[22 March 2006]
The difference between jdwalker and most hip-hop MCs is that this Walker guy is a proud fisherman. See that’s the sort of background info best kept to one’s self, or else buried under the type of hype manufactured and sold daily to mainstream audiences without a receipt. And, in discontinuing the current line of braggadocio (now necessary for every aspiring emcee), this white boy from Portland, Maine, rescues a notion long dead in the hip-hop community: modesty.
By now, a certain percentage of you have tuned out, the minds of the other’s are in motion, churning out excuses not to purchase an album by somebody I tie to the abstract nature of Aesop Rock or Everlast’s folk-rap incarnation: Whitey Ford. But wait, Walker thoroughly freaks the formula. He sheds rap’s traditional sample-based method; he pits electro-psychedelic instrumentals against drumbeats hollowed out to mimic U.K. grime. Can I convince you to buy in? I want to, but rabid experimentation equals eclecticism, and both of those mean fringe music when wielded by the music critic. And if that wasn’t enough, the cover art features a picture of a big honking ass bass.
What we have here is philosopher folk-rap, raw, blue-collared, Charles Bukowski blues bulging with pixilated references to “watermelon sunsets” and clocks constantly stealing away with our time. Heady, heavy stuff this is. Not for anyone but the day trippers, the “give me something different” crowd. Psychotropic is Walker’s preferred approach, and it dominates his debut.
Imagine a melancholic version of producer Jon Brion, his knack for the cinematic intact, but blurred by days of drinking on a lake in monotone Maine. Then, implant his innervisions in the sound of Walker’s debut and find indecipherable glitches ricocheting from ear to ear, slivers of grating noise, church bells on horse tranquilizers and a mildly throbbing drum ‘n’ bass beat underneath it all (“the two six”).
With a voice like whisky to wine sippers, Walker’s not commercially viable. But nuggets of truth, disguised as nonsense, lay in wait for anyone eager to hack their way through impossibly obtuse diatribes. If what grips you is the abandonment of individuality, he addresses it. Nas’s street knowledge (“I never sleep ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death”) not your trip, dose on the working class wisdom of a line such as “sleep is the whore of life.” Unless you’re familiar with the Anticon collective (he was a member), it’s unlike anything you’ve heard, except for the unshakeable similarities that lead me to fellow weirdo MC Busdriver.
Something like a stick rubbing against an empty soup can opens “red sky in the morning”. Over a spellbinding beat, Walker lets his voice sway as he sings, “Whispers swinging from the minute hand / Dropping in and out of consciousness / The letter in the mailbox was addressed to wrong man / And I’m not sure if he ever did exist”. Because of his penchant for forcing the mundane to bear meaning, those lyrics hypnotize but in no way can you listen to this a lot. And you’d have to listen a lot in order to GET IT. And once you got it, you’d be nuts because, well, there ain’t nothing to get. Which, aside from concept albums, is a fair assessment of most music these days, so why not buy in if you dig it?
Walker, at least, has the courage of his convictions: “My words don’t fit the beat and the beat only echoes my need to bend the brain”.