Friday, October 12, 2012

Numbers, MellowHype, 10/9

Los Angeles’ Odd Future collective (officially Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), burst on to the scene formed in 2007, and it quickly gained a considerable audience following frontman Tyler, the Creator’s release of his debut album Goblin in 2009.  But interest in the group truly exploded following the posting of Tyler’s “Yonkers” music video on YouTube (seriously, watch this if you haven't seen it already) and his appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with fellow OF rapper Hodgy Beats.  On Tuesday, Hodgy Beats and producer/occasional rapper Left Brain dropped Numbers, their third album as the duo MellowHype.
First off, Numbers is overall a good album.  It’s consistent in every regard, it’s sufficiently diverse, and it has a definition not common to many contemporary hip-hop albums.  But listeners hoping for the chaos, anger, and general depravity of Odd Future’s early music will likely be disappointed.  Numbers takes a decidedly more stable tone than Tyler’s releases, or even previous MellowHype joints YelloWhite and BlackenedWhite.  That’s not to say that the duo is attempting to transition to the mainstream; rather, it feels as though we’re hearing their maturation as it happens.  Its just that what they’re maturing from, a delinquent gang of anarchist skaters celebrating their rape fantasies, was pretty darn entertaining.  Their early work was so startling and captivating that Numbers, which has more than its share of aggression and creepy allusions to satanism, comes across as relatively tame.
That being said, there are many strong aspects of Numbers.  Left Brain’s production, which is featured on all 16 of the tracks, is consistently enjoyable.  He rarely uses samples, and the built from scratch quality works well, for he rarely tries to do too much.  His jumpy, dissonant sound is unique and effective when paired with Hodgy Beats’ nervous, almost compulsive delivery.  Hodgy has certainly chilled out a bit, his rapping is more controlled than previous efforts, in which he often seemed right on the edge of dropping the lyrics and just screaming.  He is technically sharp throughout the album; indeed, its hard to think of one poorly delivered verse, and his newfound precision makes his more aggressive lines cut sharper (“On a one to ten, you like an average 8, blow job, you suck, shall I, elaborate?”).
Numbers starts out hitting on all cylinders, with assists from OF big shots Frank Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt on “Astro” and “P2”, respectively.  Earl’s verse is fantastic, despite being the consensus best MC in the collective, his flow and content has evolved.  Again, this isn’t your high-school self’s Earl, there’s nothing on dismemberment or vomiting blood, but he explains, “Last year I didn’t know what the cost of a coffin was, so now I’m often buzzed, in the apartment bummin’”.  Left Brain pulls out all the stops on “Grill”, with an awesomely twitchy, smokey beat and a rare verse, which is pretty average, but his spacey, deep voice is a lot of fun to listen to. The segmented “65/Breakfast”, which couldn’t be any more different than BlackenedWhite’s “64”, unless it was performed by the 2 Live Crew, is also quite strong, as are most of the album’s tracks.  Left Brain and Hodgy Beats are just simply both very skilled at what they do.
There are weak spots, such as “Snare”, which sounds like MellowHype covering a rejected Talib Kweli cut, and “Gnc”, a hip-hop 101 piece filled with familiar rap tropes.  And when Hodgy urges us to take care of our families and loved ones on “Nfwgjdsh” (your guess is as good as mine), it feels forced, and honestly, he’s not somebody I would ever consider taking advice from concerning the organization of my life.  In these instances, MellowHype strays too far towards the middle of the pack, but they always find their way back, close to their unique place.  Over the course of “Leflair”, “Untitled L”, and “Monster”, Left Brain deftly pulls off 3 beats which move through electro-freak-out, to a Lex Luger style blast of snares, to a Tyler-esque classic OF sound.  Hodgy ramps up the intensity, bringing the album to a darker, moshier place.  On these tracks his rhyming is most impressive, sometimes so rapid as to demand multiple rewinds, other times excruciatingly slow, scratching out every syllable.  In an era in which guest spots from producers attract more attention than guest verses, there is a definite and refreshing flow to the way MellowHype’s two members move through the album together.
Again, Numbers is a really solid album.  But, fair or not, it didn’t quite satisfy the itch that builds up as the release date for an Odd Future album approaches.  I found myself pausing in the middle of songs and looking up old classics like “Drop” and “F666 the Police”.  This is not a knock on  MellowHype, so much as a testament to the degree to which Odd Future occupied such a specific spot in hip-hop.  I really like Numbers as a showcase of Hodgy’s evolving skills and Left Brain’s unique touch, but I can’t help but feel a touch of nostalgia for the good old days, when you could count on two words to be screamed in every MellowHype song: “!”.
Best Line: “I said...niggas be takin life to serious, that’s why my music be takin’ lives (uh) period”-Hodgy Beats, “Astro”
Also worth checking out: Wu-Block, Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block, presented by Ghost Face Killah and Sheek Louch

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