By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
The AOChas members all over town. Emcee Sunologylives in north county, while the crew's in-house beat-maker, Kenautis Smith (RFT's "Best Producer" of 2005), rents a room in rapper Killa Skillz's house near O'Fallon Park. Emcees Marko-V, Supremeand Tajj War, as well as manager Naadir "Bob" Kim, hold down different south city neighborhoods, while Killa Mic Rap(KMR) lives downtown on Tucker Boulevard in the St. Louis City Justice Center, where he is incarcerated on a robbery charge. Despite their geographical diversity, and the fact that one of them is in jail (his friends say KMR's situation is a case of mistaken identity), the crew is unified by its members' ideals. Founded in 1996 while some of the guys were attending Soldan International Studies High School, AOC which stands for "Advent of Creativity" did it then the same way they're doing it now. In the style of their heroes, KRS-One, Special Ed and The Roots, they preach conscious, backpacker rhymes that mirror their personal beliefs. Marko-V is a Muslim, and Kim a Rastafarian and vegetarian. All group members are against violence and don't eat pork, for various religious and health reasons.
"I'm just an average type of guy," says Kim, who wears rectangular glasses, a craggy beard, and today at Meshuggah Coffee House, a white thermal shirt with an image of legendary Ethiopian king Haile Selassie. "We aren't into bling, aren't into the materialistic or the shiny. Hip-hop when we were younger was about getting information. What to eat, how to dress, religious information, political information." Though the group's sounds are up-to-date, their lyrics tend toward hippie.
Kim earns his living by selling custom T-shirts and shoes. He hocks his wares at Killa Skillz's store, Raw Blend Gear(4158 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive). You can also pick up the group's albums there, in particular Marko-V's latest, Napoleon Complex, and Supreme's new one, Struggle to Live. Those albums are also available at Vintage Vinyl, Culture Vibes' two locations, and a local liquor store or two. For more information, check out www.aocentertainment.com. Ben Westhoff