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In these divisive, ego-driven times, collective unity is rare. The Chicago-based group Public Announcement, however, knows how to get people together. "Yippie-Yi-Yo, Yippie-Yi-Yay" is the infectious hook that has become synonymous with P.A. Snatched straight from their debut single "Body Bumpin'" on A&M/Unohoo, it's the hot new mating call that's working bodies into a fever on dance floors around the "windy city." Earl Robinson, Felony Davis, Euclid Gray and Glen Wright describe their style as "raw, high-powered energy." With backgrounds deeply anchored in music, their mutual "love of performing" brought the current line-up of Public Announcement together in 1996. Founding member Earl jump-started his career in his hometown but his efforts had far-reaching results. Another fast-rising star-R. Kelly-recognized his talent in 1991. A chance meeting at a weekly Monday open mike night at Chicago's Cotton Club gave Earl and his fellow Announcers a key opportunity. "We knew right then that R. Kelly was the man," Earl explains. Although the meeting location was typical, the audition space was far from ideal. "We all went to the men's bathroom. R. said, 'let me hear what you guys got,' and we just did our thing. The next thing we knew, we were on board."
After extensive touring, other agendas led the Announcers down separate paths. Earl sought new partners to achieve consonance. It was during this quest to sharpen both his artistic craft and business acumen that three additional voices came into the mix.
Public Announcement prides itself on being comprised of distinct individuals forming a harmonious whole. Their different yet complementary backgrounds, however, enable them to create a sound the masses respond to.
From early childhood on, Earl's mother and stepfather's diverse musical activities had a lasting impact, preparing him for both the business and performing aspects of the music industry. "I started out playing the drums and trumpet, and then moved to producing," Earl explains. "Now producing is my first love." Although Earl came to Public Announcement with wide-ranging experiences under his belt, joining Public Announcement "opened a whole new door." He now functions as the group's in-house producer.
Felony hails from slightly different yet familiar territory. "I grew up in the church and sang in the choir, but I never led any songs," he recalls. A stunning solo performance in the annual talent show, however, earned him top honors for four consecutive years, permanently removing his prior relegation to background status. "After that, people would encourage me to get in talent shows around the city." Becoming a member of Public Announcement was a natural transition. Honing his skills in various Chicago talent competitions paid off-he's both the primary songwriter and lead vocalist on most tracks, including "Body Bumpin.'"
Euclid's roots are also in the church. Originally a drummer from a very young age, he had a revelation while playing in a gospel group. "Gospel music started having a stronger influence over me." It was that feeling which compelled Euclid to sing. "My style comes off like a deep, old school sound." Singing is a major part of his life, whether it's in the choir or harmonizing with his sisters in their basement.
Meanwhile, Glen's gospel choir singing career started "from day one." He defected from a male vocal ensemble which "pretty much sounded like The Winans and Commission." When that venture dissolved, "I jumped back into the choir and that's where I'd been until Public Announcement."
Earl and Felony first got to know each other on the talent circuit. Knowing they had the seeds of a musically fruitful venture, Felony's acquaintance with Euclid through a mutual friend was the perfect blessing. The infusion of Euclid's gospel background inspired the trio to search for a fourth member to provide "balance." When Glen joined "the foundation was laid," according to Earl.
So what's the story line behind the single, "Body Bumpin'"' "Basically, it's about how people have a tendency to make love through dance," says co-writer Felony. "I came up with the concept, then Euclid and I collaborated on it." Production wise, Earl took a unique approach. "I flipped the live feel on the drums to give it that old school, new school mixture."
The popularity of "Body Bumpin'" extends beyond the club scene. Chicago's top radio station embraced it immediately. At WGCI-FM, listeners jammed the lines, making "Body Bumpin'" the most requested song for eight weeks, beating out heavy-hitters like Mariah Carey, Wyclef, Brian McKnight, Janet Jackson and KC-I & JoJo. All of these accolades occurred without the use of a video, marketing muscle, extensive promotions or prior recordings. "Public Announcement has the ability to write and produce incredible songs that people immediately respond to," says Don E. Cologne, WGCI Music Director. "It's a vibe that people compare to other top groups like Dru Hill, Jodeci or Blackstreet." And it's that same "vibe" that can be seen in Public Announcement's live performances. Playing to a packed house at the mother of all Chicago clubs, the House of Blues, made for a memorable debut performance. With the audience chanting "Yippie-Yi-Yo, Yippie-Yi-Yay" in unison, the fellas took center stage. Once they broke into their moves, the vocals and visuals came together perfectly. Ladies in the crowd responded with screams and rushed the stage. "When we do a show, we perform for one person like it's a million," Euclid explains. During the two day video shoot for "Body Bumpin,'" Public Announcement brought their own brand of Chicago hip hop/soul to New York's Twirl club. Here it's an eclectic mix of scantily clad dancers and colorfully dressed extras all getting their groove on. Everyone from cast to crew is instinctively repeating the infectious "Yippie-Yi-Yo, Yippie-Yi-Yay" hook line. The ambiance inside the room is smoldering because the stage is where PA truly shines, whether it's performing live or on film. Even "fly guy" director David Nelson was impressed.
"I see another level out of this group," says Eric "The Wiz" Sexton, Public Announcement's manager. "They've got a good grasp on what people are checking for." In addition, he emphasized the quartet's songwriting skills. "I think they can go to a level of a Boyz II Men or better. Their writing is very versatile."
P.A's "Alone"-a-married-man-in-exile anthem was initially a sweeping ballad or resignation until Felony reworked it into two different versions laced with deficance - one acoustic and one that shakes. 'Why You Not Trusting Me' balances hip-hop against the group's sound with A&M rapper Rufus Blaq playing the stand-in foil for an untrusting lady. 'It's About Time' showcases a man-in-waiting, looking for his chance to make good on a potential relationship with promise.
Due to the success of "Body Bumpin'," a remix, with it's own distinct sound, is already in the works and an album is due March 24th. "We're looking forward to working with other producers, seeing what they bring to the table," says Felony.
Public Announcement has high aspirations for the future. Earl's motivation is to reach out to their fans to "let our music marinade for the younger generation." He and his fellow Announcers do what they do "so that the kids coming up today can look up to us like we look up to The Temptations, Frankie Beverly & Maze, and Earth, Wind & Fire." "Body Bumpin'" is just the first step in their mission. The call is already spreading far and wide ...
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