ISWHAT?! performs a rare, free hometown show Friday. Photo provided.
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IsWhat?! comes to Over-the-Rhine's MOTR

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Brian Baker

Long gaps between albums aren't unusual for IsWhat?!

In fact, it took Napoleon Maddox and his Cincinnati-based genre-defying Hip Hop/Jazz/Rock/Soul collective three years after their 1996 formation to drop their auspicious debut, Landmines. Nearly everyone who contributes to IsWhat?! is also engaged in other creative projects, as well as day jobs and family commitments — from the full-time core of the band (frontman/beatboxer Maddox, saxophonist/flautist/vocalist Jack Walker, drummer Hamid Drake) to a coterie of vastly talented regulars who drift in and out of the group's orbit (including bassist/graphic designer Brent "Killa-O" Olds, saxophonist Cocheme'a Gastelum, Cincinnati turntablist/producer Tobe "Tobotius" Donohue and Jazz giant Archie Shepp, who has used IsWhat?! for his backing band).

Given the "collective" spirit of IsWhat?!, extended periods of inactivity are natural.

So when the question arises about the four-year span between IsWhat?!'s last acclaimed album, 2009's Big Appetite, and its exquisitely powerful new disc, Things That Go Bump in the Dark, Maddox offers a slightly unexpected answer.

"Besides touring Big Appetite, trying to get (the new) record done," Maddox says of the time between releases.

"Any time you're doing something that you want to matter, it's not an overnight process. It didn't really seem like four years."

ISWHAT?! performs a rare, free hometown show Friday at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub.

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