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City Paper Noise: The Lyricists Transmittin’ Live EP

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I’ve talked-up the beats of Baltimore’s DJ Excel a bunch of times now (for sampling Stoner Metal,for making the Baltimore Club equivalent of Tortoise’s “DJ’ed”,for making the beat for E-Major’s “Don’t Worry”), and now there’s his collaboration with Port Huron, Michigan’s The Lyricists:

“Although Bmore Original released the Lyricists’ full-length L3 last year, Transmittin’ Live is the Port Huron, Mich., underground act’s first musical collaboration with DJ Excel. Excel’s blueprint is the boom-bap you expect from a crew called the Lyricists, but one of Baltimore’s most ubiquitous beat makers grabs some of club music’s energy and avant production for the EP, too.

The titular track bumps like ’90s New York, as metallic sci-fi sounds pulse and near-subliminal snippets–part Dilla Donuts style, part clipped Baltimore club vocal–of a blues singer tumble in the background. And it’s all brought back to earth by worker-bee rhymes from Illtone and Rym-Benda, and pragmatic scratches from in-house DJ, Haus Diesel.

More than comfortable spitting hard-ass battle raps, the Lyricists’ real success comes in knowing the right time to rein it in and chill-out. On “The Juggle,” Illtone matches Excel’s woozy strings by ungritting his teeth, and dropping the commanding boom. It makes a song about regret (“stress shows in the form of gray stubble”) palpable.

“Bubble Guts” employs their storytelling and simile spouting talents toward nothing more than a hilarious song about, well, taking a shit. The Lyricists trade lines back and forth (“Yo, my palms are sweaty from grippin’ handicap rails/ Droppin’ logs the size of white whales”) and DJ Haus Diesel punctuates the scat-rap with turntablism mimicking the sound of a diarrhea burst.

With Excel subtly stretching the boom-bap rap form to its limits, the Lyricists actively eschew the grotesque cliches of stubborn traditionalist hip-hop. In the past, the group has done some “rap sucks now” kvetching but, here, they trade it in for self-effacing humor and weary tales of maturation (hometown lament “P.H, MI.” and “Grown Up”).”

Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2009 at 6:38 am

The EP: A Good Look For Rappers in 2009

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Everybody’s sort of over the long-as-shit, lotsaskitsandguests rap album, right? It figured itself out, as rappers either avoid it to make short-ish, still-shitty albums while claiming “all hits no skits” or they dig in deep like Lil Wayne, embrace the inherent sloppiness of 70 minutes of music and make a kinda classic.

But the 40 minute album’s weak and most rappers can’t precariously balance art and bullshit like Weezy. And anyway, the Illmatic formula only works when your music sounds like Illmatic, otherwise listeners just kinda feel cheated. A great deal of Clipse’s success for Hell Hath No Fury had to do with its relatively brief length and Common’s Be and Finding Forever hold up because they’re kind of consistent and don’t over stay their welcome. Less “classics” than albums that followed the formula for a classic close enough.

Hath succeeds though because it has scope and a sense of a narrative. Rap albums, more than any other genre, just don’t work as a mess of songs. It doesn’t have to be a perfectly sensible story or arc, but some palpable sense of evolution needs to be in there. If Jeezy’s The Inspiration (which came out a few weeks after Hell) had ended after track 11, “Dreamin”, it’d be as resonant and palpable as Clipse’s second album.

Making a good album, in that like Platonic way music critics gravitate toward isn’t all that hard (it’s basically a formula), but most rappers aren’t even interested in that and we’re left with a bunch of too-long, not that great albums or mercifully short but still sloppy 40 minutes. This past year, something like Q-Tip’s The Renaissance, sounds like Tip grabbed the best songs from a larger group he’s been working on for the past 9 years and sequenced them to flow together well enough. It’s not a bad album, it’s not great, and it’s a got a couple of classics on it, but I don’t know–I expect more?

Albums like this are, at their best polite, modest compilations of music and nothing more. For example, Pastor Troy’s Attitude Adjuster isn’t really better or worse than The Renaissance and if you dig aggressive, affecting enough kinda Crunk, of course it’s way better. Musically, they don’t have a lot in common, but both discs are equal parts fun and frustrating for short durations and diminishing returns.

Pastor and Tip should’ve just stuck another twenty minutes of music on there; they weren’t making anything that justified the short length anymore than they could justify filling out a whole CD. Or, these moderately successful albums could’ve just been chopped down fifteen minutes and become excellent EPs.

The EP format’s never been as integral in hip-hop as it has other genres, but there are plenty of classics rap EPs–100 Miles and Runnin, California Livin, All Souled Out, Creepin On Ah Come Up to name a few personal favorites—and it’s always seemed like an ideal way to introduce listeners without overwhelming them, an all-too common problem when your first introduction to a rapper’s his long-ass mixtape or his totally-compromised, delayed a million times album.

For veterans that have a fervent fanbase (like Q-Tip or Pastor Troy), dropping half-assed mixtapes for free doesn’t make as much sense as dropping half-assed albums for 12 dollars. But they’re not really touching anybody in a new way sonically or commercially–and maybe they aren’t trying to–but only all-out stans would feel totally satisfied by these albums.

The EP makes a really cool end-run around the album for artists like Q-Tip who clearly aren’t totally sure where to go or what to do right now and Pastor Troy, who drops one, sometimes two albums a year that half-work and are half worthless. In a way, the mixtape’s made an end-run around some of the problems with the “album” but we’ve hit this weird breaking point for mixtapes.

Because they don’t cost anything and we don’t expect much from them, it’s silly to bitch about a mixtape’s quality unless it’s like, a Lil Wayne or Clipse tape, so we just download them, digest them, and move on. They both mean a lot and mean absolutely nothing and it’s mainly the artists losing out. Artists that, because they’re major label album’s forever in-limbo or they’ve got blog hype and no contract, are entirely dependent upon the mixtape to stay above water.

For new or in-limbo artists, a solid, easy to digest product that would sell for a few bucks cheaper and still doesn’t curtail the necessary “debut album” seems like a better option. As Jay Electronica’s shown, not really playing the “mixtapes, rap on others’ beats” game can work better than being another guy with a ton of mixtapes going buck over “A Milli”. Jay’s earliest hype came from his Style Wars EP, which at 12 songs, all of them originals, could’ve been called an “album” or at least, a “mixtape”.

Calling it an EP suggested a cohesion and signficance greater than DJ So-and-So Presents… but still built-in hype for his formal debut (which we’re still waiting for). The brilliance of the EP is that it suggests “this isn’t important” which, in the current world of rap–where a snippets of a single get leaked and people drop trailers for their fucking music videos–is refreshing in its anti-hype.

SHADY records-signed Bobby Creekwater released an EP on his MySpace last year called The BC Era and listening to it was both invigorating (it’s nine solid, guest-less tracks of rapping) and depressing (because if Bobby ever drops an album it’ll have crossover beats and guests and run closer to 18 tracks). Bobby Creek’s always impressed me more than most languishing in label limbo rappers, but BC Era shows he can make a solid collection of songs without hiding behind the “mixtape” label.

The stumbling psychedelia of “Clouds” is a proper intro and “Goodbye” is the right way to end an album—with one last explosion of energy and some vague sense of wrapping-it-up melancholy. In between, there’s a track like “When I Go” which references “A Milli” through the beat’s minimalism and Creekwater’s cadences and is in a sense, his “freestyle” on the mega-hit without him just being the 1000th dude to plain rap over it. It isn’t overt and isn’t aggressive, but it invokes the subtler ways rappers of the 90s addressed over-arching rap trends amongst one another before it was cool to just rap over dude’s beat about how you outrapped him on the track wherein you’re supposedly outrapping him…

For unknown rappers too, the EP’s a great idea as it’s equal parts overwhelming and underwhelming like a mixtape and again, doesn’t force them to blow their big-time “debut” album load as soon as possible. Some of my favorite releases of 2008 turned out to be EPs from Baltimore rappers that were no-bullshit bursts of rap clocking in between twenty and thirty minutes.

B.O.M.B released his EP Testers in the spring and like BC Era, gives you a group of great songs and some palpable sense of scope. Demon synths and trebly horns squeak out from the titular intro track through the next nine songs, with brief detours for the rolling pop-rap of “Lean” or club-ready jams mixed with a Ghostface/Dolemite storytelling detail on “She’s Nasty” and it all lets-up for the perfect closer “Sunday”, a decidedly relaxed celebration of his hometown. Imagine the average rapper’s grabs for versatility, smooshed into nine cohesive tracks, not stretched to twenty.

MANIA Music Group’s Midas and Kane Mayfield each released super-solid, thematically cohesive EPs for free on their website. Midas’ Live from the Arcade, based around the propulsive, video-game themed “Push Start” is a quick portrait of a rapper that straddles the line of nerdy thoughtful sometimes wounded rapper (“Blue Lights” “You’re Fired”), and guy ready to kick your ass (“Brass Knuckles”) and call you a cunt (“Set’em Straight Skit”). It’s a concept and sincere gimmick that dude can easily stretch into a proper full-length when the times comes and part of that confidences comes from his comfort in not taking seventy minutes to prove it. On the Prelude to Bladerunner EP, Kane’s almost always ready to kick your ass and call you a cunt, but he wraps it all around a dystopian aesthetic of garbage can drums and future electronics.

Although record sales show I’m kinda maybe alone on this, when I hear something perfect like The BC Era or Live from the Arcade, I want to own it. And I’m more apt to pay 10 dollars for something that’s really hot than 15 dollars for something that’s part hot and part boner-kill. Additionally, the EP is marketable as an LP which most rap records—almost always 2xLPs– are not. While the market’s not exactly huge, the “vinyl resurgence” has been documented in quite a few places lately and I like to walk around pretending that rap heads in particular, still care about vinyl outside of their Serato.

Just today, I was in a record store and heard a guy asking for the new Animal Collective “on vinyl”. Make jokes about how he got his record player from Urban Outfitters last week or how “vinyl” is real hip right now, but the other part is, a record offers you something really cool and personal that CD’s don’t and even this dope knows that. Now that you can download something and burn it or stick it on your iPod and drive around and the only thing lost is like, a little audio quality, a record’s got levels of “retro” and sincere appeal.

I can’t think of anything more exciting than having The BC Era or Jay Electronica’s Style Wars and “Act I: The Pledge” on record, or you know, a version of The Renaissance without “Manwomanboogie”, “Dance on Glass”, and “Life is Better” on it.

-The BC Era is available for free at Bobby Creekwater’s MySpace
-Testers is available for purchase at CDBaby
-Live from the Arcade and Prelude to Bladerunner are available for free at MANIA Music’s Website

Written by Brandon

January 26th, 2009 at 8:12 am

Posted in 2009, Baltimore, EPs