnitude of popularity you reach, you have to say humble. I’m doing this for the music and nothing else. Everything else is a bonus.”

The next chapter in Legend Haz It’s story will take place in Chicago, where the group is trying to make a name for itself in the city’s much larger (and more cut-throat) hip-hop scene.

“In Chicago, it’s much tougher,” Winford said. “It’s way more competitive.”

Winford said the new challenge is exciting.

“It’s been working out pretty well,” he said. “It’s a new atmosphere, new playing ground. We’re just excited to take on the Chicago platform and reach out to a different plateau with this music.”

Pratt said the making it in Chicago is challenging, and the music scene is not as cohesive as it could be.

“We’re just trying to make it happen,” Pratt said. “It’s tough to make ends meet in this economy right now. It’s a not a very united scene right now. There’s the punk scene and the hip-hop scene which is mainly just emcees rapping over produced tracks. There’s not really a whole lot of hip-hop bands, which is really what we’re all about.”

Legend Haz It will also continue without longtime guitar player Joel Ream, who left the band to pursue other musical endeavors.

“It’s kind of hard,” Winford said. “But at the same time we respect his decision and we still support him 100 percent.”

The Legend Returns

Even though Legend Haz It has moved on to a larger audience, the members have no desire to forget their DeKalb roots. The band is planning to release its first full-length album, the appropriately-titled Neptune Deuce, in summer 2012.

Winford said Neptune Deuce will show the band’s growth.

“It’s going to have a similar flavor, but it’s going to be a little more advanced,” he said. “It’s a going to be an expansion of our creativeness.”

The city of DeKalb has been kind to Legend Haz It, and the group hopes to keep it that way.

“As soon as we booked this gig, I had butterflies about it, saying ‘I can’t wait to get back there,” he said “There was so much support for us in DeKalb and I think there still is.”