Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cut Chemist - The Audience's Listening Review (2006)

2006 was not a good year for Hip-Hop. The genre was stuck in the middle of all of its crescendos, as the underground began drifting away as MF DOOM's dominant presence began to fade, the mainstream stagnated due to unoriginality and a focus on one-hit wonders for your latest ringtones over albums, and many long-lasting legends met their demise (See: Outkast's Idlewild). If it weren't for Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury, and most importantly, J Dilla's Donuts the year would have been completely forgotten. It's this last one however, the culmination of a man's work, his grand opus, that completely overshadowed another esteemed producers debut, Cut Chemist's The Audience's Listening. Now, the former rightfully stands as Hip-Hop's greatest beat tape, but in doing so other producers were forced to take a backseat critically, with the former Jurassic 5 member being docked for his decision to drive things to a light-hearted measure, something Donuts gravely abandoned with its curators death. Unaffiliated with its counterparts, Audience's Listening remains a seminal debut in that it freed the restrains of Hip-Hop, scavenging all other genres for originality while its own seemed detrimentally devoid of it.

Perhaps throwing the kitchen sink at a struggling genre wasn't the best alternative in the time, but looking back now, with the recent influx of genre blending occurring mostly around abstract Hip-Hop, Audience's Listening has found its footing as a record daring to escape its foothold. The opening track, 'Motivational Speaker,' is nothing but samples. They're claustrophobic, cluttered, and despite being in some cases decades apart from creation they're intrinsically linked in Cut Chemist's vision. DJ scratches play prominently in the piece, segueing moments as the track plays out like a call to arms for expressed creativity. It's quite obvious at times too, "when people don't listen to it then it's no good" is met with "No. That's wrong" as a tongue-in-cheek nod to alternative means of music. Banjo's find their way into the ever-changing time tempos, just as easily as barking dogs, the track remains sporadically constructed despite maintaining a concrete purpose. Much of Audience's Listening acts as subtle moments in this collage stretched out into coherent form like silly putty, as Cut Chemist's sonic insight tends to solidify after a spurred moment of paint splattering. When the designer has the ability to string these ramblings together allowing the tracks their space whilst also maintaining a certain collective composition, the album turns into a breathing feng shui art piece.

The track standing center stage as the liveliest exhibit has to be 'The Garden,' a tour-de-force in the melding of genres to the point of creating something entirely new. Late 80's boom-bap style drums compete with sultry, soothing Portuguese vocals plucked straight out of 60's South America, as an acoustic guitar riff serves as the foundation, despite a constant barrage of DJ scratching to alter it. The voice however, with its lyrics unknown to anyone outside of the language of origin, dominates the atmosphere, slowed down from the source material as a way to glide across the calming guitars and looming drums. It's amazing that a Hip-Hop producer hailing from NYC and LA can lay claim to a track you'd expect to hear in an antique village in the heart of Argentina. This perennial grasp on diversity allows Cut Chemist to embark on globalizing his sound, conforming to his basis of Hip-Hop in an attempt at opening ears to what others have to offer. This goes without mentioning the two tracks, 'Metrorail Thru Space' and 'A Peak In Time,' that mirror the 2004 Japanese cult game Katamari Damacy in an oddly fascinating way, calibrating eclectic musical tastes with 8-bit electronic dance. 

With so much talk about conflicting genres it's easy to forget Hip-Hop's part in Audience's Listening, as that's still Cut Chemist's forte. Just two songs here feature full-fledged rapping features, as Edan and Mr.Lif tackle 'Storm,' while Hymnal scantly parades on 'What's The Altitude.' The latter is a delicate retelling of a late night out with a soon-to-be hook-up, the former an onslaught of verbal ferocity over competing mics. 'Storm' sees both underground emcees commend their presence with lyrical dexterity and highly-functioning flows, dropping off beat only to pounce back on it with full force like a leap off a Mario Kart track only to land on a speed boost. Despite the necessity of structure Cut Chemist is able to ingest numerous jolted synths and ragged distortions to keep the track lively, fun, and thrilling. Other tracks here tend to veer off into elongated instrumental segues, like 'Spoon' or '2266 Cambridge' that emphasis subtleties to instill atmosphere. The one that launches away from soft bridges is 'My First Big Break' which capitalizes off big beat branding that leaves the head nodding like a bobble head gone haywire. In an alternate reality a rapper skilled enough to tackle this beast could turn it into a snarling menace capable of defeating the incoming robots the sample in the song proclaims. 

There comes a time when you question whether the disjointed nature of Cut Chemist's debut knocks it off its pedestal. After all, an album with such diversity can hardly contain the strands barely holding it together. Once the finale kicks in, with its rapid drum loop and brainwashing sample cues ("Listen. Listen to the music") you soon realize that the point of the album is having fun. A sexual rendezvous can match with a zen-esque South American romp just as simply as a lyrical rap battle can play out next to a drive down a busy city street in the summer. It's theme is that of bliss through interconnectivity. In all four tracks above two people, or two cultures, create the finished product, in all cases their work merits the joys in completing it. Cut Chemist aimed at understanding the lack of direction in Hip-Hop at the time with an album entirely composed of misdirection, jarring in its use of alternative means to reach the climatic goal. There may not be any lows on Audience's Listening, but in moments of confusion serenity can arise purely based off the removal of one's inhibitions, leaving a unique soundscape created by means of lessening the restraints set in place. 

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