Street | Feature
Question: What group is Princeton’s oldest, youngest and only coed hip-hop and R&B a cappella group?
Answer: It’s Off the Record!
Founded in the spring of 2011, Off the Record now comprises about 15 members who meet twice a week to rehearse their renditions of everything from Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” to Ariana Grande’s “The Way.” The group features the standard soprano, alto, tenor and bass vocal roles found in most choral groups, but also likes to highlight its rappers and beatboxers.
The group was formed to fill a previously unfilled niche in the campus performing arts scene.
“As far as I know, [the founders] started out that spring and were kind of frustrated, I guess, about the lack of an outlet for doing R&B and hip-hop performance in singing in general, not even just in a cappella,” Caleb Negash ’15 said. Negash, the group’s former president, served a two-semester term that ended when the fall semester came to a close. He is now one of the publicity chairs.
“We try to change up things about a cappella on campus. We try to sing songs that are a little more modern and definitely in the hip-hop, R&B genre,” Negash added.
Like other a cappella groups on campus, Off the Record performs at arch sings, but the group also likes to perform at a variety of other venues. They have performed during intermissions of Black Arts Company shows, as well as at events like the Black History Month Closing Gala in February.
“We like to collaborate with other groups a lot, do joint arches. And we do things that range from performing in Cafe Viv, like we did the other day for an event, to the Big Sibs event in Murray Dodge [on Saturday],” Negash said.
Within the group, too, there is “a spirit of collaboration,” according to Marina Kaneko ’15. Kaneko joined the group in the fall of 2011 and is the former music director; along with Negash, she is now publicity chair.
When Negash was arranging “The Way,” for example, he transcribed the melody and wrote parts he imagined would sound good together. During their weekly sectional rehearsal, the women of the group added their suggestions, which Negash then used to expand the arrangement.
Because Off the Record is still a young group, it is building its repertoire from scratch, one student-arranged song at a time.
“One of the cool things about being involved in a young-ish group is the repertoire — we’re making it all ourselves. Everyone has a chance to arrange a song or contribute to a new arrangement,” Kaneko said.
“A lot of my favorite songs that we get to do in OTR are mash-ups of two songs that kind of have similar chord structure, kind of similar thematic elements,” she added. “So for instance, we’ve been working on this arrangement of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Fly’ and R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly.’ ”
In little over a week, Off the Record will be hosting Georgetown University’s all-male Georgetown Capitol Gs during a joint arch sing. The performance will be Off the Record’s first collaboration with a visiting group. In the future, Off the Record “would love to establish a greater presence off campus,” current president Deana Hamlin ’17 said in an email interview. She expressed interest in planning a retreat for Off the Record and visiting other schools to perform. Hamlin joined the group in the fall and took on the role of president at the beginning of the spring semester.
Off the Record would also like to begin touring. “We would love to do some traveling, even starting pretty locally and going to places in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, on tour,” Negash said, describing a tour as one of the major goals of the group.
“Singing brings OTR great joy, and we would love to spread that joy,” Hamlin said.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the Georgetown a cappella group that will be joining Off the Record for an arch sing. The group is the Georgetown Capitol Gs. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.