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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Tucson rap-pop duo VIBE on chicken, 10-minute songwriting, and their eclectic new sound

    Lyida Stern
    Lydia Stern / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Alumni rap-pop duo Vibe opened up for the Mac Miller show hosted by ASUA on the UA Mall on Friday night.

    They’re equal parts rap and pop, and they’re the Tucson duo called Vibe. They’re taking the stage in front of an estimated 2,500 students in two hours. They’re opening for frat-rap icon Mac Miller on the UA Mall, and it’s their biggest show yet.

    However, Chris Young, the bright-eyed, rapping half of the genre-bending Tucson duo, is more preoccupied with getting buffalo sauce for the buffet of chicken nuggets in their dressing room. Although vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Alex “Rossy” Rossman ruthlessly mocks Young’s request, it doesn’t stop a pair of hyper-attentive staffers from frantically bringing a few hundred sauce packets into the room. It’s a comically excessive scene that would never lead you to guess the two UA alumni were about to debut a batch of new songs to a new crowd. Suddenly, the gravity of the show hits.

    “I got butterflies, man. I’m nervous. But I like butterflies,” Young said, leaning back in his chair, chicken in hand.

    Young and Rossman are keenly aware that this show will help define their demographic and expand their fan base. Despite Young’s admission, Vibe has the vigor and naivete of a band about to make a major live debut, while still retaining a collegiate finesse. It’s evident that this isn’t Vibe’s typical gig.

    Finding that sound

    Vibe’s academia-inspired rap and pop sensibilities don’t just mesh together, they’re completely complementary. Rossman’s guitar work has a strong Jimi Hendrix influence while Young’s flow is both gritty and thought-provoking. Both were musicians long before their initial collaboration, which allowed the two to find their individual strengths before Vibe. They met in the now-defunct Kappa Sigma fraternity, where Young laid down tracks in the house’s studio. A chance meeting in Rossman’s dorm led the two to collaborate on what would become “Touch The Stars,” Vibe’s first full track. Between Young’s musical ventures and Rossman’s schooling, it took four years to fully realize the potential of the band’s ability, and give a voice to Young’s articulated style.

    “I was always a good rapper, but I never had a sound,” Young said. “Once you find that sound, your world changes. With Vibe, I found a producer that understood my poetry. Vibe is the most exciting thing I’m doing.”

    The mutual respect between the two musicians is tangible, something akin to watching siblings interact, and their interplay on and offstage is both exceptionally refreshing and far beyond their years. The elements that Rossman lacks, Young possesses, and vice versa. Some may view the collaboration between the artists as a radio-friendly pathway to introspection, but Young saw the band’s creation in a more dramatic light.

    “It’s all about knowing you have a purpose,” Young said. “When Vibe came to me, it was like my redemption. I now have experience and things to say. If you can say something and have a voice, you can have an impact.”

    Rossman is just as aware of the band’s potential. “Ever since we’ve started this, we’ve been Vibe, all day. That’s helped to create our vision for how we want to be perceived and what we want to portray.”

    Rossy’s the ideal foil to Young’s bravado, providing the pop sensibilities that stick in your head to the rapid-fire musings Young spits. Ukelele and big major keys may be present in some songs, but they’re not to be interpreted as a ploy for the Bruno Mars crowd. Rather than calculating pop hits, the duo’s second-nature affinity for strong themes and slick hooks allows it to crank out philosophical material at a neck-breaking pace. It’s a trait any musician would envy.

    “It can’t be like, ‘Let’s sit down and write, it’s song time,’” Young said.

    Rossman is quick to agree. “For some people it takes days to write a song, to come out with what they want to say,” said the guitarist. “We’re so ADD that it just comes out and we record it. We’re spontaneous.”

    The musicians are blessed in this sense, making tracks like “Move Slow” and “Still A Kid At Heart” that much more impressive.

    ‘I don’t want to be in a cubicle’

    It’s a too-bright Sunday in downtown Tucson, where Vibe is scheduled to perform at a streetwear showcase in the hyper-trendy Warehouse Arts District. Young bounces around the barren venue with far too much energy for anyone on a Sunday afternoon. Rossman and Young sample a vendor’s homemade strawberry ice pops while seeking shade near a graffiti-covered wall. The duo lights up over its future plans and its unlikely inspirations.

    Young knows you don’t need to be rooted in a musical hotspot to have an impact on a scene. Having spent time in Los Angeles pursuing a music career, he’s seen the darker aspects of the industry that would leave most aspiring artists jaded. He’s quick to note that Tucson has everything Vibe needs to flourish. Young feeds off of the city.

    “I really like the energy in Tucson,” he said. “It’s really different than any place I’ve been. The desert has a magical energy.”

    Vibe is comfortable in, and embraces, its desert element. Tucson is far from a rap hotbed, but the city’s eclectic musicality and artistic content is enlightening enough for Vibe to want to stick around.

    “I feel more comfortable and organic in my own space. Bon Iver made his entire album in Wisconsin, and you don’t hear about Wisconsin blowing up,” Young said.

    Rossman, in a canvas jacket and oversized plastic-framed aviators, credits the digital age for Vibe’s ability to create a name for itself while being free from the rigors of a 9-to-5 lifestyle.

    “Location’s less of a factor with the Internet’s influence,” Rossman said. “I definitely don’t want to be in a cubicle.”

    Rossman and Young’s sensibilities radiate through their music. They’re well aware of the moves that they want to make and how they want to execute them. Rossman’s production ability paired with Young’s fiery lyrical talent makes them an ideal package, set to take over conventional pop with brilliant video marketing and radio-ready songs.

    Fans should be more than happy to follow their exponential climb as their intellectual musicality thrusts them into the well-deserved spotlight, but Rossman is content with soaking up Tucson and letting it infuse his music here at home.

    “I draw inspiration from hearing new artists with their own unique sounds,” Rossman said. “Seeing some of these younger guys out here who are doing things in their own light shows me that there’s hope for independent artists.”

    For more info

    Vibe’s Hakuna Matata mixtape can be found on iTunes. Follow Vibe on Twitter at @123Vibe and find them on Facebook at

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