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The producer ALFii, a.k.a. Christopher Pegram, remembers the day he became a musician. He was 10 years old. It was 1997, and he was playing “Final Fantasy VII,” the landmark seventh installment of the popular Japanese video game series. ALFii remembers getting caught up in the game’s sweeping storyline, which follows an eco-terrorist as he tries to save the world from destruction at the hands of an evil megacorporation.
“I got to a certain part in the game and I started weeping and crying and all this stuff, and I didn't understand why at the time, but I figured it was the music,” ALFii recalls. “It had to be the music that was making me feel such emotions. And after that, I decided to start playing piano.”
ALFii’s debut project, “AVALANCHE,” is an homage to composer Nobuo Uematsu’s famed “Final Fantasy VII” music, each song anchored by a sample from the soundtrack. “Rubberbandz” transforms the dreamy electronic harp of the game’s prelude into a shimmying, downtempo beat. The ominous chimes in “Mako Reactor” become the basis for a furious duet between Lord Felix and Najee Janey. On “Ain’t Sweet,” Michael Christmas raps in his affable style over the syncopated MIDI trills of “Don of the Slums.”
Uematsu’s compositions remain a guiding light for ALFii, even all these years later. "Nothing sounds overly complicated, nothing sounds like the composer showing off,” the producer says. “It really just sounds like some tunes some guy hummed.”
ALFii grew up in Maryland, outside of D.C. He came to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music, where he majored in composition. Eight years later, he moved to Los Angeles — just a few months shy of “AVALANCHE”’s release.
The mixtape features contributions from 15 Massachusetts rappers — a tribute to the region’s burgeoning hip-hop scene. “It never felt like it does now,” ALFii says. “The energy is just so infectious and ... everyone's pushing everyone.”
The credits for “AVALANCHE” read like a who’s who of Greater Boston’s rising hip-hop talent, from the coiled energy of Brockton’s Jiles to Brandie Blaze’s vicious bars to Stephon Joseph’s melodic poetry. ALFii tried to create unexpected combinations, pairing rappers across scene and style. “There’s all these rappers who are in … their own section of the city or their own crews,” he says. “And I just kind of wanted to break that up a bit.”
The tactic yielded some unexpected results. ALFii points to “Goodnight,” a yearning number built around a lush electronic string arrangement. The track features Joseph, an ordinarily vigorous rapper with an ear for hooks, and Billy Dean Thomas, whose verses often turn on technical prowess. “Those two artists are not normally known for doing softer songs. And I don't think anyone has Billy Dean singing at all, on any recorded media,” ALFii says. “So I was very pleased to have something that unique.”
In a way, the project was bittersweet. ALFii describes himself as a “very reserved person,” and “AVALANCHE,” he says, was partly just an excuse to connect with other artists: “The plan [was] to really solidify some relationships before I left [Boston].” Now, of course, he lives in L.A. — far from the music scene where he found his footing with a group of new collaborators. But, he says, “I told them if they ever come to L.A., they always have a place to crash.”
This article was originally published on April 15, 2020.
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