Alias

Raised by a church organist/hobby store clerk and a fire-fighting jazz drummer on six acres in rural Hollis, Maine, Brendon Whitney didn't have cable growing up. With only three stores in town, the musical pickings were slim, so he'd stay up late and fuss with the TV antenna until he picked up NBC's now defunct Friday Night Videos. During one episode, Cosby kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner curated a batch of rap clips including Special Ed's "I'm the Magnificent." Young Bren's mind was blown. He bought every hip-hop magazine he could find, covering the walls of his bedroom with pictures of mean-mugging rappers. His parents were unsure about the imagery, but supportive of his passion, so on Christmas of 1992 they gave him his first drum machine.

In 1993, a trip to Portland's Maine Mall brought Alias, 17, to the feet of a real life Karl Kani-fitted hip-hop scholar. He listened to the wisdom spoken through this guru's then-patchy red beard, and soon began battle-rapping in the ciphers he'd only read about. He learned to use an MPC and to find the drum breaks on records, and three years later joined Sole (whose beard had filled out) as a member of the Live Poets crew. In 1998, these two teamed up with Doseone and Atmosphere's Slug to record the seminal Deep Puddle Dynamics LP. Upon hearing the finished product, Alias and his wife Jenn sold their car, quit their jobs, rented a U-Haul and headed west, moving into an old East Oakland warehouse with the rest of Anticon's founding members.

There, Alias made his first album -- a rap-heavy, brooding introspective called The Other Side of the Looking Glass (2002). But after producing tracks for Sole's Selling Live Water and watching Dax Pierson play keyboards in Themselves, Alias began to focus on crafting instrumentals. His Eyes Closed EP and Muted LP (2003) wedded rich, frigid atmosphere to guitar, keys, synth and drums (both live and programmed) -- a fresh take on left-field electronics. He then stretched out over collaborative albums with his jazz-playing younger brother Ehren (Lillian, 2005) and New York chanteuse Rona "Tarsier" Rapadas (Brookland / Oaklyn, 2006), and gathered up his remix work for folks as diverse as John Vanderslice and Lali Puna with Collected Remixes in 2007.

Later that year, partly as an attempt to shake off creative stagnation (which seems absurd all things considered), Alias and wife Jenn once again packed for a one-way, cross-country trip. He announced his return to Portland, Maine, with 2008's Resurgam, a celebrated venture into wordless hip-hop and electronic pop whose title comes from that city's motto -- Latin for "I will rise again." Fittingly, after producing B. Dolan's modern boom-bap masterpiece Fallen House, Sunken City (Strange Famous Records, 2010), Alias returned with Fever Dream in 2011. That album, a stylistic reboot, is his most inspired and dynamic to date, owing in no small part to fact that in the course of its creation, Brendan Whitney became a father.