[29 November 2006]
Sometimes, to find the future, you have to look to the past.
Darc Mind is a duo, one MC and one DJ. The MC goes by the name of Kevroc, and he’s got a deep-voiced sort of gravity about him that you can’t help but pay attention to; the sort of command over voice and language that fans of, say, Rakim will find familiar and comfortable. The DJ half of Darc Mind is a fellow who calls himself GM Webb D, though he just as readily goes by the name X-Ray, and his beats have an old-school, sampled, vinyl sort of grittiness to them—rather than clutter up the mix, he’d rather let it breathe, let the inconsistencies in those vinyl grooves be heard, let the music be the backdrop rather than the catch.
And together, way back between ‘95 and ‘97, they created the album that Anticon needed to release right now.
See, this is a label that started out as an alternative to modern radio’s version of hip-hop, releasing albums from hip-hop artists that approached poetry, that wasn’t afraid to get a little emo, that featured production that went so far beyond the turntable as to be almost unrecognizable as hip-hop…almost being the operative word. Time’s passed, Anticon’s stable of artists has pushed that envelope to the point where most of its new releases are completely and utterly separated from the hip-hop scene, instead embracing things like the torch singing of Tarsier and, most recently, the electronic noodling of Dosh. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but these are the types of artists bound to alienate most of the fanbase that allowed Anticon to become a major industry force in the first place.
Darc Mind can bring those listeners back, because Darc Mind is hip-hop. Hearing this album, called Symptomatic of a Greater Ill, you remember that Anticon once pushed the boundaries of hip-hop rather than leaving it behind all together—now, Darc Mind pushes those boundaries once again by finding an iteration of the hip-hop formula that sounds pure, yet uncategorizable, eschewing the old-school, the new-school, and everything in between for the sake of a sound that lives in its own school.
The last track on Symptomatic of a Greater Ill, a four-minute mid-tempo track called “Outside Looking In”, sees Kevroc laying down (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) a narrative that could just about be the mission statement of Darc Mind. It’s obvious that what Darc Mind does is outside the realm of easily categorizable hip-hop, but it could also be a tale of the duo’s relationship with an industry that all but chewed them up and spit them out 10 years ago when they recorded the album. At one point, Symptomatic… was going to come out on Arista’s Loud Records imprint, and yet, for whatever reason, the album never got released, Loud up and died, seemingly taking Darc Mind’s little masterpiece with it. “Diggin’ my hooks deep down an industry fishbowl,” Kevroc relates, expressing his frustration with the business manifestation of the art he’s chosen to pursue, but even as he’s frustrated, his self-confidence remains infectious, as he demonstrates even so early as the song’s introduction: “We on the outside lookin’ in / But be lookin’ out,” he says, officially putting the same industry that he despises on notice for his imminent arrival.
And sure, he probably didn’t expect that arrival to actually happen 10 years after he originally wrote the line, but the important thing here is that he has arrived.
The album begins, as it should, with the incredible “Visions of a Blur”, a mellow display of bass-heavy beats and Kevroc’s authoritative baritone (quite similar to “Outside Looking In”, actually) that consists of ideas as fleeting as the ones that pop into our heads on a regular basis—it’s almost an acknowledgement that most good ideas simply aren’t given enough attention to be fleshed out into something more. “Say we’ll get over on vocation push the product for the people / Survival, hard ecnomoics and there’s players in the sequel / Grandmother’s prayin, God listenin too / Now whatchu gonna do, when time runs out on you?,” Kevroc says, managing to incorporate business, family, religion and mortality into four little bars, never quite choosing to explore them, but letting his listeners know that they’re all on his mind. It makes sense that the track leads off the disc, as it’s the one Darc Mind track that people might actually have heard before, having appeared on the soundtrack for the 1997 basketball drama Soul in the Hole, giving proof that this is music that actually did exist before 2006.
Symptomatic of a Greater Ill never quite reaches the heights of its two bookends, though it does come close on tracks like “U Da One” and the old demo “Fever Pitch”. It couldn’t even, really, be called a truly great album, as its middle section is littered with meandering, fairly standard tracks like the awfully boring “I’m Ill” and the unmemorable “BMOC”, not to mention short, purposefully old-school displays of rhyming (“Knight of the Round Table”, “Rhyme Zone”) whose sole purpose seems to lie in demonstrating that Kevroc can rhyme quickly as well as cleverly. Still, the flashes of true inspiration that do exist on Symptomatic… are enough to make the album one of 2006’s absolutely essential hip-hop releases, enough to make what Kevroc and GM Webb D are promising to be a short wait for the next installment of the Darc Mind saga feel excruciatingly long.
Give Anticon a pat on the back for this one. They’re due.