[17 January 2008]
One way to save the world, according to Chicago duo Stefen Robinson and Moses Harris Jr, aka Yea Big and Kid Static, is to mash progressive beat poetry with cartoon mythology to create a cartoon-based, evolutionary mutation of hip hop, with a sci-fi storyline that has an unexpected ending. While there are moments of self-indulgence, and the vision wavers a bit, one thing is always there: spontaneous creativity. The electro break-beats are always progressive and percolating, searching for uncharted territory. Yea Big (beats) and Kid Static (rhymes) never appear content with the standard one’s and two’s. They are more interested with constantly experimenting, trying to surprise you (and themselves) with what might get you to move your hips or bob your head.
Blasting out of both earphones and fading from ear to ear, the beats of Yea Big are an infectious mash-up of turntablism’s beat-juggling and electronic blips, static fades and samplings. Beyond the beats is the obvious desire to keep the emphasis on having fun and exploring, via metaphor, without taking their art too seriously, much like their noted heroes De La Soul and Biz Markie.
Yea Big’s beatmaking skills were honed through his 2006 solo album The Wind the Blows the Robot’s Arms and remixes for various groups. Meanwhile Kid Static sharpened his rhymes as frontman for the disbanded hip-hop group the Kankles. The two met in 2005, began swapping beats, and eventually released an EP early in 2007.
Their self-titled debut is an ambitious concept album which dives into one of the best attributes of cartoons: fooling us into letting down our guard by getting us to think that what’s going on in front of us is playful, happy, childish and innocent.
From the album cover to the liner notes to the story-telling lyrics and accompanying soundtrack, Yea Big and Kid Static take full advantage of that superhero-cartoon innocence. They are having fun with their music, but also have something to say about the state of the world, particularly when it comes to not being controlled by Big Brother or the other unseen enemies lurking in the shadows, who might try to steal away the right make music that’s free of pretension or gangster-posturing. Sometimes the rebellious message is clear, and other times it’s not. This record is not about making everything clear or finding perfection. It’s about springboarding off of other hip-hop cartoon mash-up artists, like MF Doom, DJ Danger Mouse and, on a bigger scale, Adult Swim, while finding new territory. There’s an element of a sci-fi radio story to the album. In that context, all the crazy messing around with knobs, faders and EQs starts to make sense.
Since Yea Big and Kid Static are telling a hip hop sci-fi story here, it’s almost impossible not to think of legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and his one-of-a-kind use of sci-fi to explore the human condition. If Bradbury were to make a hip hop album or needed a soundtrack to one of his stories, this album would be a top contender. The duo’s robotic tinkering and storyline-driven rhymes help them fight to save the world from destruction, and themselves from their inner vices, over the course of these 16 tracks.
During one of his best moments, on “The Life Here,” Kid Static riffs on early-morning doldrums as the duo soars among the Chicago’s skyscrapers, through its underground bowels and along the pre-dawn skyline of Lake Michigan. They give a flavor of Chicago, a fresh take on the city compared to that of other Chi-town emcees like Common, Lupe Fiasco or Kanye West.
The duo has successfully shown their ability to tell a story while expanding beyond their preceding “The Heavy” 7-inch EP. Yea Big’s production work plays tricks on the ears and keeps you guessing. The album cruises right along with spliced digi-blues, jazz, fuzzy funk, and instrumental-beat juggling that serve as sonic-play segues within Kid Static’s engaging, but not too optimistic, storytelling.