Thursday, October 5, 2017

How Does Hip-Hop Grow Up? Falling

In the past, I've referred to Whirlwind D's particular take on Hip-Hop as adult, mature, "grown man rap," etc.  But what does that really mean?  Traditionalism?  Some balding rapper talking about break dancing, or beats that sound like they were made in the 90s (for some reason, Hip-Hop producers are scared to throwback farther than that)?  Just anything by anybody who still picks up a mic after 40?  I don't know about all that...  Like, I don't care how old Ice-T gets; I think we can all agree that this isn't what we mean.  But I think we can find it here on Falling, Whirlwind's latest vinyl release.

I haven't really gone on record saying this yet, but I've been pretty disappointed by the lack of political commentary in our Hip-Hop lately.  Now wait before you start posting contemporary rap songs with some political content (actually, don't wait... I'd love to get a little list/ discussion going of some good 2017 political Hip-Hop going on in the comments and get put onto something dope), I'm not saying there hasn't been any.  Of course I've heard "FDT" and that Joey Badass song, and guys like Scarface have done material commenting on Ferguson.  Sole and DJ Pain 1 have been pumping it out.  And sure there's been plenty of social commentary stuff (i.e. everything from "Swimming Pools" to "1-800-273-8255," and material straddling the fence like "What If It Was Me"), but that's not really the same thing.  It's great and important, but giving us more of one doesn't add to how much we have of the other.  So coming from the age of Public Enemy, "Bush Killa," Dead Prez, "the black CNN" and everybody being influenced by the Five Percenters, I feel a little let down by the current string.  Back in the 80s, everybody from Melle Mel to Biz Markie had Reagan's name in their mouths, but now we've got kind of the biggest red flag PotUS yet, and yet you'd never know it listening to any of the Hip-Hop hits we've had since the inauguration.

Anyway, I say all of that just to say that tackling more important, worldly topics like the politics that are pulling everybody's communities apart might be a key factor in what defines "adult" Hip-Hop moving forward.  And that's just one of the areas D jumps into on his new, 3-song EP*.  The song's called "Minutes and Hours" (though, how/ why it's not titled "Stop Look and Listen" is beyond me), and being from the UK, the content's not as Trump/ America-centric as you might expect - be prepared for references to Parliament rather than Congress - but it's no less relatable for being a global take on the rise of modern fascism: "fires lickin' Great Britain/ livin' vision of indecision/ slowly crept up by a smidgen/ inchin'/ the hand draws closer... Doomsday is tickin'/ while most people are just flickin'/ pictures on their phones/ oblivious to their position."

"Falling Down" shifts from the political to the personal, but manages to be even darker and more demoralizing, poetically illustrating what it's like to have your life fall apart.  It's got a fantastic hook, just a vocal sample of a woman saying, "I don't think anybody cares what happens to you. Drop dead in the street, nobody helps you." It reminds me of the kind of nihilistic despair those Sacred Hoop guys would explore, albeit without the punk, ironic celebration.  This is a bit more on the nose gloomy.

And speaking of that, the final song is about the oft-ignored modern plight of male depression and suicide.  Again, I started questioning, how many Hip-Hop artists tackle the topic of suicide, especially when you rule out the irresponsible stuff like Gravediggaz and Esham.  "Nothing's Better" treats it as a tragic mental illness.  It also features the sole guest vocalist, B-Side labelmate Uncle Mic Nitro, whose work I'm honestly not very familiar with; but he does a great job bolstering D's voice here.

The production duties are split across D's usual and always welcome collaborators Specifik, Mr. Fantastic and a newer guy named Crease.  But they manage to come up with a very unified sound.  Definitely dark, of course, but also generating this kind of rolling rhythm that isn't immediately catchy like a good ol' Phase & Rhythm instrumental or something (which we know guys like Mr. Fantastic are fully capable of), but a feeling that pulls you back for repeated listens.  And when you return, you'll find yourself increasingly appreciate the subtle intricacies.  Plus, there's the one thing you can always count on in a Whirlwind D project, tons of great, expert scratching.  Four different DJs are brought in for just three songs: Sir Beans OBE, Jabbathakut, DJ Tones and Miracle, and they bring so much life and energy that it can never descend into simple gloom or melancholy.

Because I could see this release being so serious that it wards people off for simply being depressive, but it didn't have that effect on me at all.  I hope D continues moving in this direction.  I love it when shit gets real.  And, as always with Whirlwind D, this is a very attractive vinyl release.  Great-sounding wax in the stylish picture cover above, including a nice press sheet with notes on each song by D himself.  All three instrumentals are also included, as well as "selected acapellas," which basically comes out to one verse from each song.  And I think, if you haven't been following Whirlwind D, or he's been on your radar but you've been on the fence about actually biting the bullet and ordering one of his records, this one would make for a really good starting place.  I think we might be leading into his best album yet.

*They call it an EP; but I think we can all agree that three songs = 12" single.  Would you call Express Yourself an EP just because it had "Straight Outta Compton" and "A Bitch Iz a Bitch" on it?  No, right?  100 Miles and Running is an EP, Straight Outta Compton is an LP, and Express Yourself was as a 12" single.  I think you've got to have at least, like, five songs to qualify as an EP.  Maybe four if one is an eleven-minute "A Day Like Any Other" monster jam.  But these are just three perfectly regular length songs.  And I know it's the peak of nerdiness to rant about categorization, but come on.  There's nothing wrong with 12" singles; just admit that this is a 12" single.  😜

1 comment:

  1. Great review Werner - you tapped into stuff that we were hoping people would understand.