[13 November 2006]
The rhythmic elements in hip-hop and electronic music are finely correlated with one another, despite seemingly unparallel stylistic components. At the base of each genre, producers arrange micro-cut samples into a listenable composition, with the quality of production depending on the thorough scrutinization of sample placement and manipulation. While trip-hop has emerged as a perfunctory label for a pseudo-combo of electric and hip-hop, the more musically successful artists rest comfortably on the line between the two breeds, without excessively leaning towards one or the other.
In this vein, artists like Daedelus and Prefuse 73 have focused their craft on the futuristic sound of electronic music, infusing their charged compositions with grooving rhythms and slabs of emcees to fully expose their hip-hop muscle. These artists have had difficulty sticking to one genre, as they unknowingly vacillate between them, leading to a confounding mix of musical types. In a backlash against this sort of unbalanced product, Polyphonic the Verbose, a producer hailing from Chicago, has found the subtle and unseen territory—noticed only by a true genre-bender —with his debut Abstract Data Ark. The album, composed entirely of cut-and-paste industrial noises and a dollop of live instrumentation, is a fine whip of hip-hop and electronic elements, resulting in a full-length that creates a spectrum of interlocking melodiousness and undetectable genre fusion.
Throughout the album, each pulsating track fits the systematic formula of plucking characteristic noise blips and melding them into an untraceable myriad of sounds. This pattern, which may seem exhausting to the untrained listener, is both consistently refreshing and unpredictable, as Polyphonic incorporates a warehouse of evasive samples to fit his rhythmic template. His musical strategy, which keeps the album at a mid-tempo pace, involves setting a track to a thump that adheres to the album’s time signature, then lacing each backbone with handfuls of electronic sparkles and crisp instrumentation. In order to find the balance between electronic and hip-hop, Polyphonic consistently finds a grooving rhythm in his rivulet of noise, and effortlessly creates his hip-hop beats with an electronic pulse.
On the album’s opener, “Container Life #473”, Polyphonic sets his formula to use by creating a spine of sequenced blips, which is then complemented by erratic warbled glitches, a snappish bell and static snippets that act as a snare. The composition remains the same tempo throughout, but he keeps it fluid within its structured boundaries by switching between heavily accelerated and sparse sample usage, allowing the track to maintain a constant pace and concurrently shape shift. Polyphonic captures the same intensity on the track “Rumors of a War”, a spin on ragga with constant electro plucks and guttural drums. By keeping the rubric of electronic noises and a hip-hop foundation, Poly successfully experiments by allowing a splotchy lo-fi guitar riff to bleed its Jamaican sound into the track’s ether.
Like on “Rumors of a War”, Polyphonic combines elements from other genres with his electro-hop fusion throughout Abstract Data Ark. The album has an overwhelming presence of rappers on almost half of the tracks, but the mere inclusion of emcees serves as a simple extract from the hip-hop genre. Without rappers, the tracks thrive alone off of the hip-hop and electronic copulation, despite their potential to be complemented by a lyricist. On “Emperor Titus,” a highly charged bounce, Polyphonic channels the stone grooves of reggae and transforms them into an electric concoction. Not surprisingly, the addition of a rapper to accompany the track would be fitting by adding another rhythmic element to the mix. For the reason that the human voice can be more captivating as an instrument than can electronic blips, Polyphonic uses rappers as another component to add to his compositions, turning their voices down in the mix to become part of the track’s flow.
Polyphonic enlists the aid of several Chicago emcees to play a rhythmic role on his tracks. While some of them can suffer from slight tedium, like the overcrowded “Machine With Sealed Inputs”, featuring Raistlin, See and Alexpathetic, and the Nintendo-influenced “Spin the Globe”, featuring Serengeti, other tracks on the album blossom as wonderful confections. On the glorious track “Out To Lunch”, featuring Psalm One, Polyphonic provides her with a musical palate of jackhammer snares set against a shadowy percussive roll and a pallid vocal clip. The vocals, which are considerably turned down in the mix, become fluid with the musical soundscape, as Psalm plays with words and rhythm, slithering in and out of the beat’s current. Another track on the album that engages this tricky combination is “Land Rovers in the Video”, featuring Marty Mar, a song based on a lo-fi and psychedelic loop of a processed guitar. By the end of the track, Marty Mar’s vocals fade out to make room for a flute to dance like wisps in a musical flame, fully allowing electronic and hip-hop to mix with one another in a relaxed and non-confrontational way.
Abstract Data Ark stands as a testament to what makes hip-hop and electronic a palpable and superb match for musical intercourse. Polyphonic thoroughly understands rhythm, and comprehends the means that must be taken to fruitfully combine them. As a result, his album plays like a dreamscape of noise, where warehouse glitch and hip-hop bounce exist peacefully. While Polyphonic may someday specifically slop into one genre over the other, Abstract Data Ark stands uncomfortably close to the perfect equilibrium between what seemed like two incompatible types of music.