The official word, again, is that hip-hop's played out. Lost its musical power and innovation, dumbed down into a rotation of monomania, misogyny, violence. The official word is as dumb and lazy as ever and as ever, is not listening.
(Real fucking lazy. I mean, even accepting your US-centric myopia, a few weeks from Ferguson and THIS sounds sharper than ever and don't you dare tell me that ANY OTHER TYPE OF POP on the planet is saying anything even close to it).
But why are you holding your pisscup out to the States for anyway? Why do you care about 'realness' anyhoo? When the only 'realness' that's gonna help right now is a commitment to transforming what's real in determinedly lurid cartoon ambition, a focus on fantasy that can unpick those damaging fantasies that chain us to cliche and stereotype and liberate those fantasies that might unchain us, that might make us not just too big for our boots but make our boots MASSIVE. Music that understands that the only way to stay sane is find a way to make the insanity that reality insists is mandatory productive? When the only way to possibly, reasonably, move through time and not want to die is to suffuse your time with the unreal, the absurd, the surreal, the impossible, and unreasonable?
Or if I can boil this till it hardens and cracks and splinters and sets you free can I simply ask, why the hell are you not listening to Strange U right now?
Right fucking now. Their new 7-tracker, the cryptically monikered EP#2040 is just about one of the most astonishing things I've heard all year and is more addictive than any other lie keeping you alive this autumn. Ever since I first got it I've needed it 3 times a day. To get me off the straight and narrow, to get me on the twisted and wide. It contains sounds and words that blast doors in your consciousness, that makes the rub and rattle of your own inner horror that little bit more liveable with. Strange U are a side-project of rapper Kashmere and producer Dr Zygote. Kashmere has for a long time been one of the most compellingly strange and unique voices in British music. His lyrics are always a wipe of the third-eye with a triple-strength acid blotter, a true tapping of hip-hop's near-forgot potential to be both titanically egoistic and become a process of shattering those fictional identities into a myriad revealing fragments. His work takes on rap's essentially self-aggrandizing energy and inflates it to preposterous, hugely unsettling extremes - revealing both the collosal unreality behind our 'real' selves and the huge dishonesty most from-the-heart honesty carries with it. By turns he can be hardcore poet, fictional superhero, rambling schizophrenic, wide-eyed visionary, red-eyed prophet, badman on the street, kid in his bedroom geeking out over his comics, mile-high robotic overlord. Check out everything you can by the man (particularly his Raiders Of The Lost Archives and Galaktus albums, as well as his work alongside Jehst in the pharmacologically unhinged, Hunter S.-influenced Kingdom Of Fear). And if you want, read my interview with his Galaktus persona here.
But before you do. Check out EP#2040. It's free.
Dr Zygote has been the producer and co-founder (alongside the equally nuts/genius Jazz T) of perhaps the greatest unsung modern British music label, Boot Records. The Boot crew have produced some of UK music's most astonishing highpoints and abyssal depths in the past few years, have a trademark sound that's all their own, instantly identifiable, utterly addictive, a sound once heard that demands you seek out everything you can find with the JT/DrZ/Boot imprint. Heavy beats, sick and deranged low-ends, treble populated with all kinds of noise and wreckage and black science friction. It's a groggy, gorgeously bleak brew you will want more of as soon as the first contact-high starts pounding from your numb lips to your cortex - listen to previous Boot productions of work by Kash, Ramson Badbonez and Cappo and you'll see and hear what I mean. Boot are entirely d.i.y and self-sufficient, have no networked-up pals, rely entirely on word of mouth and their genius can be checked out here.
But before you do. Check out EP#2040. Did I mention? It's fucking FREE.
When Kash and JT come together to make Strange U music, something altogether new starts happening. A freedom their other personas stop shy of. A determination to making their words walk and step into the listeners day, start haunting their daydreams and stalking their nightmares. Opener 'The Cake Is A Lie' comes in on seven-league bassboots and skyhigh uppers and jeebus hyperion Christ I don't think I've heard such a thuddingly bruising hip-hop track since . . . actually scratch that I HAVEN'T heard hip-hop quite like this before. As much Fela as New Kingdom, as much Live/Evil as Real Live, as much Scientist/Roots Radics as it is Premo. In their own words "inspired by the spirits of Oshun, Vishnu, Apollo, Sobek and Jim Henson". But it's also Kash's lines, pitchbent down to a wonderfully overloaded gruffness, flat out telling us he doesn't give a fuck about being real but then making that immolation immortal by sounding like his dreams, built on a lifetime of cultural junk-addiction, are true, will come to life so long as he can birth them through verbalising them. You'd be fucking daft to deny him, to suggest these things aren't real. Check out the street. Check out the government. You telling me that 'reality' isn't a fucking joke or a nightmare or a horror-show right now? At a time when 'competing'/'competetiveness' is what everyone from yr idiot teachers and parents all the way up to the front-bench of parliament have dripping from their mouths like so much re-heated re-eaten vomit, who wants rap music that's still all about beating others on their turf, beating others in being real, rich, lucrative?
"Never tell a lie when I rap/only yesterday I was caught in a Venus Fly Trap/One false move I'm letting off shots/now . . . slowly . . . hand over the jelly babies mmmmm/undeniably the greatest sportsman/scored a hole-in-one the first time I played golf it was awesome/ if i said it in a rap so it must be true STUPID/if I told you 'eat shit' would you do it?/ By the way - I was born of a dragons egg and get respect for playing the clarinet/ Reality's wack, I'm trying to escape/ FUCK THE TRUTH MAN I'M TRYING TO BE FAKE"
Looking at so much hip-hop in 2014, I see a race for realness, for that competetive edge, for whatever chance of crossover is forthcoming. I know I'd rather be on the freak train with Kash, heading out into his imagination. Making up what's real. Making every new second count with new thoughts, new images.Stupendous production from Zygote as always, he knows the devil's in the detail and beyond the fantastic low-slung fuzz-synth funk grind it's the sudden splashes of dubbed-out keys and flickering guitar that make 'The Cake Is A Lie' such a compellingly deranged delight. This is music from minds that seek those moments when you think you're awake but realise your body and brain simply aren't hanging out together no more. Those moments when you stick your tongue in your own fractures and drink deep. The second track 'Vapourous' is even more of a molten mind-fuck. Often on EP#2040 the beats are like nothing else you can hear right now, certainly not from rap - more akin to something Cabaret Voltaire might've coughed up in their late 70s zenith, or like the bruising sluggish hard-blast of a Kevin Martin production (think God/Ice/TechnoAnimal era). Atop 'Vapourous'' primordial ooze of bass a whole frightmarish whirlwind of distended noise and echoes chases its own tail around your headspace, while somewhere in the midst of the carnage sits Kash aka Darq Twin, swirling his own vocal into dubbed out distorted infinities, advice on how to succeed in the endless bullshit-moebus of 'digital' reality.
"Masturbate to your digital person everyday/until your giant head detonates/you're so dangerous/vapourous/smoking that angel dust for the camera/It's all about the spectacle/I will go further than the truth if it's more entertaining/too cool for school get stupid/You're not famous enough? BE AN IDIOT"
'Part Machine', all stop-start robo-funk and smeared analogue texture, absolutely yearns for a new definition of humanity. Yearns to become half viscera, half circuitry but with none of the gliding romance of a Model 500 or Kraftwerk - rather what Kash seems to be expressing is a need to speed time up, bring the future forward a few millennia, accelerate closer to the science-fiction dreams his brain is stuffed with, the dreams that make his and our current intermediary state so massively frustrating. Throughout EP#2040 the heaviness of the concepts and the sheer pressure put on the vocals by the intense music is always beautifully leavened by Kashmere's attitude, his ability to rip the piss at the right moments, crack the po-facedness with a grin, come on like a futurist preacher when needs be.
"They wanna put a chip right there on my spine/I look em in the face like 'where do I sign'?/Part real part dream/ I really wanna be a part man part machine/You're scared of progress/I excel in it/Break out the robot in the car for the hell of it/You better loosen up your blazer/secret societies are doing us a FAVOUR!'
'Beast Moog' is the kind of instrumental 'Metal Box'-era P.I.L would be making right now, has those same harsh harsh beats that scare the shit out of you at the end of 'Careering' - 'Falcon Punch' is a deeply Chrome-like slab of psychedelic dancehall over which Kash's mouth runs away from him beyond my ability to transcribe him here, references to Super Smash Bros, V-dub, Thelonius Monk, Garth Merenghi slipping by at light-speed, demanding a rewind, and another and another until you can even catch a fraction of the imagery being sent your way. The 35th century griot of 'Strange Ones' kicks of with the line 'Standing on a planet made of amethyst' and then starts to get seriously wayward, demanding the return of Pangaea, a welter of P-funk references making a righteous and entirely correct connection with perhaps Strange U's true antecedents, one that gratifyingly doesn't leave out Funkadelic's darkness, weirdness, confusion.
'Destroy all borders/unify the four corners/atomic lizard mothership connection on some other shit/on one hit em with the bop gun/ they came & stole the fun but we shall overcome/Bring neon bright the flash light/we'll gather round the crater of the alien crash site/that's right get up for the downstroke/banging that funk for countrydwellers and townsfolk/ sounds dope it's psychoalphadiscobetabioaqua but never learned to swim though . . . "
If the music and words Strange U shoot out were in any way a pose, in any way just an agglomeration of reference, I wouldn't even waste my time directing you towards them, let alone listen to them myself. What's key throughout EP#2040 is that there is DRIVE behind their ideas, a desperation to push through reality to somewhere else that feels as raging and as direct and dazzling as Sun Ra, P-Funk, Ornette, Jimi. Crucially, none of Strange U's 'learning' (and they're clearly people who know about music and literature and film and art and science and EVERYTHING with the suffused derangement of true seekers of knowledge) in any way inhibits them from making music that absolutely defies category, blasts apart all that lineage and chronology. Doesn't matter where they're from or where you're from. Just matters that when they're on you know where they and you are AT - listening to music that pushes you on, delights, disturbs, GETS to you in a big big way. Closing track 'Strange U In Africa' perfectly exemplifies this - you can tell the 'vibe' that's informed it, but it arrives at a place entirely unique, has a real livid seething sense of heat and stress, the bustling gritty funkativity of the finest Fela Kuti bootleg you never heard, the Idi-Amin-style vocal samples just adding to the bedlam and hilarity. The way the shard of traditional instrumentation is twisted out and pulled apart are as mind-melting as the moves Premo made on Jeru's 'Come Clean' but on every track of EP#2040 all that Strange U really share with their sources is a sense of spirit and intent. To make something brand new. Genuinely unheard as yet. Properly futuristic, ancient, magical. It's only when you really prod new music to see where that's happening that you realise exactly how rare it is. If the Mercury Music Prize wasn't a fucking joke, EP#2040 would win it at a canter - it's genuinely NEW BRITISH MUSIC and it's fucking awesome. Avail yourself immediately and feed your other current distractions to the lions on your lawn.
All conquering music. Makes you stomp in those skyscraper boots. Turns you giant. Drink deep.