Archive for September, 2009

Antipop Consortium – Fluorescent Black (Big Dada) 2LP

Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black

The power that received opinion continues to have over music criticism is really incredible. You’d think the Internet would have caused unconventional and iconoclastic viewpoints to proliferate. In fact, the Web has merely provided more efficient ways for narrow-minded dogmas to gain utter hegemony over the critical discourse. The major print publications and Web portals can  pigeonhole an artist on Monday and by the end of the week, the whole blogosphere is parroting the party line.

This is more than mere consensus building – it’s the reconfiguration of musical reality from the ground up. Case in point: post-rap pioneers Antipop Consortium. Over the course of two albums, APC proved themselves to be one of the most inventive, exciting and downright funny groups working in any genre. But because of their association with experimental music and the deathly unfashionable indie rap movement of the early ’00s, APC have found themselves universally branded as po-faced pedallers of fun-free obscuritanism.

Here’s where the reconfiguration of reality comes in. Just about anything you’ll read about APC will tell you that their songs don’t have hooks. In fact, at least half of their tracks have choruses that range from pretty catchy to maddeningly memorable. Perhaps that’s what you get for calling yourselves “Antipop Consortium”. Still, this case really goes to show how people will toe the critical line in the face of massive contradictory evidence.

Antipop called it a day six years ago. The crew’s individual members went on to pursue a range of rather unsatisfactory projects before deciding to reform a year-or-so ago. The upshot of this most welcome reformation is APC’s third album, Fluorescent Black. So is the magic still there?

Well Fluorescent Black is certainly Antipop’s weakest full-length. It’s a sprawling, uneven affair that can’t decide whether to settle on the spooky experimentalism of Tragic Epilogue or the avant-party vibe of Arrhythmia. It contains some pretty major misfires too, including a few highly jarring bursts of heavy rock instrumentation and a slightly embarrassing cameo from Roots Manuva – who just can’t keep up with Beans, Sayyid and Priest’s galloping rhyme-flows.

But when Fluorescent Black is good, man is it ever great! On the whole, it works best when going way out on a limb. The descriptively named “Timpani” consists of little more a kettle drum loop, a few dark atmospherics and some seriously munted vocal samples.  Oh and an italo disco outro. “Get Lite”, meanwhile, is based around some dizzying synth arrpeggios and more-than-usually breathless rhyming. It’ll make you lite headed.

Antipop’s LPs tend to be growers. Fluorescent Black could easily end up being one of the albums of the year. Don’t listen to the critical consensus, this is some serious fun!

Fluorescent Black will be released by Big Dada on September 29th.

September 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm 2 comments


You didn't think you were going to get away without gazing upon her beauty, did you?

You didn't think you were going to get away without gazing upon her beauty, did you?

connect_icut – “The Roxie Music”

September 3, 2009 at 12:30 pm 7 comments

Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous (Columbia) LP

Big L - Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

Big L - Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

And where – you might be forgiven for asking – is the hip-hop? Well, first of all, we try not to call it “hip-hop” too much around here. Hip-hop is an aerobics class you can take at some yuppie gym. What we’re talking about here is rhyming, emceeing… rapping. And few have rapped better than the legendary Big L.

Big L was arguably the most talented emcee in producer Diamond D’s perennially (commercially) underachieving Digging in the Creates posse (D.I.T.C.) He first came to the rap world’s attention with a guest spot on “Represent”, the stand-out cut from Runaway Slave, Showbiz & AG’s classic 1992 album. On this track, L fairly bursts into life: “Yo, on the mic is Big L, that brother who kicks flav’, God/Known for sending garbage emcees to the graveyard.”

While L’s considerable talent was immediately obvious to anyone who heard the opening lines of “Represent”, he didn’t get to release his own solo album until 1995 – right at the tail end of hardcore hip-hop’s early-’90s golden age. Sadly, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous ended up being his only proper full-length release – he died in 1999, leaving the follow-up uncompleted.

What’s so great about Big L, then? Well, to really understand that, you first have to look at what’s not so great about Big L. The thing is, perhaps more than any other emcee, Big L represents the central conundrum of rap music: how can such ugly sentiments be expressed so beautifully? On “Da Graveyard” L spits: “I make a duck shed much tears/I buck queers/I don’t have it all upstairs/But who the fuck cares?”

So, the sentiments expressed on Lifestylez… are ugly, even by the standards of mid-’90s rap. In particular, L’s homophobia is utterly rancid and unforgivable. He rhymes about his professed love of murdering homosexuals on just about every cut – to the point that it gets a little ridiculous.

And it’s that very ridiculousness that contains the seed of Big L’s salvation. See, while the gritty street tales of Lifestylez… go out of their way to “represent the real”, as all hardcore hip-hop lyrics must, L had a tendency to blow things way, way out of proportion. At one point, does he really rap about killing his own momma for small change?

Big L instinctively understood that emceeing is all about elevating boastfulness to a high art. Unlike a lot of emcees, though, he also understood that you have to make that shit funny and – above all – musical. “M.V.P.” may just be the high-water mark of funny, musical boasting in rap music: “In a street brawl I strike men/Quicker than lightning/You seen what happened in my last fight, friend?/A’ight then!”

“Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous” is not only the album’s title track, it’s also the perfect summation of Big L’s lyrical aesthetic, containing classic couplets like “Yo, I admit I’m a sucker/A low down dirty, sneaky, double crossin’, connivin’  muthafucka/Breakin’ in cribs with a crow bar/I wasn’t poor, I was po’/I couldn’t afford the O.R.” and “Some say I’m ruthless, some say I’m grim/Once a brother done broke into my house and I robbed him!”

Like all D.I.T.C. releases, this album has fantastic beats – eerie, inventive and dangerously funky. But it’s Big L’s prodigious lyrical talent and his ability to charm the listener against all odds that make Lifestylez… such a stand-out classic.

It’s hard not to feel that the ruthless, homophobic psycho Big L portrayed in his lyrics was merely the creation of a very smart artist, who new how to play up to the very specific demands of hardcore hip-hop’s core audience, while subtly subverting those same demands with wit and sly self deprecation.

On other albums from this period, the token “conscious” track can sound very contrived. But the conscious  single from this album, “Street Struck”, sounds incredibly heartfelt. Knowing that L had two brothers who did time in prison puts real emotional weight behind lines like: “I’ve seen a lot of my peers/Give up their careers/For some fast money/They could have been boxers, ball players or rap singers/Instead they bank robbers and crack slingers/Hey yo, they used to be legit kids/Now they corrupt/They had dreams but gave ’em up/’Cos they street struck .”

Big L’s death was a pretty sorry affair. In fact, the story of L’s demise reads like one of his own sick jokes. He was shot and killed in an apparently senseless incident – a tragic crime that remains unsolved to this day. The best the cops could figure it, he was killed as revenge for something one of his brothers did in jail.

Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous seems to be in circulation as a vinyl LP, which you can obtain via Discogs marketplace.

September 1, 2009 at 9:00 am 1 comment

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