Billed as “hip-hop’s take on free jazz”, Slanguage finds Awol One and Daddy Kev taking a schizophrenic approach to MCing and DJing, switching everything up constantly, while creating a continuous mood that makes the album feel more like one piece of music than a collection of songs. The mood is low-key: midnight or after. The atmosphere is that of a place where artists feel solitary and at peace enough to just get in a zone and create, where they can turn off the self-critique part of their brains and just let their feelings and ideas manifest themselves in music. This anything-goes approach is what leads Mush Records to dub the album “hip-hop’s take on free jazz”. With Slanguage, Awol One and Daddy Kev are both making an obvious attempt to steer away from the conventions of their music and just let themselves go.
Slanguage was crafted first by Daddy Kev, who put together about an hour of all-over-the-map music. Then D-Styles added his scratching skills to parts of it. And to wrap it all up, Awol One rhymed wherever he wanted to, in places both logical and unexpected. That approach — with the three working separately on the same piece — differs from free jazz, which is generally about musicians improvising off of each other at the same time, yet is quite suited to a hip-hop version of free jazz, as hip-hop’s essence comes from building off the music of others.
Daddy Kev’s music is the album’s foundation, and its most overtly progressive element. Well-respected in the underground L.A. hip-hop scene, Daddy Kev’s musical tastes obviously take in much more than straight hip-hop. The music on Slanguage is constantly jumping genres and entwining them together. The expansive sounds of ’60s and ’70s Miles Davis meet cartoon music, operatic voices, rock guitar solos, ’70s funk, and ghostly noises that would sound more at home on a completely out-there avant garde experiment. Opening with a drum roll, the album first dives into big-band music before abruptly stopping and then shifting into a futuristic version of cocktail-jazz over rough beats. The whole album shifts around like that. Proper songs melt into spoken interludes and instrumental segues and back to the extent that it all forms into one mass. Hooks and choruses show up and then disappear after repeating only once or twice. Awol One speaks like he’s in a daze, breaks into a spirited rap, and then falls back into talking quietly, and so on. Slanguage is set up less like an album — where one song leads to another — than a maze or a circle, with styles and moods sometimes re-emerging and sometimes just disappearing after a brief appearance.
Awol One’s rhyming style, when he really gets going, is somehow both sharp and meandering. He can drop a hard phrase or couplet while rambling through bizarre stream-of-consciousness passages. And in both cases he projects the wild imagination of either a five-year-old dreamer or someone in the middle of an especially rapturous acid trip. “I can change the time by using my mind,” he claims. The deeper he gets into the bizarre the more his rhymes come across as surrealist poetry or a sci-fi novel given the cut-up treatment ala Burroughs (lines like “mechanical angel falling in love with the mirror”). He goes from expressing love to rapping about bodily functions to rap-singing about monster movies.
Though here and there Awol One shows he can rhyme quick and tough when he wants (as he’s demonstrated on many of his other recordings), on most of Slanguage he rhymes dreamy and slow, like he’s in a cloud or under a spell. He breaks apart the line between rapping and talking, the line between song and interlude, as he spends a lot of time saying near-nonsense in a conversational tone of voice. Some of those segments are where the album gets challenging in a not-so exciting way, especially when he’s literally coughing over a track or saying things like “it smells like urine, looks like puke”. But in a way it’s all about surprise, and as soon as you think “what the hell is he talking about?” he switches on you and rips a solid rhyme.
At the start of one track he pulls the trick of acting like he’s not going to rhyme (“I was going to rock on this beat, but . . .”) and then taking off with one of his more tightly wrapped verses. That trick is the crux of Slanguage, which is as much about dashing listeners’ expectations as it is about free expression. By throwing so many things in one pot and constantly shaking it up, Awol One and Daddy Kev manage to always stay ahead of you as they lead you into fresh territory.