Eastern Sunz's album “Corroded Utopia” recently was nominated for 2010 Hip-Hop Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards. - Photo by Ryan Lewis

Intellectual hip-hop

While its electronic beats and witty raps entertain the casual listener, Eastern Sunz also engages a more conscientious audience with its political and environmental themes. "We definitely make music with a message, but it also has the universally identifiable appeal," says rapper and emcee Aaron "Courage" Harris.

Eastern Sunz, featuring Harris and fellow rapper and disc jockey Travis Taylor, released its fifth album, "Corroded Utopia," in June 2010. For the album, the hip-hop duo worked closely with producer Smoke of Old Dominion to form a polished sound with honest lyrics, "promoting social, ecological and political issues that we consider to be important," says Harris.

"Corroded Utopia" recently was nominated for 2010 Hip-Hop Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards, "the independent artists' 'Grammy,' " says Harris.

Eastern Sunz was one of five other hip-hop artists worldwide nominated for the award, the only one on the West Coast. (Fans of Eastern Sunz are encouraged to vote at www.easternsunz.com. A "click here" option on the home page directs visitors to the IMA website, which tallies votes. The deadline for voting is June 8.)

Although based in Portland, Eastern Sunz has its roots in Ashland, where both artists attended Southern Oregon University and Harris attended Ashland High School and Wilderness Charter School. Taylor attended North Medford High School.

"Ashland, in general, has been a major influence and a big support system for us," says Harris.

The duo will perform for its beloved Southern Oregon fan base at 10 p.m. Friday, April 22, at Tabu, 72 N. Pioneer St., Ashland.

The evening will feature songs from Eastern Sunz's five albums: "Corroded Utopia" (2010), "Nine Triangles" (2007), "The Art of Spiritual Warfare" (2005), "Hiphopapocrypha" (2002) and "To Those of Higher Consciousness" (2001). Since 2007, the group completed a European tour and three nationwide. Their European tour landed them in Sweden, where they connected with their hip-hop idol Promoe, who can be heard on the title track of "Corroded Utopia."

Both artists collaborate on songwriting, which centers around topics such as equality, justice, freedom and those "civil rights themes that never go away."

"Travis is the funniest person I know, and he's very clever, and that really comes through in the lyrics he writes," says Harris. "I tend to be more serious and literal when I write my stuff."

In their song "Sincerity," the duo incorporates a quote by hip-hop producer Prince Paul: "Hip-hop is 90 percent front and 10 percent honesty."

"I think that says a lot about hip-hop culture," says Harris. "The stuff you hear on TV or on the radio does not reflect the values of the music that we make.

"For us, it is very, very important that we're not portraying ourselves as something we're not. We're trying to uphold that integrity."

In July, Eastern Sunz plans to release its sixth album, featuring live instrumentation and a global sound.

New Jersey hip-hop artist and emcee GDP, who is touring behind his new album, "Useless Eaters," will open for Eastern Sunz.

Cover to the show at Tabu is $5. For more information, call 541-482-3900 or see www.easternsunz.com.

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