ShrapKnel – Nobody Planning to Leave

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ShrapKnel Nobody Planning to Leave review

Curly Castro and PremRock were already seasoned emcees by the time they reintroduced themselves as the abrasive rap duo ShrapKnel, having released a combined 10 albums before kicking open a door to a surrealistic nightmare futurescape on their self-titled 2020 debut. Featuring production from ELUCID of Armand Hammer, in which sheets of industrial acid rain splattered against real-weird-heads-know sample flips, ShrapKnel’s first LP provided a crash course in two of the underground’s most deft emcees through sounds that felt like actual collisions. A dystopian labyrinth of sculpted noise and dizzying imagery, the album simultaneously felt like an instant classic and an unsettling glimpse of things to come.

ShrapKnel have navigated a similarly dark, sci-fi-informed path since then while shedding some of the more overt noise of their first record, slipping through psychedelic rabbit holes and disorienting diversions on sophomore album Metal Lung. Nobody Planning to Leave, their third album, is at times their most accessible and in others their most subtly unnerving, with Controller 7’s rich and immersive production bridging the gaps between the duo’s most playful and apocalyptic extremes. It’s their best statement as a collaborative unit to date, an expansive and encyclopedic speedrun through a Mirror Universe view of hip-hop history.

The duo are more comfortable than most in letting tension rise before swandiving through the surface, letting the stark, eerie piano loop of opening song “Metallo” run for nearly a full minute before PremRock puts verse to mic: “I don’t wanna bury the dead/Pallbearer for the carried dread.” There’s a small mercy in those moments of lingering discomfort; when Curly kicks into acrobatic esoterica or Prem delivers his oblique philosophies, the imagery comes flooding in like scrolling microfilm, brief snatches of familiar references punctuating labyrinthine tangles of shadows and flashbulbs. Nods to Clipse and Breaking Bad elegantly tumble through the sinister loops of “Bogdan Interlude,” Curly’s opening barrage turns a laid-back boom-bap feel all the more frantic on “Nutcracker Blues,” and Open Mike Eagle picks up the reins on the illogical horrorscape marathon “Dadaism 3” to carry it over the climactic finish line: “I’m a retired monster/ deconstructed an entire roster/Now I’m breathing deep as a tired boxer.” Within their explorations of haunted corridors and parallel universes, there’s always a twinge of agony, introspection or mischief to tie it back to the flesh and blood here and now; when PremRock raps “I will not miss my human form/It was kinda just a uniform/I don’t know, I just threw it on/Things we do to belong, huh?“, he’s just saying what we’re all feeling.

Even as ShrapKnel’s disorienting lyrical bombardment seems to tear a hole in the fabric of hip-hop itself, Curly Castro and PremRock have a reverence and affection for rap music that often binds together their disjointed approach. Curly drops a callback to Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours” against boombox-rattling old-school beat on “LIVE Element,” while the breaks and almost-hook on “Illusions of P” would evoke ghosts of ’90s-era summers if it didn’t sound like it had actual ghosts in its machinery. No homage is as overt or as grimly fun as “Deep Space 9 Millie Pulled a Pistol,” a pastiche coated in trauma and chrome, echoing two cautionary tales from El-P and De La Soul—or as Curly told FLOOD, “A Producto and a few Plugs walk into a bar.”

Nobody Planning to Leave is ShrapKnel’s first album-length collaboration with producer Controller 7, and his nimbly imaginative creations offer a unifying aesthetic that’s as similarly eclectic as the duo’s own lyrics are vast in their reach. It’s the duo’s best sounding record overall as a result, Controller’s vintage crackle and MPC seances providing added dimension and depth to the duo’s lyrical gauntlet. The roads they’ve paved are no less serpentine, the threads no less tangled, but in its brief flashes of beats-and-rhymes homage and elliptic hooks, Nobody Planning to Leave offers a fleeting hallucination of familiarity. By the time you realize you’ve never been here before, you’re already in too deep.

Label: Backwoodz

Year: 2024

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