This is an entry in an ongoing series for 303 Magazine, which will provide a range of local album reviews. It is our intention to highlight the talents of local musicians, whether veterans to the industry or newcomers. Like the bands, the album can be fresh or something we just haven’t had the power to take off repeat in the past few months. Check out previous entries in the series here.
If you are remotely interested in hip hop in the Denver area, you know about — and have more than likely seen — The Reminders. The husband and wife duo — named Big Samir and Aja Black respectively — have served the local music scene for 15 years and consistently work together to push the boundaries of what makes Colorado music and community. In fact, they serve Colorado beyond entertainment, also performing at anti-bullying events in schools. Coming up in November, the two will share the stage with hip hop mega-weights Black Star, Brother Ali and DJ Premier at The Mission Ballroom.
In August, they released their third studio album — Unstoppable — which has come after their debut album in 2008, Recollect, and 2012’s Born Champions. The nine-track release is a giant move for The Reminders, as they largely produced the album on their own, incorporating more instruments and singing than ever before.
“We’re just barely scratching the surface with Unstoppable,” said Samir, which might be the most exciting aspect of this release. Unstoppable kicks off with the powerful “Coming Home,” and the title feels true with the song. Notably, Black’s voice stands out as a force on the track. “Aja decided she wanted to sing more,” explained Samir. “We just decided to incorporate everything that we have a capability of doing, and just incorporate it a lot more in our music.”
This is especially apparent in “Dust and Bones,” a song that throws traditional genre definition to the wind. Samir cites their extensive travels as the catalyst for their ability to morph their sound so easily. In fact, the jazzy horn section came from immersing themselves in cultures and becoming familiar with musicians from all over. “The brass musician that is on the album, we met in Chicago,” described Samir. “The second time we were in New Orleans, he just happened to be there with his crew playing on Bourbon Street.”
Tracks like”Foundation” burst through the speaker and paint a picture of maturity and longevity that could only come from experienced musicians. After a decade, Samir and Black are sure of the sound they are going for, and know how to get there. “We are able to just be comfortable, to play with it. It is growing in our musical ability and we enjoyed the process and have been growing ever since.” While they are growing, they remain grounded in their roots here. “Stranger” cites direct links to the Colorado landscape, with lyrics like “I found you in the hills of Colorado/Where the Columbines grow/I lost you on the road to El Dorado” belted by Black’s impressive lungs.
The standout from Unstoppable is how independent Black and Samir went for the creation process. “The first two records we were taking beats from other producers like most rappers generally do,” said Samir. “We have picked up instruments since the last album, and we’ve both been dabbling in production.” This production is clearly strong in their change in direction, as in “King of the Mountain” and the titular track, “Unstoppable.” The song owns a peppy a hyped beat that would get anyone out of their seat and moving. “We got to a point where we realized you can’t find a producer who is going to see eye to eye on everything that you do, so we created most of the songs from scratch.”
In total, the album serves simultaneously as a product of years of expertise as well as a new beginning for the musicians. This new path in the creative process has opened them up to their future as more independent artists and their local fans are excited and ready for their next steps. It seems the Reminders truly are Unstoppable.