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It took several years after their formation in 1996 before the Unspoken Heard began to make waves in the East Coast hip-hop underground, but the rapper/producer collective, based in the nation's capital, certainly did just that as the new millennium turned, and Asheru and Blue Black had a lot to do with the success.
Asheru (born Gabriel Benn), a Maryland native, and Blue Black (born Robert Jackson), who originally hailed from the Bronx, met and became friends while each was a student at the University of Virginia (majoring and eventually taking degrees in anthropology and sociology, respectively). Both men were long interested in rapping; they soon formed a duo and fell in with a group of similarly inclined students: the nucleus of what would ultimately become the "Home of the New Age B-Boy," Charlottesville indie label 7 Heads Entertainment (J-Live, Mr. Complex, Richy Pitch, Djinji Brown). Alternately setting up shop in Washington, D.C., and New York City after graduation, Benn took a full-time job as a middle school teacher and Jackson became involved in e-commerce, all the while working on music in their spare time. Blue Black was the first to represent the Heard in 1996 with the solo 12" Sun Up from Sun Down. He was joined by Asheru on the classic 1999 single Better/Smiley, which was bookended by a pair of Unspoken Heard EPs, Cosmology and Jamboree, all released on Seven Heads. Asheru and Blue Black both gave up their day jobs in 1999 to dedicate more time to recording and touring. (Benn additionally became an educational consultant, developing original curricula and conducting workshops; Jackson became a business consultant.) The result of their increased efforts in the studio was a literate, conscientious 2001 debut effort, Soon Come... Heavily indebted to the New York "new school" sound of the early '90s, especially the Native Tongues vibe, the album developed a steady buzz, landing it on a number of year-end best-of lists. 48 Months followed in 2003. ~ Stanton Swihart
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