Archive for the ‘Hardwood Blacktop Mixtape’ Category

During my time covering the Raider Klan I’ve had a lot of people ask me “what’s so exceptional about them?,” or “why are you wasting time covering teenagers when there are great artists, more seasoned artists, putting out high quality projects in 2012?”  My initial response to those people is, well, I cover them too.  I have written reviews and lauded praise on the likes of Ka, Billy Woods, Illogic, El-P, Killer Mike, Jackie Chain, SL Jones and many others this year who have years in the game and release a refined high quality product.    Actually, the only Raider Klan related album that I’ve put up for “Best of a Quarter” honors was SpaceGhost’s Mysterious Phonk, hardly a lo-fi bedroom studio endeavor.

However, with Raider Klan my interest goes a little deeper than just the quality of their product.  Raider Klan represents a group of young people across the country who feel they fit outside of the general rap aesthetics of the mainstream, some of their music – though admittedly not all – attests to this.  I admit there is a lot to sift through with Raider Klan, there are a dozens of members, a t least a couple dozen of whom make music, dozens of mixtapes, thousands of tracks on youtube, lots of klvn, 2.7.5., & BRK handles to sift through on twitter to figure out who’s in, who’s out, who’s really in, and which rappers are the rappers one needs to pay the most attention.  The other aspect that won’t intrigue many of my normal readers is that the Raider Klan as a collective are, generally, fairly disinterested in lyricism for the sake of lyricism.  While it’s hard to speak on them collectively – since there are at least twenty five or thirty of them making music – most of them prize style over substance, and most of their substance strokes are broad and indefinite.  Their primary concern musically is the ultimate quest for the phonk, the ability to convey the appropriate musical vibe the marriage of the vocal performance and the beat.  In an era when so much rap is devoid of a strong relationship with it’s musical ancestry, the Raider Klan members are hyper conscious of their roots, and paying homage to those who came before them.  Where else in 20120 can you hear a Bone Thugs influenced rapper, alongside an Ice Cube influenced rapper, alongside a Boss influenced rapper, over a g-funk track fashioned by a midwest producer and have them all be open and honest about the rappers they’re channeling and who truly influences them.  What’s more impressive is that they manage to do this without sounding like a bunch of dinosaurs trying to revive their youth or a bunch of new jacks sharking an aesthetic without any sense of the history behind it.  For those with whom the 90’s shtick may wear a bit thin, especially those of us who lived through the 90’s first hand, they actually make some very good music that competes with their contemporaries quite well on a modern playing field.

(more…)

Despot performing a new track on KEXP

Despot first came to my attention back in 2001, when Cryptic One’s Centrifugal Phorce Records released Euphony [note: if you haven’t heard it, you’re seriously missing out, there’s no compilation more indicative of the talents of Atoms Fam as a collective and their associates during that time period at the peak of their promise] an excellent and unheralded release from the days when compilation albums in underground rap were substantial releases, an important way of keeping non-vinyl purchasing fans apprised of the recent developments of independent rap artists as well as providing an avenue for rappers without financial backing to release their material without the costs of personally pressing up a 12″.  There was a Cryptic One produced track on the album called “Cynical Bastards,” which featured two relative unknowns – Despot and Aesop Rock’s darker dusted sonic cousin LoDeck.  It was a simple yet remarkable collaboration of two aspiring artists, each seemingly with a bright future, as LoDeck’s style seemed like it would create a lane somewhere between where Aesop Rock sat then, and Danny Brown sits now – an independent artist capable of painting in psychedelically inspired surrealistic strokes yet charismatic enough to draw in those who might not immediately comprehend the sense behind the veil of absurdity.  If the mainstream hadn’t provided more socially acceptable alternatives (eg Ghostface, Cam’Ron) and the nerd rap stigma hadn’t come to envelope every emcee on the roster of Def Jux, Embedded, and J23, it’s possible that LoDeck could have developed something larger and more lucrative, but as it is he’s had a respectable career along the fringe of the independent scene with releases like his debut EP Bash It just a few months after Euphony and follow-up full-lengths like Dream Dentistry, Behold a Pale Donkey, and Postcards from the Third Rock.

Despot took the second verse on the track, formally starting his career on record with the following lines:

I’m living proof that smallest figures can cast vast shadows of doubt / giving your all to everything and that’ll amount to nothing /I walk the crooked path up to my house huffing and puffing / shaking my fist in the air thinking of something /to tell kids down the block who point and laugh at my mumbling /

His opening bars on “Cynical Bastards,” are a suitable beginning for a rapper who is diminutive in stature and unassuming in person, and often mumbles almost incomprehensibly when speaking normally, but is a certified beast on the mic.  As an artist Despot is the petite white urban weisenheimer’s sardonic response to Lord Finesse and Pusha T, and his primary medium is the witty arrangement of cliches, figures of speech, conceit, and carefully narrated imagery.  The promise that he set into play with his verse on “Cynical Bastards,” began the building of a buzz on the internet – such that it was in those days – in the same places that lauded the work of the Definitive Jux family and other underground and independent rappers.  As is always the case with rappers that build a bit of momentum with an appearance or two, questions about an album began to surface to which the answer was always that he was working on it.  However, unlike LoDeck, who managed to put out several projects, Despot has had a much more tempered output over the last eleven years, something that thankfully has started to change over the last couple of years thanks to features from his Queens brethren in Das Racist and Meyhem Lauren as well as on labelmate El-P’s new album.  In fact, previous attempts by bloggers to put together a mix of his available material have generally amounted in short EP length affairs, as there literally hasn’t been enough material out there to put together a full-length set of songs from Despot.

(more…)