“Like Herbie Hancock with an MPC” is how the Addict Merchants flatter themselves. And with good reason. The Merchants have become a live hip hop sensation, already rocking a few enthusiastic Santa Barbara crowds. Their self-released Matters of Fact has put them on the map with “a collection of hip-hop-jazz-funk-soul-positively-charged-eclectic” music. Word.

Keyboardist E.J. and Freez, one of the Merchants’ three MCs, say they were introduced to the rest of the group by friends and musical acquaintances a few years back and things just clicked. The rest of the band consists of a drummer, bassist, guitarist and a DJ or two to throw down beats. Did I mention that whole three-MC deal?

E.J. was influenced to play the keys at an early age by “any and almost all types of jazz,” with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock fueling his passion the most. As for Freez, his parents rocked anything from classical to reggae. KRS-One is a major vocal influence, one who the Merchants had the privilege of rocking with, yet the Native Tongues of the early ’90s are a more fitting resemblance of his rapping and the Merchants’ style as a whole. “If you’re not havin’ fun then we ain’t doin’ our job,” Freez said with a chuckle.

With backgrounds ranging from the Philippines to Detroit, like a funky dust cloud the group finally settled in Sacramento. Their style represents a growing trend of hybrid jazzy hip hop artists who bring their own individuality to the table. “When they hear how we flip it up, they get a little bit of everything,” Freez said.

With respectable day jobs including a substitute teacher, loan shark, record shop owner and an EMT, the Merchants lead pretty decent lives. Yet Freez stated that the ultimate goal as a collective is to take the music to the next level – to try and turn this passion into a career. “At this point it’s already beyond a hobby.”

The group is currently talking to various indie labels hoping to release some wax soon. When asked about the pressures of the music industry, the two remained optimistic. “We’re just like any other true musician that’s true ’bout what they’re doing.” Overall the group seems to be looking forward to doing what they want without anyone trying to “dilute” their mixture.

“We wanna hit everybody,” Freez stated. “We’re not gonna limit ourselves to any one goal.” And the Merchants don’t want to lose sight of themselves, either. “As one unit, we’re out to provide our music,” E.J. agreed, “but at the same time each individual is on a search of his own growth in life.”

You can chart their growth at www.addictmerchants.com.

The Addict Merchants will open for The Pharcyde tonight at SB’s Coach House, located at 110 Santa Barbara St. The first of two shows tonight will be for all ages and will begin at 7. The second, 21-plus, show begins at 11. Tickets are available at Hempwise, Just Play Music and Morninglory Music. Call 965-0789 for more info.