Greenhouse Effect / Omid
ittle did I know that only one year after graduation that I’d be going back to school. This time, however, it’s a bit more fun. This is due, in most part, to my relationship with my teacher, Mr. PA Simon. Oh- and the subject? Hip hop. That’s right. Mr. Simon has taken me under his wing, guiding me away from making mistakes that’ll get me beaten mercilessly at a hip hop show for my lunch money or flippantly dismissed by the ever-growing body of tantalizing females. No, I’ve taken my education seriously by refusing to care about what people think of me.
He’s been very gracious to me for these last few months, and very patient dealing with my hip hop ignorance (which didn’t border on illiteracy, mind you, but I’d hear him say “What!? You haven’t heard ��so and so’ yet” quite often). He’s opened these jaded ears to more than just the typical indie, “sit hop” stuff. I’ve learned how to nod my head again, and I guess he’d hate the fact that I’m writing this (“Man, time you could spend listening”), but I’d like to show you what I’ve learned so far, while hopefully highlighting some of the best of the genre. Because hip hop is bloated with countless recordings and, at times, it appears to be in danger of artistic collapse, but inevitably transcends stagnation with the help of a handful of passionate underground artists. So without further ado- my third term paper.
In the fast-paced world of hip hop, a self-created mythology is as good as any…
First things first: Life Sentences, the first album by Columbus, Ohio crew Greenhouse Effect, was completed in late 2000, and its release has been delayed until just this month, last time I checked, late 2003. If one year can make or break an artist, then it’s safe to say that three years is an absolute eternity on the ever-changing hip-hop continuum. Trends come and go; over-hyped MCs become over-exposed or simply disappear; and flavor-of-the-month producers find their styles thoroughly bitten, devoured to the bone, while the neophytes regurgitate something new for the ravenous masses. Shit, what was dope in 2000? Stankonia, I guess. I mean, I remember a dope track as well as the next man, but when it comes to placing stylistic advancements on a timetable, you’ll find yourself in an amnesic state similar to the feeling you get trying to find your house keys while thoroughly blunted.
The great thing about this, though, is that it makes for an endlessly shifting culture. Unfortunately for the artists, the sustainability of hip hop “realness” obligates the movement to dispose of talent frequently and without sympathy, creating countless flash-in-the-pan careers. This phenomenon, well documented in the music since its genesis, has been predominantly associated with the fates of those greedily catering to the mainstream. In the true hip-hop underground, this is one of the first, most difficult lessons for an artist to learn. You want to blow up, but with time nippin’ at your heels followed by hundreds of other cats with their eyes on the prize, you can understand why rappers and producers burn out so quickly. A true underground artist understands the importance of a self-made mythology, the creation and nurturing of a small, devoted cult of followers under the collective banner of hip-hop. And if you’ve played your cards right, these fans then become the promotional mouthpieces of a long, fruitful career with the promise of mainstream success. Best keep these motherfuckers satisfied knowing they’re part of a special elite force.
For MC/Producer-of-the-Moment Blueprint and his Weightless Records label, this means barely whetting his fans’ appetites with perpetual promises of releases to come. True to the form of building a rabid fan base, Weightless has only overseen four releases since ’98, including Illogic’s Got Lyrics? Enter Life Sentences, Greenhouse Effect’s (Blueprint with Inkwell and Manifest, aka P. Dunbar) long-delayed LP. Its release has been timed to coordinate with the release of the also long-awaited Soul Position album, Blueprint’s project with that other notable C-bus alumnus, RJD2. Blueprint has been sitting on this album since late 2000, hoping his higher-profile project will create a comprehensive demand for everything Blueprint. So the question becomes, is this worth the wait?
Of course not. It should have been released upon completion. Life Sentences is a true fan album; it contains nothing but unedited, raw performances that, seeing as all three MCs attempt to get their dibs on the mic on each track, create an over-long mess of ideas that are occasionally brilliant but always worth the frustrating listen. There’s even a live performance and an overlong skit track that mimics a live performance (“Feedback”). Altogether, Life Sentences is an album deserving more of respect than true enjoyment.
Since the album’s completion, Inkwell has left Greenhouse to pursue a life of spirituality. His loss will be felt, no doubt, as he comes off as the most sincere, intense personality on the album. He displays his spiritual side effortlessly and, occasionally, with a real panache, as seen on one of the album’s highlights, “Fantasy Island.” Inkwell paints us a lyrical portrait of a hip-hop utopia where “every MC is freestyling in the zone/ And the Tech 12s glide like they were spinning on air, and there is no wind to disrupt the illest artists or the spraycan/ While the b-boys pop-lock and break dance.” Blueprint’s production, like much of the album, is flooded with mournful strings and jazzy melodies intended to transport the listeners to this fantasy island where they find their inspiration.
And it works well, for the most part. Especially as showcased on the opener and standout cut, “To Rhyme is Divine”. If you had to listen to one track before deciding whether or not to get down with the Weightless sound, it would be this one. Inkwell asks earnestly, “So Blueprint, do you feel that to rhyme is divine?” The answer? “Inkwell, that might as well be embedded in my mind/ Because nothing on earth shines brighter than tight rhymes/ So to answer question, I feel that to rhyme is divine.” Like any good underground act, hip-hop is more than just a paycheck to these cats… it’s a religion. Even the sonic window-dressing pulls off an ethereal vibe that, incredibly, doesn’t sound dated, but just plain timeless.
So whether or not this hip-hop spiritual/mythological/whatever will help lift Weightless Records to the forefront of esteemed indie hip-hop labels remains to be seen. True to his name though, Blueprint has mapped out a plan for underground hip-hop dominance and he’s certainly beginning to develop an original sound and flow (a mostly funny combination of wack MC-baiting and puckish storytelling, best showcased on the new SP single, “Jerry Springer Episode”). As for an introduction, Soul Position’s 8,000,000 Stories may be the obvious starting point, but for those interested in documents of artists in chrysalis, Life Sentences is deserving of a listen. For O.G. fans, well… your copy is already in the mail.
“Robert L. Ripley” and “Club Apotheosis” featuring Hymnal
I don’t know who this Hymnal guy is, and I can’t seem to find any other information on him, but I suggest you go here and download “Club Apotheosis” right now. His laconic flow has made this and “Robert L. Ripley” my favorite morning-after cuts. Understandably, hip-hop producer Omid bookends his Mush Records debut with these tracks, inarguably the best material on what is a failed stylistic jumble of instrumentals and MC showcases, curiously titled Monolith.
“Club Apotheosis” is a song in two movements, mutating from dark, plucked-bass hip-hop ala Cinematic Orchestra into a dew-soaked flute-led suite that’s oh so uplifting. Hymnal’s lyrics (sounding more like a beat poet than an MC) complement the dichotomous mood of the production hinting at a paranoid night spent clubbing in a J. Alfred Prufrock state until the clouds part and it becomes glorious, glorious morning. It’s a track that I can safely describe as beautiful, but authentically hip-hop.
“Robert L. Ripley” lays down a subtle, tribal beat on which Hymnal steals the show with a tribute to the old “Believe It Or Not” comic strip, integrating clever jabs at the state of the culture. “This just in, the Sasquatch has just been kicked down a notch in the ��most sought after’ category by an MC who isn’t in it for the money… evidently none can be found.”
With any luck, Omid will drop his solo shenanigans and hook up again with this Hymnal guy for a full-length album’s worth of this quality track.
By: Gabe Gloden
Published on: 2003-10-30