Tennessee State set to release Aristocrat of Bands gospel album

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On the heels of a stellar weekend at the Essence Festival, Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands have announced that a new album is on the way. “The Urban Hymnal” is a gospel album produced by Gospel recording artist “Sir The Baptist” and produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Dallas Austin.

The album is in the final stages of production with several acclaimed artists still lining up to participate.

“We have a fair amount of voice. There are a lot of gospel artists rising up and wanting to be involved. So it slows down the process in a good way. So with all these people jumping like John P. Kee, Fred Hammond, Take 6. So many people. Mali Music, Donald Lawrence, everyone stands up and says, how can they be a part of it,” said Sir The Baptist.

Dallas Austin and Sir The Baptist receive honorary degrees at the start of Tennessee State.

He and Austin are connected to the state of Tennessee in more ways than this album. The duo received honorary degrees from TSU this spring, and Sir The Baptist was also TSU’s artist-in-residence for the spring semester. He taught a class every Friday, often with Austin’s help.

“Every Friday he would drive from his home in Nashville. Every Friday. He brought in guests. Dallas joined us for several calls. So he was very closeted, but Sir was definitely out of this world,” said the group’s assistant manager, Larry Jenkins.

Bringing the studio to the group

“So what happened was some of those Fridays we would get the whole band together and we would go to the band room, we had mics set up and we were literally recording in the band room. We turned the band room into a studio and made amazing, amazing music. Amazing, amazing sounds in those sessions,” Jenkins continued.

For Sir, he realized it was all about not overproducing and just chronicling and recording what he was hearing in real time.

“So I spent most of my time producing, so of course I couldn’t turn that side off. But I had to focus on what you’re doing right now, more on capturing than recording. Because that when you capture, it’s more like you have the opportunity to document the story. Right? And that made me want to document the acoustics more,” Sir said.

“Then the professor (Jenkins) has this crazy ear for where… he writes this stuff while he hums it, then distributes it through everyone’s iPhone, then they play it straight from their iPhones. And then , “Okay, let’s change that note. So it was more of a collaborative moment where it was more about documenting than recording,” he continued.

Professor Larry Jenkins (left) Dallas Austin (center) Sir The Baptist (right)

Started on a towel

Jenkins is producing the album with Sir and the two still marvel at how the project went from an idea to a reality.

“I can think of a time when we were in a Mexican restaurant, it’s almost like the genesis of this one to me, where we sat down and kind of wrote a whole plot on a napkin and thought to everything we thought. And the next thing you know, it was up to the point like, “Hey, we gotta do an album with this,” Jenkins said.

For Sir, the idea for the album first came to him during a football game. He went to TSU to spend the day with AOB and see something special with the kids.

“It was definitely a homecoming that reminded me that black culture, music and HBCUs, it was all really amazing. I saw then that it was also necessary for the evangelical community. So all this music, R&B, hip hop, everything comes from gospel. It’s what took us away from the cotton fields to wear the finest cotton. It kind of helped us through it all.

The super producer enters the scene

After the Tennessee State game, one of the first calls Sir made was to his friend Austin.

“After coming to the game, I was just like, man, I gotta bring Dallas on this. Because he hasn’t touched the fanfares since Drumline. Like he needs to get over that. And it happened to be Drumline’s 20th anniversary so he jumped in Prof came to meet him at his house once we all met he loved Prof and the band and all that so he jumped right in and also helped us move the project forward.

Sir thinks this album will have an impact, not only on the ears, but also on the gospel musical genre.

“So to be honest with you, this album was born because somebody has to save the genre that we all come from, which is gospel. And the way they play these anthems makes you feel like you’re in the walls of Jericho with Joshua and these horns that destroyed the walls, as if they literally destroyed walls that are cultural, cultural walls,” he added.

Gospel Roots

The tracks on the album are original, but in many cases you can expect to hear a transition to something familiar. The reference to the roots of Gospel with a fresh and modern approach has an immense impact according to Sir.

“So it’s got the new vibe of what we’re creating, because we wanted to stay young and all that kind of setup. But at the end of our single, (Dance Revival), we go into Wade in the Water. The revival of the dancing is with Jekalyn Carr, he goes into Wade in the Water, but the first part of it has vocals and rapping and horns and all that, but he still has that connection to the roots.

“And another song has Kierra in it and she sings Going, Going, and then she starts singing Going Up Yonder with the marching band. So Going Up Yonder is the Hawkins family and we had to get that approved, but we did. That done thus referencing the roots of gospel while giving you a taste of something new.

Having the record solidified as a true gospel album is obviously in the wheelhouse for Sir. He is a writer, producer, BET Award nominee and winner of the BMI 2021 Songwriter of the Year. But more importantly, he feels the gospel genre needed a boost.

“It’s the most dying genre right now, it’s the one the Grammys are trying to squeeze out of the ceremony. It’s the ones where people are wondering, does it still matter? Does spirituality matter? for black people again? What this album will do for the church will help black people remember their history. This band, they’re playing superheroes of a culture that’s gone. We’re everywhere, so to bring the church in the field and having that spiritual moment while being fun and energetic, and the sophisticated ladies and everyone always having fun, but feeling chills when playing Wade in the Water, you immediately connect with your ancestors So it has to be the gospel because it’s our story,” he said.

More to come this fall

Tennessee State fans can expect to hear a lot of what’s on this album on the field this football season.

“Oh, you’ll see this the fields, the stands, the album. Wherever we are we bring it with us because we believe the world needs to hear this and our people need to hear this and feel this so it will be something that when you see the AOB, you will hear it. We carry that with us,” Jenkins said.

The album will be released no later than September and will be available on all major platforms. Tennessee State will produce as its own independent label while going through Dallas Austin Distribution, which will help retain half of the profits from sales and streams. There are also additional steps to this project that are underway. A music video is on the way along with a documentary that will premiere later this year at Carnegie Hall.

Tennessee State set to release Aristocrat of Bands gospel album







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