It's a typical Monday night at the Brick. Shaggy-haired scenesters and slaves to the service industry order cheap drinks while some dude butchers a Johnny Cash tune. Karaoke host Brodie Rush plugs songs into his computer. It's a pretty nondescript scene, until three sharp-dressed black gentlemen take the stage.
Rush announces them as Rhythm & Pleasure. The trio begins crooning Boyz II Men's classic "End of the Road." All the young white chicks in the crowd rush the front of the stage, pulling their hair, swaying their hips, and screaming their heads off like banshees in bobby socks . I'm expecting a twirled bra to graze my head any minute.
After coming to the End of the Song, the three men launch into another that I can't place, though it's in a similar style. It turns out to be a Rhythm & Pleasure original, "U Make Me Say," and though the harmonies are soothing and gentle, the overtly sexual lyrical content (I want to know what the puss tastes like) would make R. Kelly bashful.
In any case, the three turn Rush's Brodioke night into their own personal showcase.
"Some misinterpret who we are as people by the way we dress," says Rhythm & Pleasure's flashy-clothed principal writer, Kareem "the Dream" Rashid. "People may think we're a negative influence, but we're as positive as they come."
Well, if there were a PSA for getting busy, Rhythm & Pleasure would be the spokesmen. They wanna freak you, girl. Or at least sing about it. After a couple of more well-choreographed, velvety songs about fucking, Rashid, Donnell "Skilz" Brown and Alonzo "Vocal" Booker leap off the stage and work the crowd, selling advance copies of their debut CD, A Late Night Booty Call, self-released on Brown's label, C-Notez Recordz. Several of the hipsters in attendance, who usually have a stingy rep for rarely giving up beer funds for merch, cough up $10 in exchange for the 16-track disc.
I marvel at the marketing genius on display: Butter up the ladies with a standard that speaks to their inner high school senior, hit 'em up with your own panty-peelin' jams, then smooth-talk them into buying your album. At a karaoke night, no less.
I meet with Rashid and Brown about a month later — at Brodioke, of course — to discuss R&P's promotional style and musical aspirations. Unfortunately, golden-throated Booker is at home recuperating from the group's CD-release show at a St. Joseph nightclub called Mirrors.
Although the three have been a group for less than a year, they've made music practically their whole lives. Brown, the producer, has been making beats for 15 years, collaborating with R&B giants such as Usher and K-Ci and Jojo.
Rashid, who hails from Texas, came to KC looking for places to perform. Instead of booking shows, he worked the karaoke circuit, owning singing contests all over town, one of which won him a trip to Las Vegas.
Karaoke-superstar status is great, but it isn't completely satisfying for artists who want to expose their own songs. But there aren't many viable clubs in town for R&B groups, so Rhythm & Pleasure took to performing original material at karaoke bars.
"The local R&B scene is ignored because everybody wants to be rappers," Brown says. "A lot of the time, when we say we do music, people think that we're rappers."
They're certainly not. They don't even classify their music under the R&B umbrella.
"We're not R&B. We call ourselves R&P," Rashid says. "Our unique style makes us R&P."
Although it would take a team of musicologists to detect the subtle difference between R&B and R&P, Brown's beats are proficient, and the singers' voices complement one another like champagne and strawberries. Some of the lyrics are a little much. There is, for example, the excruciatingly detailed "MySpace Luv" — I was peeping out her photos on her page/Without a doubt/I sent her a message and a comment. But a lot of rock bands have written sillier songs about hookin' up on the Internet.
"Our music is based toward the ladies, but most guys understand," Rashid says. "We sing about real-life shit: 'If you want me to go down on you, you gotta do it, too.'"
If you're hungry for a taste of Rhythm & Pleasure but can't stand karaoke, there are a couple of upcoming opportunities to check 'em out. As of October 3, A Late Night Booty Call is available at Seventh Heaven and Sam Goody. And for those who crave the live vibe, Mirrors is bringing back the group for a command performance on Friday. Pleasure Principle They're not R&B, ladies, they're R&P.