Let me un-meta this from the get-go, dog: this album is a collection of contrived clichés, tired tropes, outstanding one-liners and hapless half bad choruses. Sounds familiar? YES! It’s a hip-hop album.
Most of you smart guys should be familiar with Busdriver and NoCanDo; but you probably aren’t, and I find it unfortunate. Which is why I am reviewing this album that I don’t find particularly particular, save for the fact that it exists. In Los Angeles, in the nineteen nineties, there was this open-mic night that gathered the greatest of the greats of poetry and “rhythm-pattern talkers” that the city has nursed, showcasing their skills (skillz) to those who were cool enough to wander into a South Central health food store at night time. Busdriver honed his rapping on that very stage, with those very men, because he is very good at the rap thang. His style started from an all-out vocal roller-coaster of extrapolated story-telling, to the more complicated small-space narratives that he has harnessed himself into. If you will excuse the crossgendering, you could say he is Blade Runner. NoCanDo is a tad younger, and while he did not necessarily rub elbows with the original giants, he is certainly standing on their shoulders today. In movie terms, he is your escape from LA. His debut album came out last year and it was awesome. It featured, among others, Busdriver, and production by your Nosaj Things and Gaslamp Killers whose names are just about everywhere these days.
From this collaboration (and probably a few discussions, and green teas) came the idea of making this zeitgeist of an album. It’s called 10 Haters Or how two fantastic rappers learned to stop to worrying and love the bomb. Let’s get the production out of the way: if you are familiar with Low End Theory and more generally speaking the sound that has been coming out of Los Angeles for the past few years, you will find yourself at home: Nosaj Thing, Free The Robots, Mono/Poly and Shlohmo deliver their most up to date rappable material: a bit of lo-fi 8-bitery, a bit of filters here and there. Most of the dudes you hear coming out of this “new” so-called “beat scene” grew up listening to hip-hop – I personally don’t see what the big deal is because when Dabrye did it 10 years ago I loved it just the same – but for some reason kids today are way into this. I say good for them. And it was about time these men gave back to the community because instrumentals lack a little something.
Yo! Rap. That’s what we’re talking about here. What is notable if you’ve never heard either MC rap before, is how easily their styles translate into modern day rap music: unpolished stream of consciousness, pop culture references and inflatable egos are really something. But don’t let the goofiness fool you, there is a second reading.
Being who I am (I find hard to be otherwise) I find it difficult to separate what I am hearing from the personalities of the two rappers. Actually, I have a strange feeling that the two fed off each other a great deal in writing their verses but I can’t attest for their creative process. Busdriver certainly took a page of Lil Boosie starkness out of NoCan’s book, and to hear him deliver some struggle bars is delightful. “One minute I’m sighing over hipsters in their open flannels / then I’m in Honduras installing solar panels” he laments, as his ability to teleport has only caused him grief. And his swag? It extends much further than the Christmas sweater of promo pictures “I’ve got a noxious blond sitting in my lawn chairs / my expresso machine modifications includes voice recognition software, rich neo-cons hairs.”
Nocando, on the other hand, feels… lighthearted?
“I stay chilling like a teacher in July / Fly like a winged creature in the sky / Speaking the gospel like a preacher to the choir / I’m spitting the methamphetamine, tweaking every line.”
He clearly got the whole “Writing for Dummies” down. Only exception being the closing track, a solo river verse offering which clearly was written in a different world. At the end of the day, some tracks are clearly acing it: “In A Perfect World” is just a great hip-hop song (with some help from Mike Eagle), smart and strange and just overall well put together. But it’s not all rosy and carefree. Bernie for example, I very much can live without. Even though it seems mandatory to do an “I got a new dance for yall” moment in the grand scheme of things. Maybe the beat is not gaudy enough. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard Busdriver touch on that very subject much more aptly on “Latest Dance Craze“. Maybe because I wish I could do “The Bernie” like my nephews do. Maybe because I’m an old lil half dead white man myself. I don’t know.
In 2011, hip-hop albums are by and large entertaining and with just un/calculated enough, they are acceptable but ultimately anecdotal. I am afraid that framing 10 Haters as a hip-hop album in 2011 has made it just that. So I am enjoying it while I still can.