11/21/2005

Redwall rhymes.

People I know have been passing me CDs lately, which is pretty cool. I love getting free music, and I'm always interested in checking out what my friends are doing. But it can be weird to hear what your friends are doing musically, especially in a context other than seeing them live. It's less strange when you see them playing it than when you put it into a CD player and hear their voice come out. The weirdest one for me lately is the CD I got by Swordplay, "The Tilt EP." My friend Isaac Ramsey, who I met when he was 14 and who used to play drums in an emo band I played bass for, is one-half of Swordplay, who are a hip-hop duo. It's quite a mindfuck to hear Isaac rapping our emo band doesn't seem like that long ago. I guess that's something to do with his age, though--in the 4 years since our band broke up, he went from 16 to 20, while I went from 25 to 29. The former four year gap is a much more significant one than the latter. In the meantime, Isaac has lived in France for about half a year, been a solo acoustic performer, and in the last year has gotten into hip-hop.

I don't remember him listening to the stuff before, but maybe he was doing that when no one was around, or maybe he's just a really quick study, because this record is good. There are only 5 songs here, but all of them are at least decent, and a couple of them are pretty amazing. I've been finding myself returning to this CD a lot lately, even more than some stuff I expected to be playing a lot. I guess that's an indicator of how good it is. The first song, "Tilt", is probably my least favorite. It has a repeating sped-up vocal sample throughout that gets on my nerves after a while, and I feel like I'd like it a lot better if the music varied things up. While I can hear some of his influences in his lyrics, such as Non-Phixion ("the end of man is in government-made lasers") and Aesop Rock, they are creative enough that they don't seem derivative. On the whole, though, the song's sound reminds me a bit too much of Sage Francis for me to really get into it. Not that I don't like Sage, just that I'd like it better if it had more of an original sound.

The real masterpiece here is the third song, "Martin the Warrior", which is based around a mournful acoustic guitar melody (perfect for this rainy Monday morning). A friend of mine, before I'd heard the CD, had described Swordplay as "emo-as-shit rap", and on this song I can see why she said that. But as far as I'm concerned, it's not a bad thing. After all, I love everything I've heard by Atmosphere. That's not to say that "Martin the Warrior" sounds like Atmosphere; in fact, it sounds significantly different than anything else I've heard. Isaac's background in rock music comes to the fore here, as his vocals mix with the samples used in a particularly melodic manner. The lyrics to the songs here tend to lack overarching narrative, sticking with one particular concept for no longer than 8 or so lines. This isn't really unusual in hip-hop, in spite of the fact that I tend to like hip-hop lyrics better when they are telling a story, I still have a strong emotional reaction to this song. At one point, Isaac switches to French for half a dozen lines or so, and though I think I'd enjoy it a bit more if I spoke one word of French, it's a particularly good trick that I can't imagine anyone else in hip-hop doing.

The other three songs on the EP vary in quality. "33 Revolutions" is almost as good as "Martin The Warrior," though less emotional in nature. "64 Bit" has the hardest-hitting beat out of all five songs, and if anything is too short. There's a lyrical conceit related to the "24" television show that I wasn't too into, but the rest of the song features some of the best lyrics on the EP, especially the Wow Owls shoutout (the guitarist from our old emo band sings for that band). "I'm Sorry Ociffer" is the only one besides the title track that I have any reservations about; specifically, I feel like the joke from the title gets repeated a bit too much and starts sounding annoying. The music's excellent though, based around a speedy flamenco guitar riff that sounds sort of like "Spanish Caravan" by The Doors. That's probably just my rock background coming out though.

On the whole, I'm really digging this CD. If Isaac and his DJ Chris Lauderdale can pull this off over the course of a full-length, they could actually get somewhere in the "conscious"/"backpacker" hip-hop subgenre. That'd be pretty cool to see. The one thing that keeps sticking in my head when I listen to this, though, is that I know Isaac. I know what he's like in person, and he's not what you'd think of when you think of a hip-hop dude, to say the least. Meanwhile, I've never met Sage Francis, El-P, or Slug from Atmosphere, but their music is pretty similar to what Isaac is doing. So... what if Sage Francis and all those guys are really just like Isaac in real life? It's a weird thought. Kinda awesome, though.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

he's better than Sage and Slug...
www.internetsuicidepact.com

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Swordplay and other local hip hoppers will be playing at Gallery5 on Febraury 25, 2006. Check it.

8:33 AM  
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Anonymous concICE Records said...

I just want to thank you, Andrew for not bastardizing/misspelling Concice, Murk one, etc in your RVA article. Other reviewers and press seem to think they have the authority to change the label's name to Concise, abbreviate Murk one with M1 and take any number of other liberties they have no right to take. I like a man who takes the little things seriously.

4:31 PM  
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