ANTIPOP CONSORTIUM: ARRHYTHMIA (WARP RECORDS, 2002)

I totally forgot about this one! I found it on the new-release shelf while DJing at WXDU; on a whim, I spun “Ghostlawns” during a set, and was instantly captivated. Antipop Consortium are an experimental hip-hop crew from NYC; this record is a total mind-melter, with stream-of-consciousness lyrics skittering fluidly over simple but hyper-creative beats and out-of-left-field production flourishes (sudden bursts of distortion/delay/compression/sampled-operatic-vocals that surprise me every time). Plus, the de rigueur vignettes are really good/weird — e.g., “Tron Man” starts off as a mundane radio call-in skit, but quickly turns ultra-dark. No single track stands out — it’s just a solid, fascinating listen from beginning to end.

The “experimental hip-hop” designation got me thinking about my own history with rap and hip-hop. I was in elementary school when I first became conscious of rap — so, this’d be the era of Grandmaster Flash, Newcleus, Whodini, etc. — and it is no lie to say that it ALL seemed totally foreign and experimental. I’m almost certain that the same could have been said about virtually every new musical treed at the time of its appearance. With rap, though, it also had, in my case, a great deal to do with the circumstances of my surroundings. I grew up in a small rural community on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, with a largely-invisible non-white population — both in number and, sadly, by dint of systemic segregation. Hip-hop, being the product of black-and-brown urban culture, came from somewhere well outside of my experiences — but I was totally fascinated by it regardless.

By junior high and high school (mid-1980s), rap had become a pretty serious market force, although it was viewed with suspicion and hostility by many of my peers. For some, the problem was that it was “noisy” or “nonsense” or “not really music”; others were less veiled in their dismissal of rap as “n***er music,” music to which only “n***ers” and “n***er lovers” listened. (I’m ashamed to admit that I rarely called my peers out for using those terms at the time.) History proves that every black-originated form of American popular music — from jazz and blues to early rock ’n’ roll and soul — was subject to the same white-supremacist discourse. But I didn’t know that history then — I just knew that rap was (a) controversial, (b) not like other music, and (c) totally mesmerizing, in spite (or more likely because) of (a)+(b).

I never developed any real collection of hip-hop; over the course of my life, I’ve probably owned no more than about 50 or 60 rap/hip-hop records, in any format. But I’ve remained a casual fan throughout my life, and particularly to the stuff that seems, to me, to represent the original, rebellious and self-made spirit of the movement. I guess what I’m getting at is that, for me, “experimental hip-hop” almost seems like a redundancy — the best hip-hop, in my mind, is the weird stuff. From Kool Herc to Doug E. Fresh to Public Enemy to A Tribe Called Quest to Missy Elliott to Kool Keith to, well, Antipop Consortium, making my head spin with the unexpected is what makes the form meaningful and exciting to this old dude.

Whoo, this got long-winded. Point is, Arrhythmia is a great record that pushed my brain into unexpected places — v. cool.

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