Come to Dada: Maestro Gamin's Hip-Hop Surrealism

Maestro Gamin's surreal and irregular grooves court hip-hop culture as much as they do jazz, his music transmitting from some Dadaist aperture of sound.

Terrifying, surreal and majestically resplendent, the music of Maestro Gamin offers a slipstream of fantastic and swarming ideas. In Gamin’s world, sounds are physical constructs to be toyed and messed with; beats collapse and fragment before they regroup and metamorphose with a vengeance. Rhythms take on the cadence of speech and Gamin’s own verbiages are mere shadows that follow the fractured and propulsive grooves.

It would be a misnomer to refer to his music as hip-hop, although hip-hop is the primary base from which his ideas grow. Perhaps a more appropriate extraction in his sound is jazz. It wouldn’t be too difficult to measure the proximity of his work by jazz’s often irregular meters; cut, flushed and fucked, Gamin’s beats exercise (exorcise) a certain manic intensity boiling beneath the hypnotic and circular rhymes. Like a mind rapidly turning in successive ellipses, Gamin rhymes with an impetus both lucid and jagged; language is dispensed like reams of script and his words, pressured by the heat of breath and emotion, disperse over the grooves with druggy release.

Gamin’s beginnings were not especially complicated or unique; like most rappers, his work is the product of a childhood spent in formative hip-hop culture. “I remember writing my first rhymes walking up and down the hall around fourth or fifth grade with my boy LeBaron,” he recalls. “We had an ill Run DMC-style call-and-response. We were dope. Didn't record or do shows, but we had our shit down. It was just something that you did, like popping, breaking, or graff. Everyone my age had to know a little about something in one of those things. It’s just what was going on and what everybody was into.

"I rhymed all up until high school and then it became about crews, freestyling and doing shows. College radio was the thing, too. We used to run up to the folks over at Santa Clara University. Crazy Bill and Bob's show. This was all before everything went digital, so I don’t think there’s any record of it now. This one night we saw Biggie and Puff drive away in a big-ass black Suburban before we got to the station. They were promoting. That night was nuts.”

Gamin’s latest efforts, King Trade Supreme (“a reincarnation of [my] old hip-hop collective, Lurk Music, from 2006-2014”) and BlvckMvdonna (with The Architect on production duties) are but two works that explore the artist’s fidgety and complex talents. Underpinned by hip-hop loops and rhythms, much of the rapper’s work on these two releases expand upon the illbient influences that dominate much of his sound. With his collective King Trade Supreme (consisting of musicians worldwide), Gamin pulls into shape the white noise of splintered loops and glitch, assuming patterns of sonic discordance that respond to a logic deeply internal.

The collective’s self-titled release also mines grooves of minimalist dimension, extracting a deep bassy resonance from the bone-brittle beats. On the eerie, sci-fi crunch of “Over Here”, rhymes of female adulation skitter about, the phrases and praises cut up in the Dadaist aperture of sound. “Brodequin” appropriates a Sam Rivers avant-swing of big band jazz; over an awkward, elephantine pulse, the rapper waxes lyrical about encounters with hip-hop braggadocio which devolves into host of strange non-sequiturs.

On the BlvckMvdonna EP, melodies assume the mechanisms of songbird ritual; they sweep, hover and flit over rhythms like the scans from the tricky, jazzed stanzas of a Hedwig Gorski poem; Gamin’s minimal finger-painted tunes share with Gorski a poetic space, cross-wired with memory, irony, humour and rage. BlvckMvdonna’s transreal poetry and scavenger blues also plumbs a deeply Afrocentric core that embodies much of what the rapper absorbed in his musical upbringing.

“I grew up in a big family,” says Gamin, “Lots of brothers and sisters, and when I was growing up my pops was already in his fifties. He had a lot of blues and stuff: Bobby Blue Bland, BB. King, George Benson. My folks used to take me to the Paul Masson Amphitheater when I was, like, eleven or twelve. It was crazy -- old hippies drunk off wine, dancing in the aisles. I saw Stanley Clark open up for James Brown when I was about eleven.”

Also a regular at open mics, Gamin’s spoken-word pieces have explored everything from biracial identities to living life in the city with all its modern contraptions, themes which sum up his experience in finding an audience for his music. Gamin’s work is at once evasive and direct, skirting racial lines as much as it does musical boundaries while still managing to connect with a receptive crowd.

Navigating a digital landscape promoting his work, however, proves a slightly trickier feat. “Yeah, I think the main struggle is probably just getting ears to the music,” he reasons. “I mean, just because something is so readily available, or able to download fast doesn't mean it’s gonna get heard. There’s definitely a part of the game that feels like you constantly wanna put your stuff out there and make it available, take chances and show new work. But then also you want more of a result for the growth you're hopefully making.

"If [I were] twenty years back before the new media revolt, before all this quick post loading and updating... I don’t know. I would probably still be in some grimy home studio getting high and cutting up b-movies for my music videos until five in the morning, ‘cause that’s cool. That’s something I’ll be doing until it’s not fun anymore. It really doesn't matter if [my music] gets a shitload of likes on Facebook or whatever. I can play my shit at my shows and freak out the crowd.”

Perhaps the stage is where Gamin’s work is best surveyed; in an open and confessional space, his music is bound to traverse all kinds of red lines implemented by way of industry standards. The rapper’s explorations in sound have negotiated with just about every musical genre and the mobility he’s been afforded seems more a privilege enjoyed by artists working outside of music altogether; consider Gamin’s approach and you may see in him a Sergio Badilla Castillo or a Julio Cortázar.

His off-kilter, art-in-limbo designs may certainly hold some at bay if they can’t let the weirdness in. But he’s got at least one notable fan under his mesmeric spell. “I once did this live poetry show for TV One and Jill Scott was the musical guest. She tweeted at me after that. Called me a "real poet". That’s maybe not so interesting, but it was dope.”

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