[22 February 2011]
Beans has no use for the concept of a “bar”. If he’s in the middle of a thought at the end of a bar, he’s gonna finish that damn thought. If he finishes his thought in the middle of a bar, he’s gonna start a new one immediately. What Beans creates is slam poetry at least as much as it is hip-hop. He doesn’t rhyme so much as he recites.
But you can still nod your head to it.
While Beans has certainly worked with his share of collaborators—not least his cohorts in Antipop Consortium, which preceded his solo work—most of his solo efforts have been the product of his own vision. While he hasn’t yet produced anything that threatens to be a classic album, one could to this point see the progression in his work, from cog in the Antipop machine to ego-driven solo artist to new jazz artiste and back again.
Perhaps he’s taken his voyage of self-discovery as far as it can go, as he’s recruited an impressive roster of friends and artists he admires to take care of the production duties on latest full-length End It All, to surprising effect: End It All is the tightest collection of rhymes he’s ever released. It’s 33-and-change minutes long, every track features rhymes from its MC, and no track lasts longer than four minutes. Everything about it is over before you have a chance to get tired of it.
The problem is that this approach, while enjoyable for the short time that it lasts, doesn’t allow for the establishment of any sort of consistent momentum. End It All is more like a new mixtape than a new proper album, a collection of songs that just had to find their way to public consumption. The names here are too big to relegate them to a freely-available or downloadable release, though, so here we are. The approach also precludes any sort of thematic unity in Beans’ lyrics, and he eschews the thoughtful for the vapid. Beans spends an awful lot of time establishing himself as “forever living fresh”, explaining that “A mouthful of multisyllables / Usually production is minimal / ‘Cuz what he’s saying is critical”, but there’s really very little to say that’s “critical” when all you’re talking about is yourself.
A few tracks do go outside the realm of self-promotion, but only briefly—the shortest tracks tend to be Beans’ most interesting. Late album track “Anvil Falling” spends less than a minute painting a portrait of a deadbeat addict dad, and while it’s true that Beans can say more in a minute than many MCs will say in two or three, it still ends just as it feels like we’re getting a full picture of the song’s subject. “Electric Eliminator” is a wonderfully surreal stream-of-consciousness rap that flies from architecture to Mark David Chapman to the nature of love in just over two minutes. Finally, there’s “Mellow You Out” featuring Tunde Adebimpe, who serves as the perfect gravity-inducing melodic foil to Beans’ constant forward momentum.
Really, End It All isn’t about Beans’ lyrics, which are generally disposable, it’s about the guests.
There’s a full minute at the end of “Electric Bitch” during which Beans shuts up for a second and just lets us listen to the production offered by Sam Fog of Interpol, all rolling toms and record scratches and drones and menace. It’s well-done enough that it could make us long for an instrumental version of the entire track. In fact, an instrumental version of the entire album might be an interesting prospect, allowing for a chance to let the octave-jumping bass of “Mellow You Out” (courtesy of In Flagranti) breathe, or let the shimmering synth work of opener “Superstar Destroyer” (an Ade Firth production) shine. By the time Four Tet’s buzzy background for “Anvil Falling” starts coming through the speakers, it’s hard to shake the idea that this could have been one of the best instrumental hip-hop records in some time.
Maybe that minimizes Beans’ role on his own album, but that’s what happens when you assemble an album so thematically deficient. Perhaps all Beans is doing here is challenging himself—taking the tracks offered to him and rhyming as only he knows how, and doing a fine if rarely spectacular job at it. These are collaborations worth hearing, but in no way at all do they add up to an end product that is particularly memorable or consistently engaging.