Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Eric Pember
There are many types of disappointing albums. There is the kind that the hype machine has made the album’s reputation grow to monstrous proportions, to the point where anything but the second coming of Pet Sounds would leave you feeling underwhelmed. This is particular popular with the website Pitchfork and their numerous flavors of the month. Then there is the aggravated form of this phenomenon, where it’s not just some hipster journal trying to suck your eyeballs for attention, but from the grand whole of western music criticism. This album is the greatest ever says every learned soul in all of the rock ‘n’ roll journals, but you stumble upon it and it just leaves you flat. I’ve experienced this with many sacred cows like Who’s Quadrophenia or Who’s Tommy. In fact most of Who’s catalogue. Then there is a band who you held in high regard, whose last album really lit a fire in your soul and you are just on pins and needles waiting for that next musical hit. Then they release it and … Oooo boy, is it not as good. Hell, it might even be a good record analyzed by it’s mere lonesome but compared to that last masterstroke it might as well be nickleback. Pretty much the totality of the Rolling Stone’s post Exile records fit into this category, because lets face it, it’s only rock n’ roll and not perfection.
And then there is something different, an album that isn’t bad at all, nor is it of a lesser quality then it’s predecessor. No, the album is so good, so genius, so phenomenal that it’s very existence taints other albums in it’s genre. It’s not disappointing, it just makes all of its competitors disappoint in comparison. Edan’s Beauty and the Beat is one such example of this phenomenon I’ve listened to a multitude of classic hip hop masterpieces, and yes, many of them were good, but none of them hit that sweet spot that Beauty and the Beat hit. Why? Because this record is exceptional in production, lyrics and form.
One click in any musical encyclopedia will mention that this is a psychedelic hip hop record. That alone makes it unique. Now a multitude of hip hoppers may make the odd trippy song or make an ode to a non alcohol/weed/codeine substance (ex. D-12’s Purple Pills), but these were one off tracks and generally the artist got back to the business at hand,whether it be bravado or tales of ghetto living. Beauty and Beat on the other hand, drips lysergia from every pore, especially in regard to its production.
Edan is an excellent DJ, you can just feel how long he scoured record store crates. searching for obscure samples to use on this record, and boy did he hit a main vein. He pillages the rubble of ’60s psychedelia to fill this album with psychedelic nuggets. As a huge fan of 60’s psychedelia, I’ve always been delighted when I find a song that Edan has sampled on this record and so far I’ve only found two, which are Music Machine’s Hey, Joe and Pretty Thing’s Wall of Destiny, featured on Making Planets and Murder Mystery respectively. That’s quite an impressive feat considering the amount of obscure psychedelia on my hard drive.
Edan doesn’t just let the obscure samples do the majority of the work, like say a NWA’s Express Your Self type jam. No, he expertly blends, manipulates, and adds effects to these tracks. There are weird lazer beams, bubbling cauldrons, backmasked orchestras and god knows what else. All painstakingly gathered to inflame your brain’s novelty centers.. Every note, every sample, sounds just perfectly placed in it’s surreal beauty and it all leads to one mesmerizing whole. Each track progresses into the next making the albums feel less like a mixtape and more like a singular piece, a psychedelic suite of hip hop perfection.
Though the production of this album is phenomenal, this isn’t just some DJ Shadow style record, No this is rap music and Edan is a MC as well. Now his flow is not the best, but compared to the epitome of producer turned MC, Kanye West, he’s a goddamn Biggie Smalls. His style is that of an urban white kid with an abstract flair, like a streetwise kid that went to art school. It’s pretty decent, but I feel his collaborators steal the show on their tracks. For example, on Torture Chamber, Percee P spits a frenetic, terrifying ode to his rap prowess, comparing his rhymes to the heinous murders of famous serial killers. It’s fantastic in conveying menace in a psychedelic stream of cruel consciousness, like he’s the rap Charles Manson.
Though this record does make use of the typical subject matter of hip hop like Percee P’s torturous rap bravado, it tackles something I’ve not heard in hip hop before. It uses poetry to elucidate the psychedelic experience. It reminds me of this sample off this psytrance track, about the mysterious ancient Indian Drug Soma. The sample states, “Soma is not really a plant. Poetry is not really language. Soma is poetry.” or as Edan puts it. “I use pens like hallucinogenics, so who can pretend my music isn’t a beautiful thing.” Let’s use the track Murder Mystery as an example of this beautiful thing. In it Edan uses the hazy dark psychedelic Pretty Things sample to rhyme abstractly. A sample of his verse reads,
I have no idea what any of that means but it’s sounds magnificent. It’s a collection of beautiful surreal imagery, that leads your mind in novel and strange corridors, making you feel like those hallucinogenic pens are beginning to take hold. This abstract imagery is not unheard of in rock (The girl with the kaleidoscope eyes, etc), but I’ve yet to hear anything like this on a rap record. Well, at least in a psychedelic sense, Ol’ Dirty Bastard does seem to convey what I think crack cocaine would be like, but I digress.
The last point I’d like to make is that this album is a brief 39 minutes long, with not a single duff track or lame skit. I can’t think of a single one of my other favorite hip hop records that pull off that feat. Biggie’s Ready to Die has that lame sex skit. Dr Dre’s 2001 has all those songs that aren’t The Next Episode and Forgot about Dre. Hell, even albums that have no bad tracks like say Enter the 36 chambers, go on a bit too long. This record is a sweet 39 minutes and frankly always leads you wanting more.
Edan’s Beauty and the Beat is disappointing in this regard. Edan has yet to make another LP. Yeah, he made a mix of oldschool hip hop tracks (reimagined Edan style) in 2009, but he’s yet to make a proper LP. It’s disappointing, cause the things I would do for some more Edan, but perhaps it’s for the best. It’s better to leave with a bang than make a mediocre sequel. Though, honestly, in these 11 years, I’ve hungered for some goats head soup. Oh well, I guess i’ll just have to endure with whatever hip hop Quadrophenia Kanye’s cooked up as of late. Pitchfork said it was great, so I know I won’t be disappointed.