Verses From the Abstract: The Cross-Pollination Between Hip-Hop and Noise/Industrial Music | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Pink Siifu

Verses From the Abstract: The Cross-Pollination Between Hip-Hop and Noise/Industrial Music

Featuring Pink Siifu, RA x M[A]B, LeRoi Da Moor, Backxwash, Model Home, Standing on the Corner, Clipping, Beans, and More

Jul 16, 2020 Wolf Eyes Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the first edition of Verse From the Abstract! We’ll be getting deep into plenty of the nooks and crannies of modern hip hop in the weeks and months to come, from slick to gnarly, from wildly popular to completely unknown. Let’s start, though, by exploring something near and dear to my heart: the growing cross-pollination between hip-hop and noise/industrial music.

This is something to be stoked about on a broader cultural scale, but it’s also personal for me. Back in the early 2000s, the twin pillars of my musical universe were the aural abuse of Wolf Eyes and the million-dollar minimalism of The Neptunes. Like many Under the Radar readers, I’d come of age listening to slacker indie rock, but the thump and smear of noise, tempered with the fun, sexy ebullience of that era’s popular rap/R&B, would define my tastes throughout my 20s and inform my listening going forward. In my mind, these camps were of a piece, united by their shared love of subwoofer abuse and amusical sound mutation (for reference, please play “Grindin’” by Clipse and “Village Oblivia” by Wolf Eyes back to back on decent speakers).

Back then, I’d prattle on incessantly about the dream artist who would amalgamate these sounds, and even made some misguided attempts to do it myself with a fellow college radio nerd who shared my affinities (thankfully, I don’t think any recorded evidence exists… we didn’t exactly nail it). Yes, I was interested in the more experimental rappers and producers of the day—cLOUDDEAD, Dabrye, Beans, et al.—but, as great as much of that music was, none went as deep into the maelstrom as what I envisioned. There was a band in Michigan at the time, Occasional Detroit, who dabbled in the right direction, but with scattered focus; in the following decade, Death Grips would tiptoe somewhat closer to what I had in mind, Clipping even closer.

In 2020, though, the climate is decidedly different. The dystopian threats of a rampant, unchecked neoliberal police state—culminating, of course, with the current U.S. administration, among many other horrors—have come home a violet head. Given that, it only makes sense that the tempest of noise and industrial music would finally crash into the urgency of hip-hop to create an appropriately horrifying/horrified soundtrack for these times of explosive unrest.

Two albums in this vein address the current uprisings directly, albeit in decidedly different ways. Pink Siifu’s new LP NEGRO (Field-Left) was recorded and released before George Floyd’s murder, but it speaks to the fact that that terrible incident was just one straw on the camel’s long-aching back. The Alabama-born, LA-based MC/producer does not mince words on this record when it comes to police or U.S. race relations (tracks include “ameriKKKa, try no pork.” and “Chris Dorner”) but he also backs his anger with music that is as ferocious and radical as his words. The record is bursting with musical ideas, at times recalling vintage “shitgaze” exponents (Sic Alps, Hospitals, et al.) and even Load Records alumni like Sword Heaven, but also turning on a dime to conjure The Last Poets, Sun Ra, Death, Bad Brains, and more besides. It’s a wild ride, all fire and terror, and it’s fucking incredible. Pink Siifu also just dropped a new track as part of Mexican Summer’s Looking Glass digital singles series, a collaboration with producer ShunGu called “Cement.” It’s a great, drowsy track, much more in line with his mellower 2018 breakthrough Ensley. It’s something just about anyone could dig, and it’s plenty worth your time, but NEGRO is the major breakthrough for my money.

Though not as outwardly raging, //riot//sketches by RA x M[A]B (Cleveland Tapes) also speaks to the current moment. A dour live instrumental mix “recorded straight to 2 track cassette between the day the Floyd video surfaced and the first night of the Minneapolis Protest,” it is the sound of processing fresh trauma in real time. It’s noisy, zoned-out, and totally gutting, interspersed with long spoken word samples apropos to the theme; in other words, maybe not the place to look for summer bops. If you’re looking to recenter yourself in the moment while you decide what actions to engage in next, though, it’s a pretty intense, worthwhile experience.

//riot//sketches may be too abstract for some tastes, but hang around on the Cleveland Tapes Bandcamp page for a spell; you’ll probably find something you’ll like. LeRoi Da Moor (AKA Ra Washington, Cleveland tapes co-founder and also producer of the aforementioned) released a criminally undersung hip-hop record earlier this year, GIMP, which features multiple guest spots by genre-agnostic Cleveland legend OBNOX. Dakini, a collab between LeRoi Da Moor and the label’s other half LaToya Kent, is also killer, vibing like a lo-fi cross between Erykah Badu and Is This Desire?-era PJ Harvey.

Surprised to hear PJ Harvey’s trip-hop album dropped into the current conversation? How about this, then: on their latest LP, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (Grimalkin Records), Zambian-Canadian rapper Backxwash has repurposed elements of the claustrophobic production of ’90s nü-metal into something not just listenable, but vital (if I’m referencing nü-metal to praise an artist, you know it’s a rare bird indeed). This is a heavy, fiery treatise on intersectionality from a Black trans perspective, and the music is no less intersectional, stirring the best elements of metal, horrorcore, and industrial into its distinctive hip hop stew. Making something great out of any one of these extremely uneven genres is asking a lot; doing so with a composite is kind of a minor miracle, but the proof is in the pudding.

DC-based crew Model Home, for their part, are less about combining genres than dismantling them, as evidenced by the new compilation One Year (Disciples). Assembled from eight self-released mixtapes, One Year shows Model Home to be prolific, inventive, and alluringly alien; even relatively straightforward tracks like “Faultfinder” crackle with garbled experimental verve. If the album itself isn’t out there enough for you, the whole thing was also remixed for maximum abstraction by Detroit’s most destroyed DJ crew, Pure Rave, for a limited edition cassette available directly from the band’s Bandcamp page.

Equally wild is “Angel” (Creative Mysteries Arts), the recent single by Brooklyn freak collective Standing on the Corner, a group perhaps most known to date for their brief contributions to recent albums by Solange and Earl Sweatshirt. The track, featuring electronically tweaked guest vocals by bonafied legend Melvin Van Peebles(!), takes the cut-and-paste of classic hip-hop production and applies it to a collage pastiche somewhere between Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy and Madlib’s work as Quasimoto. Their new EP G-E-T-O-U-T!! The Ghetto is even nuttier, sounding something like a “New Weird America” psych/improv band careening into a stoned, boogie-fried take on krautrock’s motorik chug. SOTC are true travelers, gloriously impossible to peg, working in a field well beyond the constraints of hip-hop, jazz, experimental music, and pretty much anything else (they also don’t quite fit into the noise/industrial theme here, but they’re so unrelentingly oddball that they get a pass).

Speaking of getting a pass: just imagine how good you have to be as a noise-oriented rap group to not get dunked on when your MC wins a fuckin’ Tony Award? Honestly, it’s crazy that we have an answer to that question. I don’t fuck with Hamilton, but Daveed Diggs can do whatever he wants if Clipping just keep getting better in the meantime. Their new single “Chapter 319” (self-released), recorded after the uprisings started and released on Juneteenth, is the group at their best and most forceful, sampling one of George Floyd’s classic collabs with DJ Screw and molding it into a protest banger par excellence. Hand Diggs the EGOT, for fuck’s sake, the world will be better for it.

Another thing that’s made the world better in the last few years is the steady output of veteran MC Beans. I know I said earlier in this column that his old stuff largely hadn’t been noisy enough for me, but rest assured, he’s fixed that problem: Team BreakUP (Tygr Rawwk) is blown-out, jazz-damaged hot fire, with Beans surfing producer Steve Freshfield’s waves of distortion like an afrofuturist Amiri Baraka. So far, I’m not quite as in love with it as 2017’s HAAST, but I’ve had three years to process that one, so hold that thought.

Most of the albums listed above are harsh, bracing music for times which might also readily warrant these descriptors. Going forward, there will be many (perhaps more easily digestible) approaches worth celebrating, and I intend to celebrate them. Still, to my ears, nothing else going is holding our collective face to the heat of now quite so effectively.

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