City Centre Offices
t’s time we made a stand; no more fucking hip-hop skits. From Quasimoto to Kanye and Outkast to Missy, the leaden spectre of skits have scuttled many a grade-A album, reducing potentially genre-defining aural documents into a skip heavy affair that simply wouldn’t have been tolerated in the vinyl age. Ball achingly tedious on first exposure, their true dullness and utter ineptitude only comes to light with repeated exposure, yet somehow they are unquestionably tolerated. Undoubtedly down to the in-house mentality and production cartels that pervade contemporary hip-hop, sound judgement and quality control are seemingly abandoned at the first sniff of a HILARIOUS skit pitch. Make it stop. Now. Please…
It therefore always comes as a gratifying surprise when you finally encounter a record that forsakes a tiresome comedy routine on getting the munchies, in favour of non-modified hip-hop that doesn’t require a sub 6th Form revue framework with which to shore it up. When you add to this dextrous discourse, a light and breezy production style that belies some serious behind-the-glass talent, and a robust vein of political disentrancement, you might just have the hip-hop album of the year. Kanye and Dangerdoom make way please for Cyne; skitless and bloody proud of it.
At a time when swathes of the mainstream are increasingly populated by asinine marble-mouthed mutterings and twat-headed bulletproof chic, the need for a group like Cyne is undeniable. As to whether they can ever break free of the backpack ghetto is another matter entirely, largely down to long standing preconceptions that marinate intelligent, independent hip-hop. Whilst their allegiance to Berlin’s City Centre Offices is likely to invoke images of serrated blip-hop, Cyne couldn’t be further away from the likes of Anti-Pop Consortium and Shadow Huntaz. Warm, sun bleached and with a charmingly dusty predilection, the Gainesville-based four piece of Spek, Enoch, Akin, and Cise Star have evidently taken their time crafting a follow up to their debut Time Being; and what a matured and unqualified success it is.
With the best of today’s hip-hop now reliant on a killer central sample or borderline avant compositions (Timbaland et al.), Cyne’s decision to mix throaty breaks and a plethora of live instrumentation, whilst overtly traditional, comes as startlingly fresh. Displaying this with considerable aplomb is Evolution Flight’s opening salvo; “Plight About Now”. Over a sweaty gumbo of Calypso breakdowns and dreamy, Axelrod-style heat haze production, Cyne violently puncture the calm with 20ft high horn stabs that juxtapose electrically with Akin and Cise Star’s buoyant ode “for those who didn’t make it, I make sure their memory’s never forsaken.” Whilst you may well be thinking “same old, same old,” what on paper may sound like a weary and socially clichéd proposition, on record comes alive with that indefinable something which elevates the potentially humdrum into an actual, factual classic.
Adopting a delicious vocal style that is melodic in the way that makes Blackalicious so charming, Cise Star and Akin never threaten to become entangled in the kind of sugary rhyming that grates so heavily when perpetrated by the likes of DJ Format, Ugly Duckling, and Jurassic 5. Pitched somewhere between early Common, Sole, and a less helium inflated Talib Kweli, Cyne are able to deliver content that wouldn’t seem out of place in the note-pad of Chuck D or Paris. Yet rather than appear needlessly combative or overly worthy, they instead wrap it in a mouth-watering, sugary shell that is nonetheless uncompromising and a million miles from saccharine. So whilst the Prince Po-style production and choral interludes (and do these lads know when to drop a choir!) of “Soapbox” bound along with friably muted exuberance, lexically Cyne can detail the ongoing Civil War within America’s disparate populations in a way that engages both brain and feet. Similarly, the title track underlays its trite attacks on the Pope for exacerbating the blossoming AIDS crisis in Africa and the lambasting of pharmaceutical companies encouragement to “stuff the Ritalin down the throats of our children,” with an enchanting musical shrug that supports the overall structure without drawing your ear away from the feature presentation.
The kind of album that seems like an old favourite within a matter of days, Evolution Flight never becomes too comfortable, trading complacency for an innate listenability that continues to thrill and surprise well beyond the usual sell by date. Portraying their homeland as a prostitute in “a tight mini-skirt with scandals in her hair,” dolling out hand-jobs for oil and gold on “Fuck America,” Cyne emit a resigned acceptance rather than a militant mindset, a position immediately juxtaposed on “Growing”; wherein a well worn batch of clichéd, self-help bollocks are twisted into a veiled call for arms. Elsewhere Cyne plagiarise some Prefuse (or even Jackson Fourgeaud) production with their Tyler Durden rant of “clever ringtones define me…” on “Automaton,” whilst “Fallen Stars” is just happy to gleefully reference Kraftwerk over a broiling electro-soused sample that collapses in a fit of breezeblock breaks when the finish line swings into sight.
Self-assured as opposed to unappealingly cocksure, Evolution Flight would be a towering achievement based on any criteria you chose to elect. Yet what elevates it even further is a final act trilogy of songs which represent a meditation on contemporary spirituality that is moving, emotionally svelte, and (most importantly) extraordinarily infectious.
First up on this triple-bill is “Arrow of God,” where sparkling King Geedorah-esque production augments the after-hours musings, candidly asserting “I just live for now, perhaps regret it later, don’t call me atheist, I do believe God is greater.” Riddled by a single golden soul sample, “Arrow of God” is articulate in a way that puts Kanye’s sweat drenched preacher act to shame and constitutes an examination of faith in a capitalist society which won’t have you praying for it to end. Melting from this straight into “Running Water”, Cyne skank a beat from The Clash then drape it in sunset atmospherics and a pointedly unanswered (and highly symbolic) phone, chattily referencing Stephen King and Greek legend within the same breath. Yet for all their impact, it is the third tract that really hits home. Manipulative, mawkish, and shameless in its intent, “Up Above” is nonetheless a cripplingly poignant love letter from a son to his late mother, where lines like “I’d wrestle angels just to see your face again” are deployed to tear-jerking effect over a high-speed dub croon. On its own “Up Above” is little more than Cyne’s “Dry Your Eyes,” but as a striking epilogue to the spiritual confusion of that which preceded it, you are left with a didactic assertion of hope striving to overcome internal doubts.
Polemical without becoming condescending, superbly judged without seeming contrived, but most significantly a fucking great listen that bounces you about, knocks you down, engages your head and has you belly dancing with glee, Evolution Flight is easily one of the year’s best releases. And guess what? Full time and not a pissing skit in sight. Hallelujah!
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: AUGUST 29 – SEPTEMBER 3, 2005
Reviewed by: Adam Park
Reviewed on: 2005-08-29