On his third full-length album, producer Omid offers up a mix of moody instrumentals and contemplative vocal cuts, showcasing a yen for smoky Middle-Eastern sounds and providing evocative backing for an array of MCs. Omid’s first album, Beneath the Surface, was a heavily Bay Area-centric project, drawing on his association with the Project Blowed camp to enlist MCs like Aceyalone, Murs, and 2Mex, and was packaged as a compilation rather than a producer album—though Omid produced every track. Beneath the Surface received a glowing response in hip-hop circles, becoming a definitive document of the Bay Area scene on par with Fat Jack’s Cater to the DJ, and a necessary companion piece to the seminal Project Blowed. With that substantial feather in his cap, Omid’s name is more prominently placed on Monolith.
He also now has the heft to draw collaborators from beyond the Bay Area scene, here represented by Slug of Atmosphere and Buck 65 of Halifax, NS. One might wonder how well the monotonic, plodding Buck would mesh with the sounds of a producer best known for backing melodic, hyperkinetic West Coasters, but his turn on “Double Header” may be the best on the album. I’d never quite grasped Buck’s appeal before, but with Omid to rein in his worst excesses he proves both poetic and clever, offering a rasping glimpse on a cadre of women “just like in magazines: stern, precious, too pissy, ferocious, blank”. Omid’s melding of circus organ and groovy bass anchors Buck’s disjointed musings about “swinging an imaginary bat at some imaginary pitches”. It’s at once contemplative and accessible, perhaps the best way to encapsulate what Monolith as a whole is aiming for.
Hymnal, sounding vaguely like Mike Ladd, introduces the album with a mix of the esoteric and the tongue-in-cheek, recounting the story of “Robert L. Ripley”, but noting upon reaching the display of “and MC that wasn’t in it for the money” that “evidently, none could be found”. The album’s big posse cut, “Live from Tokyo”, is rather understated, even dark, consisting of little more than a truncated horn sample and insistent, squishy bass line. I don’t know whether it’s Omid growing apart or the Blowdians branching out, but the track works pretty nicely without falling squarely into the Bay Scene vibe. More archetypal is “Myth Behind the Man”, featuring Abstract Rude singing harmony over a handclapping break and bowlegged bassline, and 2Mex batting cleanup, getting prophetically hardcore: “Feel that feeling of forsaking? / It’s a feeling of awaking”. It’s also the feeling of the most dancefloor-friendly track on the album.
On the instrumental cuts, Omid displays a real diversity of styles, though his songwriting reveals itself as a little thin without vocalists helping out. “Sound of the Sitar” is nice, but compared to the way people like Timbaland are using Eastern sounds, it’s rather clichéd, just looping a fistfull of Bollywood melodies over breaks. “Research” is a zoomy, blippy, discothesque funk loop, but not much more. “Speakers Hot” chops up two words and some drums, truncating them and adding some synth to suggest Prefuse 73, without attaining that sort of complexity or emotional heft.
The two most daring tracks on Monolith are tailored to the iconoclastic MCs who lace them. “I’m Just a Bill”, featuring Spoon of the group Iodine, recalls ‘70s boogie rock and early metal with its murky keyboard line, hot-cross shuffle, and spooky children’s-choir hook. Spoon’s doubletime basso profundo decries materialism in a rather banal manner, but his willingness to cut loose an atonal wail now and again fits the track’s energy. No one wilds out like Busdriver, and “Shock and Awe” gives him a frantic mix of brain-melting power fuzz and hyperspeed breaks over which to spill his political logorrhea, before shifting to a quieter, twitchy, gamelan-looping second half.
Omid lacks the compositional chops of contemporaries like RJD2, and his instrumental tracks are a bit short on cohesiveness and momentum. He’s got a great ear for samples, though, and he falls squarely into the long tradition of straightforward beats ‘n’ cuts samplers that made hip-hop what it is today, particularly akin to the organic productions of the Native Tongues and the West Coast underground. If you’re looking for some nice, familiar headphone hip-hop, Monolith will scratch your itch.
// Notes from the Road
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