Thavius Beck: Dialogue

Thavius Beck arises from the shadow of hip-hop's influence to unleash a motivational seminar disguised as a Bomb Squad production.

Thavius Beck


US Release: 2010-01-26
UK Release: 2009-10-12
Label: Big Dada

It is quite possible that hip-hop is afraid of its own shadow. Not the shadow in the Jungian sense, mind you. We’re all well aware that hip-hop can travel to some dark and cavernous spaces, a good example being the bleak scorched-earth numbers found on Thavius Beck’s newest Dialogue. However, hip-hop always seems reluctant to acknowledge its own influence on the culture at large.

Perhaps this is because hip-hop necessitates a special interspatial relationship between disapproval and acceptance, mainstream financing and underground credibility, a power-affecting dialectic and an esoteric patois. It may also be that hip-hop, in the tradition of black diasporic music, is itself patchwork, meaning that any re-representations of hip-hop’s own remixed culture-branding may extinguish the connections between rap music as end product and its reformatted antecedents. (It’s not for nothing that one of hip-hop’s premier magazines is called The Source.) Ancestry is perhaps even more important than legacy for hip-hop, which tends to consider itself a perpetual zeitgeist.

In an article on black science fiction for The Wire in 1992, Mark Sinker wrote, “The triumph of black American culture is that, forcibly stripped by the Middle Passage and Slavery Days of any direct connection with African mother culture, it has nonetheless survived; by syncretism, by bricolage, by a day-to-day programme of appropriation and adaptation as resourcefully broad-minded as any in history.”

Thavius Beck likely didn’t name his album Dialogue because it is that rare hip-hop album that is in communication with the shadow of hip-hop’s influence. It likely has more to do with the febrile agitprop of his lyrics. Yet, at a time when mainstream hip-hop has celebrated its post-Obama/postracial victory lap by embracing the least Afrodelic music on the planet, delibidinized Ibizan trance, it’s refreshing to find a producer who has found value in electronic styles and who actually acknowledges that hip-hop was not the end of history, the final development in a musical continuum.

Beck seems to view himself more along a hip-house continuum. He has acknowledged his debt to grime, which has been largely ignored by US hip-hop, and is certainly no stranger to dubstep either, as evidenced by the Purple Wow style chromatics of the Joker-esque lead single “Go!”. Yet Beck’s modernity is also a bit dystopian, and as such, tends to also reflect an industrial aesthetic as well, particularly in the rhythm department. Of course, industrial, from Godflesh to Meat Beat Manifesto, was itself not untouched by hip-hop and Beck’s proximity to Trent Reznor, as Nine Inch Nails remixer and co-producer of Saul Williams’s The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust puts him in that class of engineers who teetered in the liminal space between the two scenes when all this music was fresh, a kind of post-Dilla Tackhead or a more manic and less fuzzed-out Techno Animal.

Certainly, the standout on Dialogue are the sonics, though Beck’s rapping is front and center on nearly every cut this go-around. His first two solo albums, Thru and especially Decomposition, were producer’s albums, despite the odd vocal track. Beck pushed his experimental edge further with Subtitle in the group Lab Waste. “I’m gonna go to my digital safe haven and make them deep vibrations”, Beck, a trainer and demonstrator of Ableton Live software, declares on the aforementioned “Go!”, suggesting that he’s much happier behind a screen than wielding a megaphone.

Dialogue maintains a pretty consistent Bomb Squad level energy level throughout though. “Burn” narrates a full scale riot goin’ on where “molotov cocktails fail to yield at the site of a plastic shield”. Beck’s lyrics are presented in rapid-fire succession with a fairly straightforward style and delivery, like a laser-tongued Del the Funky Homosapien. He is a bit stoic throughout, allowing editorial language to seep in when he’s describing the various “leeches” and “vampires” and “those who devour / all of the nectar and take the very essence of the flower” (“Away”), but never quite sounding angry enough to explode into acts of unbridled violence at any moment. In fact, he even shuns the latter on “Violence”, laying heavily into Thug Life and discontents. He reminds his peers that the American black male is “just generations away from being slaves / yet this is how you jiggaboo niggas want to behave?”

Instead of striving for raw aggression, Beck focuses on motivational talk, apparently taking his cues from the inspirational samples he culled for “To Make a Manifest”. The affect can either be off-putting or engaging, depending on how you come to the music. Certainly, the militarized beats Beck employs are not always the best match for his righteous rants. Direct command lines like “Identify bullshit quick and reroute it”, “Go! / Above and beyond, around and below and through every available avenue”, “Make the scenery shift / be an escapist”, and ” Live your life with some purpose / otherwise that shit is worthless / even the pressure is precious” populate the choruses and stanzas as if Beck were a guru divining wisdom upon his disciples. Yet, even though Beck can occasionally unearth an eloquent line, his subject matter is often too broad to have any real effect beyond very base-level agitprop. The song titles reflect this too; “Money”, “Violence”, “Painful”, “Pressure”. In this way, Dialogue reminds this reviewer, oddly enough, of Radio 4’s Gotham!, a call to arms that is either too polite or aimed too widely to truly instigate anything but the flow of blood throughout the body.

From the perspective of the producer, this may be more than enough. Dialogue is still an exciting listen, despite its diffuseness. Even the generalized anthemic stabs at materialism (“Money”), violence (“Violence”), and corporate music (“Sheepish”, which samples the same Thurston Moore clip from 1991: The Year Punk Broke that the Radio Dept. recently used on one of their tunes) make one want to pump their fists.

Beck keeps his productions, which like Kanye or Dilla are often backed by a rave-ified sped-up voice sample, concise and abrupt. His longest statement measures only 3 minutes and 38 seconds. The impetus behind these paroxysms was a review criticizing previous albums for being too long (fancy that, a music critic making an impact). "I decided I would rather have someone buy an album that’s 35 minutes long, and when it’s over, they would be like, ‘Damn, I wanna hear this again,’ rather than have them be bored with it 40 minutes in and there’s still 20 minutes left. I want people to want more.”

With Dialogue, Beck shows that he has succeeded in this aim via both his strengths and his weaknesses. We’re left wanting more because what’s good is so good that it demands more than the weak points have to offer. Let’s hope this is only the start of the Dialogue and not the final word.





By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.