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ArVon 'reminisces about the future' on 'Crash Landing!'

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Trying to conduct an interview with Albany hip-hop artist ArVon is like trying to contain a bundle of energy.

The modern-day Renaissance man born Lewis ArVon Johnson, whose self-diagnosed ADHD keeps him flitting from one project -- his latest mix tape, a new 'do when he's bored with his style, a clothing line, cartoons -- to the next, is as much a force of nature as he is an entertainer.

But make no mistake, ArVon is an entertainer. And his latest collection of music, "Crash Landing!", is proof of that. A disc that contains a little something for everyone -- some of the most clever wordplay this side of Kanye, gritty streetscapes that DMX would be proud to call his own, trippy head music that calls to mind The Roots or A Tribe Called Quest, the deconstruction of pop queen Lady Gaga, and even a Ricky Nelson "Dream Lover" sample that is so great it'll make a 1960s greaser pine for the good old days -- the 22 songs here officially serve notice that ArVon is a player to reckon with in the fertile Southwest Georgia hip-hop community.

Given his lineage, that should come as no surprise. The 33-year-old acknowledges, after a little coaxing, that his younger brother Shawn J is indeed one-half of Albany's most famous hip-hop stars, Field Mob. And baby brother Monte Carlo is an up-and-coming rapper of considerable renown.

"I don't mind mentioning that Shawn J is my brother, but I'm not out to make a name off him," ArVon said. "I'm proud of Shawn and I'm proud of Carlo. When you put us together, there's nothing we can't do. It's not even fair."

The Brothers Johnson have recorded together as the group Dougherty County, and ArVon and Monte Carlo have teamed up as Band of Losers. But except for a few cameos by his younger siblings and some of his hip-hop buddies, "Crash Landing!" is all ArVon.

And while many chest-thumping hip-hoppers will tell you that there's no one like them -- often while their latest derivative song that rips off someone else's success spins in the background -- bet the farm that ArVon is one of a kind. How many people do you know who are planning for a trip to Jupiter?

"I'm working to save up for gas money so I can move to Jupiter," ArVon says, straight-faced. "The living is more expensive, but no haters are allowed there. And my aim is to spread more smiles than tears."

ArVon spreads plenty of smiles on "Crash Landing!" From the aforementioned so-cool-it-freezes "Dream Lover," struction/reconstruction of Gaga's "Poker Face," to the Eminem-like say-anything attitude of the title track and "Billy Bada**," the artist defies every hip-hop cliche in the book ... and makes it work.

In voice-over, he mocks himself on "Billy Bada**," noting that he can't be real hip-hop because his rhymes don't include the misogyny, gunplay and female conquests of just about every other artist on the radio or spinning in Jeeps throughout the city. So ArVon obliges and spits a rhyme right out of "Gangsta 101."

But the antagonist is still not satisfied, offering as the track fades: "Ahh, n-----, you still ain't tight as your brothers."

But that's the point for ArVon.

"It's like I say (in 'F*** U Very Much'): 'The day I start living for you is the day I start killing me'," he says. "Everyone talks of a (record) deal, but when that becomes your goal that's when you admit you're willing to compromise. That's when you say you'll let them mold you into the next Soulja Boy. And that ain't me.

"My music is what gives me my sanity, what keeps me free. I don't want to be put in anyone's box, be confined to any genre of music."

ArVon's lyrics reflect as much. The man who calls himself "the eccentric enigma" ("Be") notes memorably: "Nah, you ain't gon' see me wearin' Polo" ("Give It 2 Me"); "If personality was money I'd be Oprah" ("Wake Up Dead"); and "I ain't gon' change, I'm here to change the game" (the Field Mob-like "Don't I").

And just as he flits from creative project to creative project, ArVon takes a little from column A and a little from column B on "Crash Landing!", offering a hint of Em, a taste of OutKast's Andre 3000, a smidgen of KRS1 and just the slightest touch of his favorite artist, Prince. Hell, there's even a "Baby's Got Back" update that would embarrass Sir Mix-a-Lot, the so-bad-it's-funny "Gotta Have Some A**," which ArVon insists is a requirement for any lady that comes calling.

On the Earth, Wind & Fire homage "Fly Away," ArVon boasts that he's "so far ahead I reminisce about the future." Even without the breezy cool flute loops, the down-and-dirty funk, the gritty streetlife vignettes, the gut-busting laughs that come out of nowhere, and a remix so cool it makes Ricky Nelson fly, that one introspective line makes "Crash Landing!" a treasure worth having.

So get a copy. A mind -- and talent -- this unique would be a terrible thing to waste.