The City Magazine Since 1975

Music on the Front Lines

September 2017
Music on the Front Lines

Charleston’s Very Hypnotic Soul Band harnesses the power of song

Emcee Benjamin Starr’s love affair with lyrical music began during his childhood in Pineville, South Carolina. The son of a single mother working multiple jobs and receiving Section 8 housing assistance, Starr heard Tupac rap about taking pride in his skin color and immediately felt called to write.

That social awareness is the cornerstone of Very Hypnotic Soul Band (VHSB), Starr’s project that formed as an interracial, multi-genre group in the wake of the Emanuel AME massacre. The soul/hip-hop outfit—which includes singer McKenzie Eddy and keyboardist/M.C. Elliott A. Smith and often features other local musicians, including drummer/vocalist Quentin Ravenel and guitarist Jimmie Choate—still reflects its origins. An eerie photo negative of John Calhoun was even on the cover of their debut EP, 16EP. “It speaks to deeper issues that are reflected in the South,” says Starr, questioning the historical ills normalized in Southern culture.

To convey his message, however, Starr recognizes that music comes first. “If you have dope art, you can speak the truth,” he exclaims. “Art is always on the front lines of social change.”

This fall, VHSB plans to release a second EP (watch veryhypnotic.com for news), and some members are cohabitating in a creative hub informally dubbed “the Very Hypnotic House.” That’s the sound of a movement underway.

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Photograph (Very Hypnotic Soul Band) by Steve Blackmon