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Elenora Fagan balances life between rock and rap

Band mixes an amalgam of genres, including rock, hip-hop, reggae and jazz



As each act leaves the stage during Hip Hop Rises at the Chop Shop on Oct. 26, most artists simply place the microphone back in its stand and walk off into the crowd. When Elenora Fagan ends its extended set, the quartet makes sure the mics are in place ... and then dismantles the drum kit, carries off amplifiers and packs guitars into cases. While the Charlotte band's sound fits right alongside the solo hip-hop artists, Elenora Fagan's production and presentation is more rock than rap.

The band, which bases its moniker on Billie Holiday's legal name, has been mixing an amalgam of genres — rock, hip-hop, reggae and jazz — in the Queen City since 2009. It's a formula that earns the band extra time on stage during this night's event. While most artists perform two or three songs, Elenora Fagan is given a signal to keep going as the band cruises through a 25-minute set.

The group, which released its self-titled debut in 2011, includes vocalist Jahmaar Stafford, guitarist Jevon Washington, bassist Juan Ossa and drummer Matthew Wood. "Jevon brings jazz and R&B, I'm more of a rocker, Juan brings the reggae riffs and Jahmaar is the MC but has punk influences," Wood says. "We all just kind of mesh together." Adds Ossa, "We try not to fit into a box, while embracing each other's differences."

When people hear the words rap and rock put together, they might think of anything from Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park to one of the earliest rap-rock duets, Aerosmith and Run-DMC's version of "Walk This Way." But Elenora Fagan is different; the group defines itself by the wider diversity of its rhythms and riffs. While the drums drive the beat, the bass may bring forth reggae vibes as the guitarist sprinkles single-note jazz textures. It's a smarter version of rap-rock, whose crossover appeal defies those two genres alone.

A crowd favorite at Elenora Fagan gigs is one of the band's first songs, "100 Proof SoCo." Based on a rock guitar riff, the song tells the story of trying to pick up a girl at a bar, but the chorus is driven by crowd participation as Stafford raps "Hundred proof—" and the crowd shouts back "SoCo." It works just as well in front of a rock crowd as it does in front of hip-hop fans — and perfectly for those whose tastes and lifestyles are not so segregated.

"We all enjoy being able to play in any kind of club," Washington says. "We've done the reggae circuit, we do the hip-hop thing and we play rock shows at the Milestone. We're comfortable wherever we are."

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