What is Hip-Hop?

by Rowan

What is Hip-Hop? (Hip-Hopping the question? – sorry I couldn’t resist…)

cLOUDEDEAD member ”WHY?’ looking suitably inquisitive

This is the question posed by the San Francisco based collective  Anticon.

Eschewing  usual machismo attitudes, Anticon push hip-hop into abstraction experimenting with its component parts (Beats, Bass and Rhymes) disassembling and re-assembling them into something almost unrecognisable.  As a result much of the hip-hop world has a hard time reconciling their differences though it is clear where the collectives influences lie.

cLOUDDEAD represent my personal jewel in the crown of the collective, their music is unlike anything ive ever heard before or since; dense psychedelic drones coupled with slowed down breakbeats and surrealist polyrhythmic rapping.  It is hard to describe the sound accurately, the closest reference point i can think of is Boards Of Canada (who coincidently remixed Dead Dogs Two) though by comparison BOC sounds stone-cold sober.

Although there are clear similarities in the complexity of the music to IDM the production of Odd Nosdam never feels ‘cold’ as is often a pitfall of over-intellectualising music (im looking at you Autechre) and owes more to the ‘wall of noise’  of My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 shoegaze masterpiece ‘Loveless’.

Since the production is so far removed from the norm, it should come as no surprise that the lyrics are going to be wierd, that is until hearing just how bizarre they are:

The Velvet Ant

Wingless wasp, the velvet ant.

The cow on slanted land settles
to the lower most corner of the pen.
Chicken wire and it’s either side imprisonment,
and the windows all stacked up
under the farm barn awning.
Two small girls and a handful of dressed men
walk a cage full of goats across a basketball court,
goats with rectangled pupils.
A rattle snake caught in a wheel well.
Starwberry in an ostrich throat.
All this and more at a pyramii video shoot.

Seemingly gibberish, but for some reason it works.  Rather than forming any form of traditional ‘narrative’ cLOUDEAD build up surrealist imagery, perfectly complementing the psychedelic production.

Other than the ridiculously cryptic lyrics that make the warblings of Cedric Bixler-Zavala (Mars Volta) look positively coherent, just the actual sound of WHY? and Doseone’s raps are inaccessible in themselves; their voices seem much higher in pitch than the usual booming register of mainstream rappers, sometimes echoing the bizarre tonality of Quasimoto.

As you may have gathered this is not ‘easy listening’ but that is besides the point ;the challenge engages the listener and as a result is more rewarding.

unfortunately cLOUDEAD have long since split up  but WHY?, Doseone and Odd Nosdam have continued with other projects, all of which are definitely worth a listen, of particular note are:

Odd Nosdam – T.I.M.E  (psych-folk/hip-hop soundtrack to Element skateboards ‘This is My Element’ video)

Why? – alopecia (Hip-Hop influenced folk-indie/pop)

Themselves-   CrownsDown (collab between Doseone and JEL: more ‘traditional’ hip-hop (though i use this term loosely)

and finally, a nugget of pure  psyhedelic UK Hip-Hop:



7 thoughts on “What is Hip-Hop?

  1. It’s just me, but hip hop in whack time signature lacks flow, and kina sacrifices the feeling (that I look for anyway)

  2. It hasnt got the ‘swagger’ i suppose, but theres definitley some sick flow in cLOUDEAD, they really know their shi’

  3. lacks attitude or feeling. It’s cool as an experiment i s’pose. Maybe if there’s a second generation it’s be worth the buzz

  4. Absolutely loving Why? at the moment especially the early lo-fi stuff. cLOUDDEAD are great too, I’ve got the cd they released with all their early eps on. I quite like how it never really gets going or lacks flow… a song starts with a minute long drone before a beat threatens to start but never quite makes it. Its satisfyingly un-satisfying which draws me in to their bizarre and wonderfully mundane world.

    Anticon is a great label, really quite diverse. I noticed that Dosh was on there who isn’t really hip hop at all… but they’re probably just friends which seems to be all in the spirit of Anticon.


  5. I like the cLOUDEAD songs you’ve put on here but, in a similar way to Joe, I think that it definitely lacks the flow. The experimentation with the lyrics is quite interesting, moving away from more traditional topics into the surreal, but I’m not particularly ‘feelin’ it. Strangely enough I still like it.

    I love the video to Polkadot Blues, it fits really well with the instrumental! Great post.

  6. Pingback: A quick guide to: Eyedea and Abilities « The Phonograph

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