People Under The Stairs
O.S.T. (Original Soundtrack)
Don’t get intimidated by the seemingly daunting name of this L.A. hip hop duo; Thes One and Double K aren’t shrouded beneath the staircases of your pretty Coral Gables villas or in the ominous, clandestine garrets of your beloved frat houses. The pair of MCs and beatmakers is simply installed within the underground walls of their smooth sound barriers, concocting refined raps and musical dope that surely can get your high going and your body moving.
O.S.T. has the similar sleek and steadily streaming vibe of earlier PUTS releases and, following a tour with De La Soul, is the result of integrating their road experiences into the studio. Thes One’s production is a polished assembly of heavily filtered bass lines, jazzy horns, boppish drums, and funky, erratic samples, all recorded on a simple 8 track in his bedroom. The group has a signature dense sound that is ever-present on this album: both Thes and Double K have dug up a sundry of records, unearthing crisped drum sounds from old, tattered vinyls and adding their own personal layers of loops from disparate genres of music.
Both members drop skillful rhymes that keep a poignant rhythm and balanced flow, sometimes interjected with laid-back, humorous burlesques, such as on the droll track, “Tales of Kidd Drunkadelic.” On “The Outrage,” Double K lets the world know about his indignation of the star-searching status of today’s rappers along a silken beat with a crooning bass line. The group narrates about their bona fide life in LA-LA land (minus the glamorama) in “The L.A. Song,” which is gilded with a sexy guitar sample. PUTS even transports the listener to the Caribbean islands on “Montego Slay” with a beat reminiscent of Martinique or Guadeloupe’s zouk sounds.
Thes One and Double K aren’t trying to scare you. They just want to paint a picture of b-boy life through beats consisting of intricately looped music. The album is a pleasant musical aphrodisiac and, after a thorough listen, when the voice in the intro asks, “What kind of dope you on?”, you’ll just be able to say, “Musical dope,” so hit play and inhale.
Urban Renewal Program
The second installment in this compilation series from electronic label, Chocolate Industries, Urban Renewal Program, an assortment of trip hopish instrumentals and heretical hip hop, seeks to redefine the sound of the new urbanite-that is, the ubiquitous, independent street wanderer with a dissenting voice, who hunts through the turmoil of the big city searching for some specs of truth.
The series of four records claims it wants to showcase “urban art, music and expression,” and each is stylishly packaged with an inlayed art booklet. With music from seditious hip hop artists such as Aesop Rock, El-P, Souls of Mischief, Mr Lif, DJ Food and Mos Def as well as electronica composers such as Prefuse 73, Tortoise and Caural, the album wants to incorporate a multiplicity of hip hop styles and other musical genii, which can give the impression that the overall work is perhaps a bit jumbled. However, this mixture of sound appeals to the varied tastes of the urban jungle and is an unusual, but still harmonious musical creation. The RJD2-produced “True Confessions”-an interesting hybrid of rock and hip hop, which rebounds between tempos and samples a teenager confessing his many sins to a priest-reflects the album’s eccentricity.
On “Train Buffer,” Aesop Rock, in his booming, flamboyant rhyming style, tells a comical story about an encounter with a hooker, or perhaps, the song is just a filthy bewailing about his libido. Mr Lif’s provocative rhymes on “Wanted” probe into the injustices of street life as Lif states, “I’m an outcast/Not regarded as legitimate” with wraithlike piano samples in the background. Souls of Mischief annotate the hip hop scene in Melbourne on “Sparks” over a jazzy organ and bass line. Mos Def and Diverse display their lyrical artillery and sense of camaraderie on “Wylin’ Out” and former Company Flow frontman, El-P, frantically encourages the listener to be subversive on “Deadlight,” explaining, “The government don’t love you/So why love them back?”
Miho Hatori then sings a velvety melody on “Night Light” in a Bjork-like voice and, as Caural moves us with “Our Solstice Walk,” which has a jazzy snare-cymbal combo and melancholic sax sample, Tortoise invites us on a mystical journey with psychedelic sounds of piano, guitars and harps on “C.T.A.”
The album, assimilating underground Brooklyn rappers, innovative electronic producers and semi-celebrity guests (Mos Def?), may appear to some to be too avant-garde. The electronic tunes sledge the listener into an ethereal digital world with synthetic soundscapes and can provide the listener with the lost feeling of living an urban life. Moreover, most of the hip hop tracks edge on the too-abstract, esoteric genre, MCs spitting rhymes that’ll make your head spin through a labyrinth of cryptic poetry atop abstruse and complex beats that seem to have been meticulously designed-yet the sound still reveals much beauty. It’s like you’re walking under the Brooklyn Bridge or among the disorder of big cities looking for signs of beauty, and you spot, just above a pack of empty Krylon cans, a massive and vibrant graffiti piece. You can still find a light in the smokiness and chaos of the concrete Amazon.
After grooving to the ill beats and rhyme-spraying of MCs and street poets, slow down to the tranquil and peculiar sounds of the new Morcheeba album. The music can be described as lethargic, laid-back tunes infused with dreamy, wistful vocals along lush melodies, rhythms influenced by Seventies soul with a feel of exotic psychedelia in the background, and beats characterized by a spirited hip hop groove. However, the sound of Morcheeba, often mistakenly labeled by the press as trip hop, cannot really be categorized in the endless array of musical genres. Their idiosyncrasy as artists and the experimentation in their music-e.g. combining peculiar instruments such as a charango (a 10-string Bolivian guitar) or a bassoon in pop songs, or else sampling Bollywood film scores into tracks influenced by country and blues tunes-puts them in a category that is very much their own.
Their newest release, Charango, has the same light-funky feel, but is also garnished with a sexy, tropicalia dress on “Sao Paulo” (resulting from their first trip to Brazil), a nostalgic folk outfit with “Undress Me Now” and “What New York Couples Fight About,” both co-written and the latter performed with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, and a smoldering hip hop rhythm on “Women Lose Weight,” featuring Slick Rick, as well as on “Charango” and “Get Along” with Pacewon of The Outsidaz. “This isn’t a case of us going out and looking for the exotic,” explains member Paul Godfrey of the album’s direction. “It’s a natural result of what’s been happening to us, and what we’ve been listening to.” His brother Ross adds: “We’ve used the place that we’ve come from-that English beats tradition-and reached to as many things as possible to make this defining sound. Skye, Pacewon, Slick Rick and Kurt Wagner can all sit together comfortably on this record.”
With this fourth album, the group seems to have mushroomed its diverse tastes to define a sweltering, matured sound. The differing musical interests between Paul (the beathead of the group who is responsible for the hip hop vibe) and Ross (who is the guitarist/multi-instrumentalist and is into Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye) as well as Skye Edwards’ soulful voice are what create the genuine sound of Morcheeba. Blaze it up-their name cleverly means “more cheeba,” inspired from rapper Schooly D’s way of referring to weed-and lose yourself in the reverie and enchantment of the serene sounds.
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com