Where are the innovators?

Music is lame. It is so boring. Post rock has long been chasing its own tail in search of something new and interesting, emo and hardcore are by their very nature sub-genres that can only evolve so far. IDM is cold: innovative yes, but in many respects it lacks the emotional weight to really float my boat. Every few months I look at my record collection and despair. Where is the next innovation going to come from? Last year perennial underachievers HOOD released a fabulous record called Cold House. A magnificent mix of crunching beats, wistful guitars and sad, longing vocals. The sound track to winter. On the record, at several points is the very distinctive voice of Dose One, one part of avant-rap threesome cLOUDEAD. The trio’s eponymous debut came out to wide press acclaim on Big Dadda Records in 2001. A cerebral mix of quick-witted rhyme, innovative samples and extended ambient sound-scapes. In many ways, a record that fills the gaps between Cyprus Hill and Stars Of The Lid. I am a little underwhelmed by it, to be honest. It feels a little distant. It is an interesting document, a statement of intent. I’m bored again.

I received a record by a man described in the press release as ‘the thinking man’s Eminem’. He has a beard in his press photograph. Sage Francis’s debut album ‘Personal Journals’ is much like hearing the conclusions reached at the end of a diary. There isn’t much in terms of cohesion – thematically there are heart wrenching appeals to self-mutilating sisters, right through to the alienation felt by a white man with a love for hip hop but no interest in rock. The record is a wonderful testament to how the opinions of an intelligent, articulate man delivered with no little panache does great art make (generic emo bands: takenote and give up). Live, the man has a dial up to your soul. In a small venue in central London, I have never felt so singled out and communicated to. Sage performs as a slam poet and with various underground hip-hop collectives. So renowned is he that he regularly plays to large audiences even without having released a record.

The issuers of ‘Personal Journals’ are a collective and record label known as Anticon. Alias (one of the DJ’s on the Sage album) has recently released his debut, as have Themselves (featuring the aforementioned Dose One). These records are remarkable for the innovative use of traditional samples, with a knowing glance towards the Tigerbeat6 IDM crew and the sharp rhymes of refreshingly pretension-free poets. Dälek moves to extremes on his second record. There is a track featuring 11 minutes of piercing white noise with impassioned rapping over the top. Ouch.

In a genre that even in its mainstream form has continuously mutated since its inception, it is exciting to find a scene in which all that is great with hip hop is exploited without resorting to the testosterone-fuelled posturing of clichéd violence. The hip hop, it don’t stop.

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