Best Hip-Hop Space Opera

Meklit Hadero and CopperWire's Earthbound

By Ian S. Port

Let it never be said that Meklit Hadero isn't busy. Blessed with a smoky, muscular voice, and a talent for synthesizing styles like jazz, folk, and various African influences, the Ethiopia-born singer's primary occupation is music. She records and performs solo and with other artists both local and national. She's also a senior fellow at the TED Institute and runs a project dedicated to fostering collaboration among Ethiopian artists, both those living abroad and at home. It was during a tour of Ethiopia, in fact, that Hadero found inspiration for her latest project: a hip-hop trio with a sci-fi backstory set in 2089, in which three renegades hijack a spaceship and head to Earth on a quest to find out what it means to be human.

Sci-fi hip-hop might not seem like Hadero's usual thing. But part of what makes her one of San Francisco's most interesting musical artists is that she doesn't seem to have a usual thing. “I've always wanted to make multiple albums that sound really different from each other,” she says, confessing a love of hip-hop groups like OutKast and the Fugees. “Before I released [solo debut] On a Day Like This, I was like 'Oh yeah, my next four albums are going to be completely different.'”

CopperWire, as the hip-hop group is known, is a collaboration between Hadero and fellow Ethiopian-American musicians Gabriel Teodros and Ellias “Burntface” Fullmore. Despite the out-there premise, the project came about as naturally as possible: After holding many satisfying jams together on a 10-day tour of Ethiopia, they decided to simply go into a studio and see what happened. As it turned out, ideas flowed at a brisk pace. “It was all really an intimate process of recording, and also the most fun I've ever, ever, ever had in the studio,” Hadero says.

Earthbound, the resulting album, feels like an African companion to the avant-hop of recent breakout Shabazz Palaces. Over half-worldy, half-futuristic beats — including some constructed out of sound samples of the frequencies emitted by actual stars — Teodros and Burntface lay down dextrous rhymes, letting Hadero drape them with melodies and hooks sung in her lush, graceful tone. In the alchemy of CopperWire, Hadero's voice is the gravity, holding the urgent rhymes and atmospheric music together in a coherent mix. And because of her contribution, Earthbound is about as grounded as hip-hop space operas come.

Hadero and CopperWire are touring the album across the country — and meanwhile, she's (of course) working on other projects. The next record on the agenda is a joint collaboration with S.F. R&B singer Quinn Deveaux; after that, another solo album. Hadero laments that, because of the inherent time delay in making records, the public is always six to 12 months behind where she's at, musically. But this artist always likes to keep the territory ahead uncertain. “To me,” Hadero says,” that kind of ground is where I'm actually most comfortable.”

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