The year’s best indie hip-hop and experimental acts

Adam Michael

Sage Francis – “Personal Journals” (Anticon) – The newest release by the Anticon camp evokes a true accomplishment. Sage weaves in and out of intricate narratives with exquisite cadence as Anticon’s stable of producers lay down the perfect organic, aural backdrop for his tales of tongue in cheek cynicism. Quotable line: “The only thing that stays the same is change.”
Boards of Canada – “Geogaddi” (Warp) – After a four-year absence from their last album, and one EP in between, Boards return with their own blend of ambient hip-hop beats, distorted children samples (My friend remarked, “This is disturbing”), and Eno-esque soundscapes. With song titles like “A Beautiful Place Out in the Country”, Boards are Warp’s first pick to start an IDM commune. Let the rays soak in.
Anti-Pop Consortium – “Arrythmia” (Warp) – Is it possible Funkmaster Flex resurrected Beat poet Allen Ginsberg as well as Biggie, cloned their double helix structure, and then proceeded to make an album from the haphazard remains? Not only will you find opera segues acting like choruses, Gwar style voiceovers, and ping-pong ball percussion, but also sultry female vocals and silky synths. Quotable line: “My face appears in the lakes of Jupiter.”
Cee-Lo – “Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections” (Arista) – This Goodie Mob member tosses Weather Report, Parliament and Marvin Gaye into his southern fried Cuisinart to arrive with one of the year’s most eclectic offerings. Only rapping on a handful of tracks, Cee-Lo’s style is all his own. Whether echoing a psychedelic preacher in his first video “Closet Freak” or wearing a full length Gucci jump suit, Cee-Lo is the obvious individual among prevalent cookie cutter southern MC’s.
N*E*R*D – “In Search of…” (Arista) – Although this actually came out in 2001, the new version arrived in 2002, reworked with live instrumentation on every track. I prefer the first version and the Neptunes’ futuristic samples juxtaposed with the essence of older, soul musicians. It’s a perfect melding of the two decades where the dividing line is Pharrel Williams’ falsetto. The Neptunes cover all musical ground, from poppy, sweaty, Britney singles to the neo-country of “Provider.” All praise the seemingly infinite talent of this producing duo.
Phil Ranelin – “Remixes” (Hefty) – Hefty records recently re-released Phil Ranelin’s personal archives of instrumental jazz, and let a wide variety of artists interpret the tracks in any way they felt necessary. Prefuse-73 adds his glitch-hop feel to “Wives (of Detroit)” while El-P of Company Flow makes a grimy, sewer-ridden track transported in a time machine to post-apocalyptic Blade Runner territory. A diverse group of artists all draw inspiration from common ground, they are a perfect remix album.
Various Artists – “Freakbitchlickfly” (Tigerbeat6) – One of my favorite concept records of the year. Five IDM musicians have a go at Missy Elliot tracks, and more importantly, with Timbaland’s production. Kid 606 layers A-Ha’s “Take on Me” over jittery drums Missy never knew existed. Mortal and Chemist’s version of “Lick Shots” dissects the original until Missy sounds like a dying walrus in heat. It’s the perfect bastardization of popular, formerly dance-friendly music.
Knifehandchop – “Respect to all the Haters” (Tigerbeat6) – This Tigerbeat6 EP manipulates and contorts recognizable songs untill you are left wondering, “Exactly which Native American hallucinogens was this kid on?” Dancehall becomes jabber oriented until the vocals are buried under 120 BPM drums. Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” is turned into a punk garage track that would not feel out of place in Basement Jaxx’s repertoire, that is, if their influences included the Vengaboys.
Nautilis – “Are You An Axolotl” (Planet-Mu) – Mike Paradinas’ (aka U-Ziq) most recent signing to his Planet-Mu label, this twisted mind goes a step beyond the glitch of Prefuse 73 to end up at a majestically distorted final product. Vocal samples are chopped up over hip-hop beats till you are dancing to the empty spaces instead of the percussion.
Project Pat – “Layin da Smackdown” (Hypnotize Minds) – The South’s king of creative annunciation gets off his most recent jail bid for parole violation to deliver an album of haunted house synths, inventive misogyny and nursery rhyme colloquialisms. My favorite line of the year thus far: “You can put a wig on a pig-a-let, make it dance the jig-a-let.”