Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Other Side of Whirlwind D

Whirlwind D is back with, actually, only his second album. He's been steadily releasing vinyl singles and building a pretty full catalog, especially if you factor in the Solid 'N' Mind 12"s, it feels like this must be around his fourth album. But no, this is the sophomore LP. And I think we find him coming into a more confident veteran sensibility. There's more of a feeling that instead of just doing the best hip-hop that he can and throwing it together to make an album (which is in itself a pretty great way to make an record, mind you), he's got a more refined cohesion to the material. There's a lot of variety on this album, which I'll certainly get into, but it feels more like everything was carefully selected and designed to form an album with a purposeful mood, rather than just being "here's what I got!"

The elements I always look for on any of D's projects are happily here again. First and foremost, that means some really slick scratching my some clearly skilled DJs. Basically every song has some really hot scratches that could almost carry the beats by themselves on an purely instrumental album. Sir Beans OBE, Jabba the Kut, Mr. Fantastic, Miracle, and DJ Tones all put in great work on this LP. Seriously, not a single song doesn't have a turntablist cut loose on it; I love it.

Another element you can always count on D for is some solid production. It's all top quality craftsmanship here. Anytime I see Mr. Fantastic's name in the liner notes, I know not to worry. And he pops up a lot here. There's not a lot of guest MCs, though. D takes most of that weight on his own shoulders. He has one duet with Oxygen of Sputnik Brown, and he's got a posse cut with his crew. But most of Other Side consists of more personal, conceptual material with D on his own, and I raises to that level with more natural, nuanced rhymes and definitely an uptick in creative imagery from his last album.

Like, the title cut has a really dark, slow beat. It's by Specifik, but it's almost feels like one of those crazy tracks Vooodu would make for Ras Kass when he wanted to get really serious. It's about the ills of the world as viewed through the lens of our looming mortality. So yeah, it's painting all these dark pictures, but on the other hand it's kind of a traditional message joint. In fact, Whirlwind D is now officially the first rapper I've heard use the word "transphobic" in a song.

Then "Hate Makes Hate" puts a cool aggressive spin on message songs. Not quite 2 Black 2 Strong, but getting there.  heh  Don't get the wrong idea, though. It's not a big preachy album; Other Side is full of all kinds of stuff. D pairs up with a live guitarist, both going hard to create a rock/rap song a la the 80s' "The D.O.C. and the Doctor," "S&M" or "Beautiful But Deadly."  It's called "7 Eyed Monster," which is a clear metaphor for anger, but going hard about rage is pretty much the ideal subject for this kinda song. It's cool even that he tackled this type of song, plus the cuts at the end amp the tone up perfectly; but I'm glad he only did one like this. These rock 'n' rap songs are fun once in a while, but you wouldn't want a whole album of "Rock De La Stet"s. One and done, get back to the real hip-hop instrumentals. Actually, there is one more song with that guitarist, but it's got a totally different, non-rock vibe.

You've also got a more traditional hip-hop-referencing track called "Pioneers," and a trippy one called "Avenger of Death." Conceptually, I can't even figure out who the titular avenger is supposed to be, but it's really about the grim, nighttime crime scene he describes anyway. And I like how D opens with that kind of classical hip-hop clever wordplay into his lyrics, but not for a punchline fueled battle rap. Instead he's using it for this moody crime piece. More like this please! But I think my favorite cut might be just the a light-hearted one he saves for the end. A few rappers have done that turn-your-closing-shout-outs-into-an-actual-rap-song before, but have any ever made it a posse cut? The mic is passed over an upbeat jazzy track with a deep groovy bassline, horn stabs and, of course, finishing with more tight scratching.

As you can see above, Other Side comes in an attractive color picture cover and also includes one of those old school inserts, like you used to see a lot in the day, with credits and thanks on the other reverse. This album includes his last single, "B-Line Business," but not the B-side, "Battle Tip 2015," leaving that exclusive to the 7". And everything else here is all new. If you haven't heard any of his material yet, I'm not sure I'd start out with this album... maybe the WD40 EP would be a better introduction. And then come back to this album later to hear the interesting direction he's taken since then. But if you've been following him all along, you're definitely going to be pleased and will want to jump on this right away.

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