An incredibly eccentric and enjoyable hip-hop puzzle.
Hipology, the latest hip-hop release to be both simultaneously futuristic and retro in feel, is a welcome alternative to a production-driven genre that’s becoming increasingly obsessed with pushing boundaries, laying down challenging beats, and being uncompromising in violent or Dystopian visions. Instead, what Visioneers offers is something that’s effortlessly smooth and charming, both a throwback to the golden age of hip-hop and a look towards the potential future for the genre, courtesy of Marc Mac (he arranged, produced, and plays on every track). There’s bits of funk, jazz, motown, soul, gospel, and electronic music inflected throughout a surprisingly singular record. As such, Hipology ends up being more hopeful in overall tone than anything else, which is a sharp left-turn from the projected norms. In short, it’s brilliant.
“Dial In (Intro)” is a perfect way to start Hipology and is nothing but the noise of a radio being switched from station to station, lingering on each different genre for a fraction of time before progressing onto the next thing. That very same trick is pulled throughout the run-time of Hipology and, in several cases, within the course of a single song. One of those being the first true song “Back in Time” which features incredibly impressive verses from Baron & TRAC and a smoother-than-smooth vocal hook from Baron. Neither emcee holds anything back on their respective verses and matches Visioneers’ grounded soul-jazz fusion beat toe-to-toe. What follows, “Come and Play in the Milky Night”, removes the vocals but doesn’t lose an ounce of the personality. Opening with the title phrase auto-tuned it sharply morphs into another seamless fusion of hip-hop beats, r&b bass, soul guitar, and electronic ambiance, adding to itself as it casually glides along.
“Ice Cream On My Kicks” isn’t quite as musically compelling as any of Hipology‘s preceding tracks but it’s pretty close. It’s also Hipology‘s only real stumbling block and it’s a brief one. Luckily, “Shine” obliterates any doubts or lingering moments and re-introduces emcee parts into the mix, this time courtesy of John Robinson as well as an impressive vocal hook from Jimetta. “Shine” is another smooth track that relies heaviest on a classic jazz influence which suits the vocals to perfection. “Shaft in Africa (Addis) adds an afro-beat influence to the mix and has arrangements that do prove to be very reminiscent of the ubiquitous score to Shaft while maintaining a sense of originality, which is not an easy feat. It’s a short burst that’s sequenced perfectly, connecting “Shine” to “Rocket Man (Afrolatin Joint)” with ease.
“Rocket Man (Afrolatin Joint)” itself is another jazz-heavy piece that proves to be one of Hipology‘s most intricate, deftly blending in all of the styles that had been exhibited so far into one very strong and unstoppable piece. “Swahilihand” adds a hint of ragtime to the proceedings and is one of Hipology‘s most vibrant instrumental pieces. There’s not a dull moment to be had on “Swahilihand” and it successively produces more layers with each close listen, proving that, while easy to digest, Hipology is still an intricate work capable of rewarding as much attention as the listener’s willing to put in. Towards the end of the song it mutates into a more prominently funk-driven song and pulls off the transition spectacularly.
Notes to Self shows up to drop another ridiculously strong verse to Hipology on “Oil & Water” lending a more collaborative feel to the record. There hasn’t been a hip-hop album this organic and effortless since last year’s excellent undun. Really, the Visioneers project has a lot in common with The Roots’ aesthetic and, somehow, emerges as even more smooth than the legendary jazz-heavy hip-hop band. “Jungle Green Outlines” is another gorgeously expansive instrumental track that places a greater emphasis on a stellar brass section in its latter half. It stands out as one of Hipology‘s broadest songs in terms of style and instrumental palette and it succeeds brilliantly in threading them all together in a piece that feels unified and complete. “LuAnne From Harlem” is one of Hipology‘s more straight-forward tracks, playing up the brand of jazz the city of Harlem’s renowned for and adding in little bits along the way to create something just as compelling as the rest of the record.
“Funky Fanfare” is another up-tempo genre-defiant piece that bridges Visioneers’ influences into something that feels both familiar and surprisingly fresh. Really, the music that Hipology is mining and updating hasn’t been mined and updated this successfully, apart from The Roots, by anyone. On “Funky Fanfare” especially Visioneers demonstrate their range, capabilities, talent, and potential in one fell swoop and it’s nothing short of thrilling. “Apache (Battle Dub)” works in a classic Ennio Morricone influence and furthers Hipology‘s scope impressively once again, showing no signs of slowing and daring limits to impose themselves on Visioneers just so they can be shattered. After “Apache (Battle Dub)” it doesn’t seem like Hipology has anything left to prove but it does offer one final track.
“Whatever Happened to Peace?” ends Hipology on a fairly restrained note and is sort of lost in the wake of the brilliance of “Apache (Battle Dub)”. Placed anywhere else on Hipology “Whatever Happened to Peace?” still winds up being relatively triumphant apart from a minor new-age keyboard misstep (apparently not all of the battles Visioneers fight can be won in full). When it finally dies out, there’s nothing left to do but take a breath having been subject to something blinding in its brilliance and even then, there’s still more it has to offer up for dissection. That extra material comes in the form of an accompanying mixtape where each song from Hipology is re-worked slightly. While none of the songs from the mixtape outshine the original mixes, it’s still an exciting and incredibly fun listen that acts as a testament to just how unbelievably good nearly all of Hipology actually is. Hipology is only the Visioneers’ projects second full-length and they’ve already completely outdone themselves. It should be fascinating to see where it goes from here.
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// Notes from the Road
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