WHAT THE HELL IS CLOUD RAP???
"(Lil B)showed me a cgi picture of an uprooted castle floating amongst clouds and said 'that’s the kind of music I want to make.' Then he played this song." Via CBRap.com
"Cloud Rap refers to a form of hip hop whose distinguishing features include ethereal, dreamlike beats (which often use wordless vocal samples, wherein singers harmonize or hold long notes, to produce a majestic effect) and abstracted, sometimes deliberately absurd, lyrics. Cloud Rap producers often rely on unconventional sample sources, incorporating elements from Indie, Experimental, and Ambient songs into their beats (in his beat for Main Attrakionz's "Illest Alive," for example, Clams Casino samples "Bachelorette" by Björk)."- from here
Cloud Rap, as far as I can tell, is what would happen if Pet Sounds era Brian Wilson and Elisabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins got together and started producing hip hop albums. I feel corny contextualizing a hip hop movement in terms of harmony-driven, melancholic 1960s surf music, and airy-fairy '80s dream pop but-- G-Side producer Block Beataz samples beats from Enya. Yes, really. (More on this later).
I am here today to write about Cloud Rappers G-Side's 2011 album "THE ONE...COHESIVE." This is kind of a daunting task on multiple levels:
1. The album came out a year ago, so it's not exactly CUTTING EDGE MUSIC BLOGGING, but they're underground enough that I still this album is worth writing about.
2. They're not actually that obscure. They played at Pitchfork. Spin dubbed this record the #2 best hip hop record of 2011. But I still haven't met anyone whose listened to it besides the pretentious music journalists at the Chicago Reader (which is how I found out about this record, but don't tell nobody that.)
3. The only people who seem to read my weird and vaguely misguided white girl hip hop blogging are amateur MCs on OKCupid who have a hard on for white girls with big butts who love hip hop.
4. I don't actually know what I'm talking about. And I haven't even been able to find extensive production notes or transcripts of their lyrics, so I apologize in advance for any errors.
Maik kind of has a point.
In a nutshell, G-Side is an hip hop duo from Athens, Alabama comprised of two MCs, "Yung Clova" and "ST 2 Lettaz," part of the Slow Motion Soundz label out of Huntsville. They have been described as "Film music symphonic," "Hypnotic" and "Spellbounding" (according to Wikipedia, but the labels fit). They get compared to Outkast by lazy music journalists a lot on the basis of being Southern, but they sound nothing like Outkast. They ARE Dirty South, if Dirty South played craps with 18 sided dice while listening to Dead Can Dance in an abandoned Huntsville housing project.
G side is gritty, melodic, elegant, melancholy, pained and dignified all at the same time. This album shows an unwavering loyalty and a desire to elevate their underrecognized scene in Alabama, while at the same time making no bones about the frustration they feel both within their community and the music industry at large. This album is sort of conscious hip hop, but at the same time, there's a song about sexting with this decidedly crude and vaguely racist line: "Wash my dick in the sink/bought some 'rillos at the store from the goddam chink". So, there you go.
I have decided the easiest way to tackle this is just comment on the tracks individually, and not actually try to be deep about it since I can't really adequately speak the production or parties involved. I've linked the youtube vids if you're curious, or you can nut up and pay to download the whole album here.
1. "Shots Fired" (Feat. Codie Global)
Sets the chillaxed "Slow Motion Soundz" tone for the record, with a dreamy pitched-down beat, mumbled rambling about music production, the occasional spliff lighting foley, and a repetitive chant of "Slow Mo 'Til the World Blow." This works pretty well as an opener, and is blissfully short as far as narcissistic "production notes" type cuts go, compared to say, Kanye's ten minutes of babbling in Last Call. (See? I still have to make fun of Kanye.) I feel a little stoned listening to this track. In a good way."You're a legend, so what? You can eat a dick." My sentiments exactly.
2."Came Up"(Feat. S.L.A.S.H)
Watch this video. It really kind of condenses what makes G-Side special into a few minutes. The "video girls" are wearing pants that actually cover their butts, and playing violins. G-Side sayeth:
"This video represents the struggle of Athens, Alabama. To some the city is only two exits off of I-65 for motorist traveling north or south. The video was shot in Trinity school which was the first black school built during segregation. This is a video reflecting the struggle of an oppressed voice searching for an entrance just to be heard."
The late afternoon light and juxtaposition of violins, sunset, and the harsh reality of abject poverty is really striking.
I also love that this video features an awesome female MC (S.L.A.S.H.?) who looks like a normal woman wearing a hoodie and rapping about real life shit ("We're gonna bring the whole fam like we're buying plane tickets at the CostCo"). Plus an Antoine Dodson shoutout: "Like the Lincoln Park Rapist I'mma come in through your window." Ha.
3."Y U Mad" (Feat. P.H. and Kirstmas)
This is a melancholy yet salty tribute to hometown haters, with melodic piano music that builds to an epic pitch. A theme that arises a lot across this album is the idea that everyone wants to be a famous rapper as an antidote to poverty and dealing drugs, but this isn't necessarily a realistic model for escape. "Stars look so bright when you come from a city with no lights." There's a touch of anger, like "we got ours, wannabe haters can fuck off," kind of the bitter antithesis of Lupe Fiasco's Hip-Hop Saved My Life. This vaguely Libertarian line in particular kind of caught me off guard: "Excuses such as poverty don't bother me, he could have chosen college, he ain't have to choose a robbing spree, so I have no apologies" OMG, G-SIDE, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!!! (Yes, I'm kidding.)
4."I'm Sorry :( G-Side Feat. CP")
I'm not quite sure what G-Side is apologizing for, but it sure as hell isn't for making this awesome track. The track opens with "This time I'mma really get ill and black out/like an overdue utility bill," with a whispered refrain of "I'm sorry" over honeyed vocal harmonies that are as haunting as they are catchy (and what initially made me think of "Pet Sounds"). Also, I love that the title includes an emoticon.
7."Inner Circle (Feat. CP)"
This track really features the symphonic, operatic production that's the hallmark of the cloud rap genre. General bitching about being compared to Outkast by critics: "Well excuse me Miss Executive I'm from Alabama/that's probably why my music isn't quote-unquote 'Atlanta'." Damn right.
6. "Jones (Feat. Pope)"
With its gritty refrain of "I got a jones in my bones for the streets" this is one of harder tracks on the album...Yet, it features a dreamy, billowing Enya sample. Enough said.
7. Nat Geo Feat. Chris Lee
This is one of the more "commercial" sounding tracks on the album, with an almost "ballin' in Vegas" kind of production and chorus of "I'm dreaming with my eyes wide open." Ok, my favorite part of this song is a RANDOM ASS MONOLOGUE ABOUT NETIQUETTE AT THE END OF THE TRACK:
"To be on the internet, doing this business, you gotta be savvy and you gotta understand the etiquettes of being on the net, just like in the streets, you got to respect people out here, on the internet I feel like you got to respect people, there's a way to carry yourself on the net, so if you're real out here in this so-called 'terrestrial world' or the 'mortal world' you should be cool on the net. Just be you. There really ain't no difference, it's just another tactic to maneuver."
I love this bit because it sounds like a conversation I'd have while high at a college party in 1998. I also need more excuses to incorporate the expression "this so-called terrestrial world" into my conversations.
8. I am (Feat. DJ Cunta)
Ok, DJ Cunta? Best name ever. This song picks up with the technology theme from the the previous track:"Use the internet to network, constructed a network, then we all connected to get work." Harp samples are involved in this track.
9. Pictures (Feat. GMane)
GMane= Gucci Mane, I assume? This track was produced by cloud rap impresario Clams Casino, who also did the Lil B track at the top of this post. This is the smutty sexting/bootycall song, and it's dirrrty! "I'm just chilling getting stoned/it's three in the monin'/shawty say she all alone/she ain't got no panties on/tell me to come on/she sent a picture to my phone." Boner jams 2012!
10. Never (Feat. Mic Strange)
This song has the strongest "Dirty South" feel with the chaotic swagger of "I'm from Alabama, you can never pussy me" (?) I am not entirely sure what the verb "to pussy" implies, and neither does Urban Dictionary, but it's a prominent theme in this song: "I be gettin' pussy/you won't pussy me/y'all n*ggaz pussy jews/you a spook to me." I am even more compelled than the concept of "pussy jews" though I think this mostly just an...interesting pun, along with the winning gangsta moniker "Alabama Capone."
11. No Radio (Feat. Bentley)
Mo dirty south beats about rejecting the mainstream media with thuggy "pop champagne" lyrics and a "N*gga where my money" refrain. This song has another monologue at the end about the importance of not dwelling on the past.
12. How Far (Feat. Victoria Tate and Kaylan Parham)
One of the most beautiful tracks on this album, with a gorgeous sample from dream pop band Beach House and the addition of lovely female vocals riffing on the Beach House lyrics(I actually thought it was Hayley Williams from Paramore at first, but I actually like this chick's voice better.) I admit I like the cloudier cuts the best, and this is no exception.
13. Moneyintheskyii (Feat. Chris Lee)
Best described as a piano-laden "regret ballad"- narrator loses his girl because he can't hear the door slamming "over the music" and debates whether he'd be "better off" quitting music and cleaning up his act, but nevertheless persevering to make it though the dreams seem impossibly far away.
14. Imagine (Feat. Jhi Ali)
This song is sort of like, a less ridiculous version of OCP's "Magical Mysteries." Another billowy, operatic sample (from the Beautiful Mind Soundtrack? Not sure.) "Can you imagine/Being at war in the Serengheti/Can you imagine/Being told you got 6 months to live/Can you imagine/Sitting in the pupil of the eye that watches the universe" ok, a little corny, but it's a lovely song and works well as a closing track, especially with this bittersweet closing line: "Can you imagine success/Can you imagine...failure." REALNESS.
All in all, I'd give this album about 8/10 on my personal scale. It's definitely one of the best hip hop records I've heard in recent times, and well worth buying, especially to support the independent music scene in Huntsville. I am looking forward to checking out their 11/11 release Island (damn, prolific though Cohesive came out 1/1/11 so I guess it was for consistency sake)! It features a futuristic floating castle (island?) thing on the cover, too. Awesome.