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Turning heartbreak to HipHop

South Boston News
Berkley Priest
SoVaNow.com / August 22, 2011
What do you do when your entire world crumbles around you? If you're Berkley Priest, you lower your head, duck into the Bible, and emerge with one of the most auspicious debut albums of the year.

A year ago Priest, a successful lawyer, found himself in the kind of downward spiral that tabloids dream of. The suicide of a friend and roommate, a painful divorce, and a very public battle with alcohol had all but snuffed out what had at one time seemed like one of the brightest stars in the firmament.

Priest found himself alone, depressed, and ultimately, behind bars. Today he smiles, two rows of pearly white shark's teeth, sipping sparkling water and feeling infinitely lighter than he ever has before.

"Everything happens for a reason. The good, the bad and the ugly. There are no rainbows without rain," he says with a grin. One to wonder how someone can smile given all that he has gone through over the last year.

"Going to jail was a blessing," he says calmly. "It did what no counselor, psychiatrist, or life coach can do. It forces you to be alone with your thoughts and deal with yourself. I know God sent me there. He wanted to get me alone to work on me." In jail, Priest read the Bible cover to cover, developed an avid prayer life, and participated in a small inmate-run Bible study every night. He began writing lyrics, and the seeds were sown for what would become a spiritual hip-hop catharsis.

Upon his release he linked Kenny Perkins, a fellow drummer with a flair for fashioning hip-hop beats and the same taste in unorthodox music. Perkins is a a musical wunderkind who had been searching for someone to work on original material with. Within two months of meeting the duo had written and recorded nearly 30 songs.

The resulting album "Kick The Bad Love," available free at http://www.cata9tales.com, is 20 tracks of inspired hip-hop that sounds at once retro and cutting edge. The breakout track "Give 'Em The Boot" features local talent Lionel Best, Jr. belting out a chorus that will stick in your head for days while Priest weaves a tale of sexual temptation and the devil within. Other standouts include the uptempo "Handbook For The Recently Deceased" and the Doors-sampling "Love in Absentia (Pray For Reign)." But the track that seems to resonate the loudest is one of the shorter, softer tracks, a piano and cello driven number called "Loveletters, Bloodletters."

"We just shot a video for that sound here in town," says Priest. "A lot of people showed up to support and be in the shoot, and Patricia Ward let us use her dance studio and loft space to shoot in. Kyle Shotwell with Atlantic Hush is producing the video, so we're really excited about it."

The chorus to the song, according to Priest, really sums up the message of the album. "Dear God, this is my song in the night / Too many wrong left turns trying to make it right / The almighty says make it a fashionable fight / I've got bridges to burn, somebody give me a light."

"The music's got depth, but it's fun. The live show is a spectacle, very theatrical. We hit on some serious topics, but we don't take ourselves seriously at all. Kenny and I are really two of the least serious people you will ever meet."

What also makes the album so special that it was recorded almost entirely for free, using only a $60 microphone, free software downloaded from the internet, and a 13 year old Roland.

"The entire record cost about $75 to make. People always ask me what studio we used. I have to laugh." Priest hopes that someone will take notice and invest in the group, allowing them to tour and use a proper studio for the next album.

"The fact that the album happened so quickly - and came out sounding so good - is a testament to the grace of God," says Priest. "I know God is in this and it is going to do well because I'm putting Him first. Of course I have to remind myself of that every day, because my human pride loves to try to sneak in there."

The album has been downloaded hundreds of times already since last month, and Priest says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

"We thought people would like it, but we had no idea how to gauge what the response would be. I've had people that generally don't even like rap to tell me it's really good. That's a nice feeling," he says.

"I'm proud of the record as far as first recordings go," Priest says. "Hopefully the next will be even better. And we're really psyched about the live show. It crosses the line between live music and performance art."

Cata9tales will be performing live at The Roost Grill and Spirits Friday, at 9 p.m. Doors open at 8. Following their performance will be sets by All The Young Lions and The Temporaries. Check them out at http://www.cata9tales.com and http://www.facebook.com/cata9tales.

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