[13 March 2005]
I caught Beans live once, as the second opening act to a DJ Shadow gig (back when Josh Davis was touring his second album). Following Fingathing onto a stage is no easy act for any man, but Beans’ performance separated him from his audience in a way that was almost surreal. Granted, no one knew quite what to expect from the ex-Anti-Pop Consortium MC on his own—his first solo LP had yet to be released. But as he raised before us with nothing but an MPC, with some very simple, repetitive backing tracks for company, jerking back and forth like an epileptic Stevie Wonder in time to the rhythm, with his head bowed down into the mic as he released incomprehensible torrents of flow that circled into themselves on the choruses, this bald black man in horrendous mauve cardigan and shades might well have been an alien chanting ritualistic mantras to himself in total solitude.
It was bewildering and uncomfortable; the audience uncertain what was going on but becoming progressively less tolerant of this “crap” as it went on. The majority decided simply to ignore him until he went away; being solo I wandered up towards the front just to catch his last track, an accapella spoken word performance on cocaine addiction, from up close. At this slightly slower tempo, the flow of his wordplay and his total focus were stunning. I was entranced, the hall around me suddenly silent.
Both this dislocation from, well, everyone, and the absolute conviction with which it is flaunted are intact on his sophomore effort for Warp. Certainly the braggadocio inherent in so much of the subject matter here suggests why things broke down between him, High Priest and M. Sayyid (whose album as a duo, Airborne Audio, is now also out). His constant need to aggressively state his superiority in such a wilfully abstract manner might be interpreted as egotism honed almost to the point of autism. This, of course, within an artform where “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker” is considered a classic opening gambit, and humble self-assessment is as foreign as Buddhist disregard for wordly goods. “MCs don’t like my sty-lin’ / cos they can’t do no beeetta,” he lilts on “Shards of Glass”, and towards the beatless finish of the breathless rush “I’ll Melt You” comes this: “You asked little from life / and got less / I never strove to impress / no critic or journalist / could ever treat my genius / like jock itch…”
It strikes me that even Lil Jon’s raving megalomaniac form of address at least indicates some interest in his listeners, albeit only in that he wants to utterly obliterate any personal or subtle reaction to the music. Bean’s tirades are as arid as they are acrid; he genuinely could be directing his irate intellect at the back of the recording booth for all he strives to connect with you.
That said, whilst upholding his “reputation for consistent deviation” over the 13 tracks here he comes up trumps at least 50% of the time, the second half of the album yielding richer pickings. His beats continue to be hypnotically bare-boned, old skool synth assault platforms, over which he then reels you in with his ceaseless syllabic slurry, his lyrics almost irrelevant as his ridiculous flow blurs everything into an inescapable rhythm. At top speed this approach yields irresistible amounts of adrenaline, the downside being that slower tracks lose the listener in drifts of abstraction. Beans either conquers completely or fails utterly, and this also applies to the two instrumentals, the cheap chimes of “You’re Dead, Let’s Disco” coming off as pointless whilst the lurching string/synth duel of “A Force on Edge” conjures up creeping tension extremely effectively.
The way in which Beans displays virtuoso flow on the mic without actually saying that much, combined with his monstrous ego, mean that ironically he’s very similar to Jay-Z (in fact, on closing track “Diamond Halo Grenade” he’s boasting in less than tasteful fashion about his sexual success). They’re just on opposite sides of the populist border, one demanding and receiving slavish adulation by the masses, the other spitting disdain for all and consequently pretty much ignored. On present evidence, Beans remains a cause of considerable trepidation for any prospective emcee opposition, but as long as he succumbs to tunnel vision his talent will never receive the widespread acclaim it deserves. Mind you, were we to make his album quintuple plat he’d probably still not grace us with more than a sneer by way of gratitude.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/beans-shockcity/