Bass in Point
By the time Italian rapper Mondo Marcio recorded his 2010 album Animale in Gabbia, he had just begun to experiment with the wider range of colours on his musical palette. Expanding in rhythm and texture, Marcio’s beats took on new and deeper dimensions, allowing his hip-hop to travel from the streets and the danceclubs to the private quarters of the bedroom. The rapper had now begun to explore all emotional avenues that hip-hop could afford him, his grooves a transformative reflection of any new artistic venture he took.
Of all the Italian rappers, Marcio is probably hip-hop’s most prolific artist, averaging about an album per year. Not one to be content with simply championing a particular niche, the rapper has tried his hand at many styles and genres, developing his hip-hop with the kind of transmuting structures that have seen him flirt with everything from reggae and rock to ‘60s pop and electronica. Animale in Gabbia was an exercise in introducing agreeable pop into his make-up; his latest, Nella Bocca Della Tigre (2014), interpolates the music of Italian pop icon Mina into a series of Motown-inspired hip-hop grooves.
The year 2011 proved to be very dark for both Italy and Marcio. The socio-economic system of the country was in serious trouble while, on a personal front, the rapper was undergoing many changes in his career that found him rebuilding his label after some modifications in his management. While Marcio hasn’t really let on exactly what the problems in his career were at that point, a number of clues can be found on Musica da Serial Killer, the rapper’s fifth album of material.
For Musica da Serial Killer (labelled a mixtape, but really a full proper album), Marcio would mine the deep depths of gloom, forgoing much of the party vibes of his earlier efforts for material that pulsed with an ambience thick with dread. Moreover, the rapper would also trade in the good-natured humour typical of his rhymes for a compressed, airless flow of evil that radiated an almost poisonous aura of rage. Infused with a paranoiac’s ideas of sex, murder and political danger, the album’s dark and heavy themes were visually realized on its creepy, unsettling artwork, featuring the rapper in profile, calmly staring ahead while a trail of blood trickles from his earphones.
The album’s cover seems to comment on a generation brought up on the iPod, a cultural emblem of the mass market murder of music and art. It also suggests that the music contained within is equally a threat—poisonous ear candy for those willing to be baited into the rapper’s punishing trap of artistic enterprise.
Musica da Serial Killer’s most notable and significant feature is its bottom-heavy bass. If other rappers utilize bass as a mere routine constituent of hip-hop music, Marcio turns it into a weaponized element, ramping it up to a terrifying degree where extremes are stretched to torturous, nearly fatal ends. The destructive and explosive force with which the basslines are dispensed practically inaugurates a bass culture previously unexplored in Italian hip-hop. Never before have the sensations of death, dread and groove been so synonymous in music, the album’s message of impending doom embodied in the resounding, heavy throb of the bottom-end.
Following the album’s intro, Musica da Serial Killer officially begins with “Dexter”, an obvious nod to the murderously twisted TV series character and a grim, referential stab at dark humour, less funny than it is frightening. Etched in at the edges with a slasher-film string-section, “Dexter” meditates on social paranoia and murderous lusts, with Marcio’s mid-tempo raps affecting an almost breathless and teasing mock-drawl. Stripped down to an elemental core of beats, bass and anxiously jumpy strings, the track maintains an uncomfortable pressure that threatens to explode.
Afterwards, on “Dimmi di cosa hai paura”, the rapper’s rhymes are leveled to a computerized, satanic hush, trading lines with guest vocalist Michelle Lily whose sour utterance of “motherfucker” (flung like a brick to the face) demonstrates that the pair means serious business. “Dimmi di cosa hai paura” expounds the grievances of the digital age, where terrorism, illness, unemployment, and death meet in an endless circling of fear and mistrust.
In the past, Marcio has managed the trick of turning an overused sample into dancefloor pop-magic. His use of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” (possibly one of the most sampled pieces of music to feature in an R&B or hip-hop track in the last 25 years) for his song “Tutto a posto” on Animale in Gabbia successfully reinvented a jaded idea into an engaging and humorous jam without pretension. The rapper returns to his dalliances with pop on “Come un italiano”, this time cutting through the album’s fog of dread with a highly infectious sample of Renato Carosone’s “Mambo Italiano”.
A tumbling hip-hop jive flushed with the colour of Mediterranean exotica, “Come un italiano” momentarily allows for the shafts of a few sunlit rays before the album’s darkened return to its dreary underground. When Musica da Serial Killer resumes its deathly grind with “Conto alla rovescia”, Marcio is in full-blown panic mode, his demonically-possessed rant-raps flowing with the unease of a paranoid, weed-burning MC. The death-drums that start the track give way to a thickly robust groove before a lethal, booming mass of beats soon fall hard and heavy on the chorus. It’s a song of deeply-embedded fears and Armageddon panic, which Marcio describes as a response to the collapsing Italian economic system that was happening at the time.
Later, on the hip-house white-noise crunch of “Cos’hai di nuovo?” (featuring fellow Italian rappers Ensi and Palla da Phella), the pile-driving beats reach a new subsonic low. Like an enraged Jungle Brothers-in-Hades, “Cos’hai di nuovo?” is house-rap full of crushing evil, bled dry of melody to reveal nothing more than a brutal, subterranean boom in which all eardrums are taken to task. On the dancefloor, this would be murder by infrasound.
Even the album’s sporadic over-the-top party numbers like “Quanta Carne” (the darker party-track counterpart to “Come un italiano”) exude a creepy air of malevolence and threat. On “Quanta Carne”, Marcio delivers his rhymes as though they were acts of sexual terrorism. His applications of the gender clichés that encumber hip-hop are ironically deployed (here, a woman is at once enraptured and terrorized). On first listen, the song simply reads as hip-hop misogyny; a few more listens reveal the caricaturing and lambasting of the hip-hop Lothario, with the rapper mordantly dispensing with just about every ridiculous stereotype to throw at a less than discerning listener.
Musica da Serial Killer winds to a finish with two lighter numbers, which alleviate much of the pressure that precedes the two closing tracks. Lighter in tone, these numbers service the listener with the acknowledgment of relief, the moments that follow an ill-conceived outing to a club on the rough ends of the city. Indeed, Musica da Serial Killer’s low-end frequencies are its most seductive and destructive quality, a space of sound where the looming fears and threats incite a deadly, sexy thrill. As evidenced by the disturbing album artwork in which the rapper nonchalantly bleeds from the ears as the result of an eardrum-murdering infrasound, Marcio forces listeners, as well, to live and die by the bass.
In his own words - Mondo Marcio summarizes his ideas behind Musica da Serial Killer for PopMatters:
It was an introspective moment both for me and for the country [while recording the album]; I think the whole country’s situation influenced my perspective on reality. Starting from 2007, the Italian economic system was visibly collapsing for everybody, small and huge offices; there was the feeling that you’re preparing to go to war with your neighbour, so we all kind of started developing a kill-or-be-killed attitude, rather than just plain competition.
Also, I was working on rebuilding my label and management and many other essential things, so you might say that mentally I was pretty much digging in the darkest cave, looking for oil. [The album was about] the feeling you get in those dark times, when you realize that nobody really has your back besides your own self. Luckily I moved on from that kind of dark and oppressive karma but, still, it helped me to be a lot more aware of the game that is played.
In my defense, I approached the music business, professionally, at 16. So that time was some kind of a wakeup call… I wanted the music to fully match with the lyrics, and being that my stories were so dark and frustrated (at that time), I wanted the listener to feel that kind of heavy vibe, to feel like I was feeling. Low frequencies, distorted sounds and 808 kicks helped out a lot in doing that.
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