Hip hop, like any other genre, is in a constant state of flux. One day, it’s all about the grittiness of the streets, the next, it’s about peace and love. Then, it becomes a competition about how avant garde you can be. Next thing you know, it’s about how hard you can be. Buzzwords get thrown around – “real,” “gangsta,” “player,” “backpacker,” – soon enough, the community becomes as splintered and compartmentalized as rock. This has its ups and downs, of course. On the downside, more feuds erupt, and what was once a shared love then becomes something that divides. But on the upside, more far-reaching and visionary artists emerge, starting entirely new movements, pushing the genre to its boundaries.
Enter iD and Sleeper, a Kansas-based DJ and emcee duo who eschew the buzzwords above and create their own gritty, eerie-sounding post-apocalyptic hop that does away with the “real” and the “street” and takes it deep within the recesses of the psyche. The cover art alone (created by the Woodpile Collective), a strange, graffiti monster with a green heart, is immediately reminiscent of the surreal paintings on the covers of albums released by similarly disturbing hip-hop act Dälek. And if you’re to believe that that’s any indication of the sound of the record, you’d be more perceptive than you think.
Sleeper, the sample-stacker of the pair, creates haunting soundscapes of noise and hazy atmospherics, much like those on Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots or Absence. This record may not have been Mike Patton-approved, but crawls from the same murk that Oktopus or even DJ Signify’s beats may have. “The Catcher” and “Too Vague” offer noise-wielding samples that create a chaotic environment for iD’s rhymes. When iD spouts “The fairytale is over/Wake up and take hold of/Space/It may get colder” over a distorted metallic backing, the result is utterly chilling.
“Nothing…Now” is more spacious and paranoid, offering decidedly more grim imagery: “Blood soaked, soiled, And bound by the flesh/ Desecrated, violated, And left.” “Right There,” however, features more jazzy sounding samples, as “Hungry Ghost,” easily a standout on the record, creates the most vividly colorful soundscapes, with an almost Stereolab-sounding backing.
Displacement is a rare gem in hip-hop, creating imagery that is dark and gritty, yet occasionally inspiring and powerful. With the hot beats provided by Sleeper, and iD’s highbrow rhymes, the equation yields awesome results. On “Hungry Ghost,” iD puts it best, stating the duo’s mission loud and clear:
You better have your own thing going
All bullshit aside
Choose it just right
And do it with pride
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.