Verses From the Abstract: Home and the Great Escape | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, September 24th, 2020  

Verses From the Abstract: Home and the Great Escape

Examining the Latest by Black Noi$e, His Name Is Alive + Model Home, Leikeli47, Miss Eaves, and reggie

Sep 04, 2020 By Dustin Krcatovich Web Exclusive
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First thing’s first: sorry for the delay in getting this column to your eye sockets. My partner, cat, and I just spent late July and the first half of August packing a retired 2002 school bus full of our personal possessions, then driving said bus across the country from Portland to Ann Arbor. A dubious decision during a pandemic, I know… it was a fool’s errand to beeline through COVID country, and frankly, bringing an old rattletrap from the smooth, friendly roads of Oregon to this pothole-laden hellscape hasn’t made it feel any smarter. That’s a story for another venue, though. Point being: time got away from me.

Anyway, we’re in Michigan now, which also happens to be the homebase of Black Noi$e. Fitting, then, that the producer’s new new LP Oblivion—his first for Earl Sweatshirt’s Tan Cressida imprint—happens to be my #1 pick for this installment. Not just because dude has roped in some of my current favorites to spit on a track, either, though that’s certainly true: Earl, Pink Siifu, and MIKE all drop in, and bbymutha and Danny Brown both turn in personal-best Futurist bangers. It’s even better, though, because he’s drawn all these artists into such a distinctly Southeast Michigan soundworld.

To put Oblivion in context, it helps to understand Detroit’s near-complete disregard for genre strictures and “scenes.” In and around Detroit, the hip-hop people pal around with the techno people, who are roommates with indie rockers, who jam with the noise crew, and so on forever, and the region’s best music reflects this. To illustrate: not long before touring as Earl Sweatshirt’s live DJ, Black Noi$e released a mutant dance 12-inch, Time Crisis, on the local Portage Garage Sounds label, a labor of love run primarily by Ghostly International recording artist Shigeto and his brother Ben Saginaw, bassist for the neo-noir trio Ritual Howls. The beautifully designed sleeves for said release were printed by VG Kids, a nearby screenprint shop started by hardcore punks in the late 1990s (whose old space, incidentally, once doubled as a practice space for Michigan “Trip Metal” heroes Wolf Eyes). This, of course, brings it all full circle, since Black Noi$e spent his teens playing in hardcore bands… 

This tangled web is all part of Oblivion’s sonic texture. Black Noi$e knows his way around it all, too: he drops a healthy dose of Dilla’s soulful analog stumble here, a double serving of Dabrye’s cyber-alienation there, stirs in a pinch of Belleville Three sleekness and, on the brief intro “14 Trillion,” even borrows sonic spice from the flood of noise tapes constantly pouring out of the area. Were this from anywhere else, it might make for a strange combo, but for Black Noi$e, it’s just another day in Detroit.

Before we leave Michigan for today, I’ve also got to acknowledge this wild collab between veteran mitten state treasure His Name Is Alive and gnarled DC rap experimentalists Model Home (yeah, I know I’ve already mentioned Model Home in this column, but if their output continues as it’s gone so far, don’t expect me to restrain myself). Versions Returned is the end of an informal trilogy which started with Return to Never, the second archival collection of teenage sound experiments by HNIA’s Warren DeFever; a remix set, Return Versions, reimagined the vintage dreamweaving of that first set as a dusted beat tape. Model Home then proceeded to go to town on said beat tape, mangling it into a shape befitting their own for Versions Returned. The result is a warped slo-mo melter that has as much to do with classic cassette underground huzz as anything one typically associates with hip hop; it feels not unlike the wee hours of a Sunday morning, trying desperately to shake off a heroic, lingering buzz that never felt that good to begin with. That description might not appeal to everyone, but if you can relate, you’ll appreciate the evocation.

Leikeli47’s sound may be easier on ears not damaged by years of noise-basement lurking, but she’s her own kind of iconoclast. Her latest single, the pensive banger “Zoom,” has a spare beat that could pass as a vintage Clipse outtake, but her restrained, mumble-singing vocal is all her own. Having beat RMR to the whole balaclava/anonymity thing by a couple years, it’s anyone’s guess if the song’s confrontational storyline is fantasy or real life for Leikeli47, but really, such questions are academic when the beat’s this dope.

In contrast to Leikeli47’s anonymity, Brooklyn MC Miss Eaves lets it all hang out, in more ways than one: her latest EP, How It Is, kicks off with “Belly Bounce,” a body positivity anthem whose beat throws back to early ’00s electro, itself something of a 1980s throwback (do the math, y’all; it’s due for another comeback). The rest of the EP is just as effervescent and goofy, including clever paeans to the gig economy, sandwiches, and being bad with plants. This all might sound a bit cutesy on paper, but it also slaps, so it evens out.

“Southside Fade,” the first single by the Houston-bred, LA-based reggie, also references music from about 20 years ago, leaning instead into that era’s lazy-lopin’ southern crossover sound (think Nappy Roots, Outkast’s tender side, et al.). The easygoing groove and bittersweet melody pay evocative tribute to the Houston that made reggie, even as it acknowledges that he had to get distance from it to figure out just what, exactly, had been made.

It’s a beautiful track, short enough to leave you hungry, and just the thing for slightly depressed college kids to play on their back porch as the school year gets underway (hopefully virtually, but who the fuck knows anymore), doubly so if they’re plotting a great escape from their own hometown. Honestly, between the pandemic, the dingus in the White House, his muddleheaded supporters instigating violence in the streets, and who knows what else, you can’t blame anyone for wanting to be somewhere, anywhere else.

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