Prefuse 73 / A Grape Dope
Missing Dragons EP (Galaxia)
With artists increasingly mining the base elements of hip-hop -- beats and rhymes -- and channeling them through electronica's synthetic DNA, is it any surprise that we've now christened the term "post-hip-hop"?
With their respective takes on the concept, Prefuse 73's One Word Extinguisher and A Grape Dope's Missing Dragons EP sever the thug vibe and grandiose posturing that commercialization has brought to the music, replacing them, instead, with introspective melodies and an intelligent sense of being. Their muse brings with it an "anti-bling" air of sophistication that carries them in separate but parallel directions.
Prefuse 73 mastermind Scott Herren, for one, hits hard. Rapid-fire beats burst forth in "The End of Bitters -- International." Diced vocal mutterings clash with coherent rhymes under frantic changes, allowing Extinguisher to pick up where 2001's Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives left off. But a discernible change takes place in the fourth track, "Uprock and Invigorate," when serenity creeps in and the pace crawls to something less chaotic.
Jumbled beat-boxing in "Busy Signal" and the voice of an instructional recording discussing proper Southern vernacular being hijacked by gangsters in "Southerners" show a playful side of Herren's music. Elsewhere he adopts an existential approach. In "Huevos With Jeff and Roni," sobering rhymes delivered by guest emcee Mr. Lif forewarn of the dangers of living too fast, declaring, "You live ignorant but expect to die wise... Release everything that you held dear like your car, jewelry, your cash and your career/And don't forget that time you couldn't spare to sit down and lend your three children an ear."
On the flip side, A Grape Dope's John Herndon (Tortoise, Isotope 217) dwells on a means to an end, rather than on reaching the end. No discernible direction ever fully takes shape throughout Missing Dragons, as warm, meandering tones and drawn-out moments in rhythm create an atmosphere that's void of any political or philosophical messages. Beats carry the music as the recording opens with a polyrhythmic heap of programmed and organic percussions in "Action: Showered Us." For Herndon, the voice creates rhythmic texture. Heavily disguised vocals peek out from behind the instrumental arrangements in songs like "When You Crash and Burn" and "I'll Spread It," but the drums always remain in the foreground.
Herndon allows the verbal silence to be broken once as actual lyrics take shape in "Red Hat Attack," which features Dose One of the Anticon collective. But instead of taking the reins, Dose One's voice is garbled by electronic effects and inane repetitive content, mutating his presence into an added layer of Herndon's percussive delivery.
Unlike Herren, whose all-encompassing methods tweak the limits of beats and rhymes, Herndon is content exploring the percussive aspects of post-hip-hop. His sparing use of vocals adds depth to his rhythmic approach without losing focus on his dynamic. Regardless of the deviation, however, both artists' methods yield poignant results, and they take "post-hip-hop" to a decidedly unpretentious place.
(published by The Phoenix New Times, June 5 2003)