Rising action

Local hip-hop trio Prophetix ascends with its debut, High Risk

It costs $7 to ride the glass elevator up the side of the Westin Peachtree Plaza in downtown Atlanta, and there's no way we're paying. I raise one eyebrow and lean in closer to the desk clerk.

"I guess I should explain. This is going to mean some serious exposure for the hotel," I say. "You see, we're here to do an exclusive interview with Prophetix."

The subdued sounds of the hotel lobby seem amplified by her stone-faced silence. A set of elevator doors opens and closes with no exchange of passengers. Across the hall, a cell phone rings once, then goes quiet. Somewhere, an unseen pair of corduroy pants rubs together at a clipped pace. We end up paying the seven bucks, and as a gesture of good will, MC Mello Melanin slides the clerk a complimentary Prophetix sticker. She would be wise to hold onto it.

While the name of their group may still be in the process of dropping, High Risk, the premiere full-length from Mello, Eddie Meeks and DJ Jon Doe is already bringing the dangerous kinetic energy of a silver dollar flipped off the Westin rooftop. With the release of the album, Prophetix has introduced an urgent, dynamic voice to Atlanta's solidifying independent hip-hop scene.

The group communicates with a level of cinematic intensity. Doe's beats feel like the score to a shadowy musical motion picture. Looped orchestral strings and horn sections lay down a texture of dark, wet pavement tread upon by Mello and Meeks' vocal chase sequences. On "Bigguns," for instance, Doe's loop feels like something from a Bond film — an aural establishing shot of a criminal mastermind's hollow-volcano hide-out. Craggy trumpets and sweeping French horns underscore the classic trash-talking, tag-team stylistics of Meeks and Mello. The MCs (who actually tower at a combined 13 feet) boast, "the bigger they are, the harder I hit, and if you're thinking big, then big is what you get."

Perched upon the top of the city in true "high risk" fashion, the rotating digs of the Sun Dial lounge recreates this sense of elevated visual drama. As neighboring skyscrapers swing by in the background, Prophetix fills the foreground of something like a long, circular dolly shot. Sporadically placed overhead fixtures create uneven, theatrical highlighting across their faces as they move. And as Meeks talks about Prophetix, his deep baritone feels like the booming voiceover for a coming attraction.

"The album came together real nicely," Meeks says. "We were anxious. When we couldn't go over to Jon's and record, I used to pout. I'd be like, 'Damn, I can't do this song, and I'm hot right now. When I get over there, we're gonna lace it up.' It's things like that which let you know you should be doing hip-hop."

While Prophetix is just beginning to touch down, it has been over a decade in the making. Meeks and Mello spent a good portion of the '90s in Atlanta as part of the five-man Insane Circle crew. After building a strong local reputation, and ultimately performing at the famed Apollo Theatre in New York, the group melted down. Mello quit music, and Meeks was forced to leave Atlanta.

"I was done with the whole business," says Mello. "Rhyming, everything — done."

As if on cue, our table now faces due south. The neon polish of Midtown has been replaced with dimmer lights and lower structures.

"We went through some stuff, and I did personally, where — I'm not gonna say I was homeless, homeless, but I had to pack up my stuff and move back to Memphis to my mom's crib," says Meeks. "I consider that homeless. Families really were torn apart at this time, because we weren't doing music."

Around the time Meeks headed back to Tennessee, he made an appearance on a college hip-hop radio show hosted by budding producer John Doe. Moving back to Atlanta and pulling Mello back into the circle, the threesome quickly gelled as Prophetix, holing up in Doe's home studio to produce High Risk.

We clock another skyline rotation as the group talks about the creation of the album.

"A lot of people think too hard about this shit," says Doe. "They don't just let it be and ride the force of nature. We're not going into the studio saying, 'All right, we're gonna make a song about this, and Meeks is gonna do this, and Mello's gonna do this.' I just play them the beat, they write to it, and it just comes out. What they are trying to accomplish lyrically is what I'm trying to accomplish with the sound."

Like the building we currently occupy and the neighboring architecture that peeks in through the windows, the three voices in Prophetix are individually distinct in style. Meeks' bass flow serves as a counterpoint to Mello's more sing-song, melodic flair. John Doe's rare groove beats have their own compositional voice, never settling for a role as kick-snare wallpaper. But when the three come together, a larger picture emerges. It's a layered, elongated mosaic, tracing the form and character of a city skyline.