[20 June 2007]
What is up with all these rappers wanting to be rock stars? Remember Eyedea? Yeah, probably not. He was poised to be the next big thing after gaining attention for a number of notorious battle rap victories. He released two albums with partner DJ Abilities that highlighted his narrative-raps, which were mostly ignored by even the most well-traveled backpackers. Now he’s largely abandoned hip-hop and is performing around Minneapolis with a terrible rock band called Carbon Carousel (check their MySpace comments to see some major haterage). This phenomenon isn’t confined to underground rap either: even Dipset is walking around like rock star gangstas. As Juelz Santana says: “They see me and start cheering / Rock star life / Santana Van Halen”. Need more examples? Gym Class Heroes, the last half of Shock Value, Lil’ Wayne in the “Leather So Soft” video. ‘Nuff said. But of all these, the least depressing is Anticon co-founder Sole’s (nee Tim Holland) dissolution into a parodic, gibbering mess. It’s been a long time coming.
Check it as I hold in my hand a flyer for a headlining show with “Sole of Anticon w/ Sky Rider”, a ridiculous country, hip-hop, emo-rap hybrid with superstar Holland front-and-center. Almost on par with Eyedea’s, sorry, Mike’s, embarrassing attempt at becoming an indie-rock star, Sole is slightly redeemed because his new project doesn’t completely abandon hip-hop. His band plays a few songs sans Sole, then he plays with them, and eventually he acquiesces and plays “Da Baddest Poet”. But Sole has always been more vision than talent, with only a handful of hip-hop records under his own name and one great record with previous Anticon supergroup Deep Puddle Dynamics. So, why do I care if Sole is shying away from hip-hop? Buck 65 caught the same flack when he released Talkin’ Honkey Blues, but I love Buck, because the difference is that he’s pushing into uncharted waters, a sort of rap Woody Guthrie. Sole is just angrily confounding. When he’s not recording with SkyRider, he’s recording under the alias Mansbestfriend, which is his outlet for self-production (or, as the press release says: “the product of Tim teaching himself to make music”). On his latest Mansbestfriend release, he’s keeping the moniker but throwing out the rapping.
Like its album artwork (my vote for worst of the year), Poly.Sci.187 is rough—all erratic electronic collages and lo-fi samples (check the YouTube video sampling “Spin the Humans”) with nary a rhyme in sight (so, in some ways it’s similar to Sole’s hip-hop work, har har). Like Mike Schiller said in his review of Live from Rome, Sole is still “pissed off about something. Problem is, I’m not sure even he knows just what he’s pissed off about.” In 2004, Sole put action to all those love-it-or-leave-it threats and left his Flagstaff, Arizona, home and relocated to Barcelona, Spain. He’s back now, still pissed off, and as the Emma Goldman sampling opener hints at, he’s back under some vague idea of affecting change instead of running away. If Poly.Sci.187 is supposed to be his powerful political work, he should relocate again and rethink his manifesto.
Poly.Sci is, of course, political science—187 is the police code for homicide. If Holland thinks he’s murdering this political shit, he’s hilariously mistaken. To find the political meanings in these instrumentals, you’ll have to dig a little. “Allieverwanted” initially bursts with some actual beatage and seriously heavy synths, but then falls apart as a sample of Sole himself slithers in, “All I ever wanted was a place to call my own”. “Party Till We Drop” is probably suppose to be funny with its flangered, torn up techno-vibes—a sort of anti-club, anti-complacency sonic-diatribe. “The Teachings of Leviticus” is a little more difficult; I don’t know how a Bible reading detailing the punishment for bestiality and fortune telling is political, but the song’s beat, a spacey keyboard scale and a syncopated drum break, is the closest thing to hip-hop on the record.
It’s hard to imagine Holland’s mindset: Poly.Sci.187 is easily the weakest recording in his catalogue, a tossed-off artistic diversion that hardly anyone besides his closest friends and labelmates will hear, or care about. In a tellling sample on “50 at 30”, speaking with an air of defeat, a man says “I don’t know what to do now in life. I am lost. All my philosophy has failed me”. It seems like Holland can relate, which makes Poly.Sci.187, and its impetus, all the sadder.