Shock City Maverick
fter the dissolution of the decade’s most notable avant rap group, Anti Pop Consortium, its most verbally gifted member immediately struck out on his own to release one of the most wildly original and personal hip-hop albums last year, Tomorrow Right Now.
The thematic dexterity on the album reminded me of the classic MC form exemplified by a perfect balance of cocky narcissism and intellectual populism. By switching gears from party rockers like “Phreek the Beet” to spoken-word ruminations on substance abuse to a lyrical thank you note to his mother on “Merle”, Beans was approaching traditional MC subject matter, but giving it an unconventional twist. With “Toast”, for instance, he essentially produced a hometown rep track, which isn’t even set in his hometown, the New York City suburb, White Plains. Instead, he raps about a chaotic, overstimulated Big Apple that nearly suffocates his creativity until he takes a “cozy little trip on a Metro North Train” back home to meditate. Beans is an eccentric and a loner, no doubt, but he believes in one of the fundamental tenets of hip-hop: It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
By being a lyrical artist on a primarily instrumental label like Warp, Tomorrow Right Now was widely ignored by the hip-hop community. Since then, Beans has expanded his audience by touring exhaustively with the likes of Prefuse 73, Tortoise and the Rapture, mostly upstaging these acts with just a CD player, microphone and a head full of rhymes.
Striking out on his own and achieving success with a variety of audiences has given Beans a cause for celebration. Shock City Maverick is his victory lap, a futuristic party album in that old school boasting vein. After getting the darker, cerebral subjects off his chest on his debut, this new album acts as a showcase for his infectiously chaotic flow, able to change cadence dozens of times before a track nears its end. “Papercut” kickstarts the album, sounding like he’s lyrically chopping his way out of a goth disco club, while announcing that he’s “got these dunderheads penned to the wall like a poster when he pops off like toast from a toaster.” You are inclined to believe him.
Beans wisely keeps the pace up for the first half. He dunks his own IDM-influenced beats in an R&B; gloss on “Shards of Glass”, mainlines his heaviest bassline on “City Hawk” directly into your spine, and by the time “Death By Sophistication” spins, he’s got the “crowd screaming like a dick caught in a zipper”. As unsettling a metaphor it may be, it’s this humorous use of graphic, tactile imagery that is slowly becoming his trademark. Sometimes it’s cringe-worthy (“Confused an audience of anorexics who found my material just too hard to digest”) and sometimes it’s just silly (“Pull your lip over your head and swallow”), but it’s unique and, as we all know, that is a quality rarely seen in the underground hip-hop community (especially this past year).
Beans has yet to learn, however, that we’re paying the price of admission to hear him wrap his tongue around the mic, not screw around with his drum machine. Once again, he breaks up the vocal tracks with a couple superfluous instrumental misses. Respect is due to any artist who can self-produce their own albums, but Beans’s productions, when stripped of his voice, are rendered a two-legged stool unable to support the rest of the album. “Your Dead, Let’s Disco” would have worked as an intermission, but stretched out to five minutes, it is an unwelcome addition.
So, in the end, it’s a transitional album, with some of the cuts sounding a bit out-of-place. For example, the lead-off single, “Down By Law” (with its call for everybody to “wave their hands in the air”), feels like he’s trying too hard to fit his eccentricities into the commercial party rap jigsaw puzzle. And although I’ll miss the cryptic introspection of his earlier work, I’m looking forward to that glorious day in the near future, when I hear Beans on mainstream radio and watch as the hip-hop community attempts to catch up.
Reviewed by: Gabe Gloden
Reviewed on: 2004-11-18