Space-age hip-hop. Another frontier. These are the continuing voyages of the starship PopMatters. To seek out new beats and doper emcees. To boldly go where no ears have gone before.
Captain Kirk: No, I'm from Iowa. I just work in outer space.
-- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Hip-hopper's Log. Release Date: Twelve-Oh-Six-Oh-Six. Our mission to seek out and engage innovators of hip-hop music appears to be a success. We began by investigating what we believed to be an other-worldly presence that has for many years inhabited all forms of music, but has frequently landed in rap. Nicolai Hartvig, in the review of DJ Spinna's Intergalactic Soul, noted the high frequency of space references in popular music, citing examples such as Sun Ra and George Clinton. Rap artists who have incorporated space and science fiction themes are: X-Clan, Digable Planets, the RZA, Canibus (namely, his pro-U.F.O. song "Channel Zero"), Phoenix Orion and ParanormL (known as "the Beyonders"), and Del the Funkee Homosapien. Following these leads, we zeroed in an emcee (Mic Mulligan) and deejay (S. Future) collaboration called Original Space Neighbors.
Rumors surrounded the musical pair. The most incredible one asserted that Mic Mulligan and S. Future were visitors to earth from a star known as Sirius C, and they were intent on changing the direction of earth's musical discourse in unison with the color change of their home -- one legend claimed the star changed color every 10 years. Because members of the Dogon Tribe of Mali are believed to have studied the Sirius star system (through information reportedly obtained long ago from amphibious extraterrestrials), we endeavored to speak with them.
The trip to Mali, however, yielded nothing, and we were all set to abandon attempts to contact either Mic Mulligan or S. Future when we discovered a limited edition audio transmission originating from Seattle, Washington. Luckily (in terms of hunting it down), the audio was being distributed by an Earth-based record label and consisted of 12 tracks with a total running time of about 30 minutes. While the length of the transmission would have frustrated a more mainstream effort, the dense sonic montage of Original Space Neighbors yields ample space for investigation. And, as things turned out, it was only partially true that Mic Mulligan and S. Future weren't earthlings. Here's what we believe the full truth to be: Mic Mulligan and S. Future are the brainchildren -- alter egos, if you will -- of Seattle-based deejay and producer Specs One. Yes, the same Specs One who released Return of the Artist in 2004.
As we ran the disc through several spins, we recorded the following important observations:
1. Original Space Neighbors aims straight for the murky frontier of space-age rap, complete with quirky sound effects whose resemblances range from classic Sci-Fi or martial arts movies to old school arcade games like Galaga. On the introductory track, "Destroy", staccato horns accompany distorted and sped-up vocal samples -- and things get increasingly trippy from there. Other instrumental-dominated tracks include the cool bass jam of "Dance Breaks" and a fast-paced spitfire called "Stars War". The beats are all credited to "S. Future".
2. The tracks are frequently structured without hooks. This approach puts the focus on the production values and makes the songs more deejay-oriented than one might expect in the current rap market. In one song, "These Bars", S. Future's jarring piano stabs take center stage, leaving the idea of a chorus to the nebula. In fact, as an acknowledgement of the song's hook-lessness, "Mic Mulligan" says, "I'll add the hook later." Quite a postmodern statement actually, whether the intention is to release a "work in progress" or to mimic one.
3. The lyrics are a bit of a surprise, but not in the manner we expected. Space-age futuristic hip-hop begs for timeless and enterprising lyricism, expounding on topics beyond the norm and expanding the limits of the genre. Lofty expectations, for sure, but with few exceptions, Original Space Neighbors relies on familiar terrain. "Mic Mulligan" is concerned with the universal theme that is as close to the heart of the modern emcee as a fat gold chain: being better than other emcees. On "Too Much Science", he laments the supposed trappings sought by those "others", saying, "I don't need a mansion and 24 cars / 28 hoes, 18 bodyguards / All I need is vinyl, food, weed, and crew / Yeah, that's family too." On "These Bars", he maintains, "Somehow you gotta sell crack to get noticed in the current rap trend." We weren't expecting tracks that would break the time-space continuum or rhyme the steps necessary for cold fusion, but we did expect headier fare.
4. Notwithstanding the aforementioned lyrical impact, one skit far exceeded our expectations for sublime weirdness. It's an interlude called "Advice from Uncle Jim", in which the actual Uncle Jim engages in a crazy round of commentary. He says, "You know, I was administering smelling salts beneath the nose of a blind cheetah, playing a little of that back town bingo." It's not necessarily coherent, but it's fun, and if you think there's no place for that in hip-hop, Uncle Jim would disagree, wagering "a 55 gallon drum of diaper rash and some Neptune coffee". No doubt. Plus, we once lost a member of the crew to Neptune coffee, so that shows you what an incredible wager this would be.
5. The "Mic Mulligan" skills on the microphone are deceptively noteworthy. At first, he sounds sluggish and dragging, clocking in with almost a whisper and a style that seems to define the difference between "rapping" and "just talking". Mic Mulligan seems like he's just talking, but then you notice that his verses are actually well put together, especially in terms of rhyme scheme. The slow-flow cadence seems to disguise the effort invested in the work. One member of the crew likened the interplay between the production and the vocals to the characters of Star Trek (he's a live-long-and-prosper level "Trekkie"). In his view, the S. Future production is the "Dr. McCoy" (personable, emotional, flashy) to Mic Mulligan's "Mr. Spock" (detached, logical, devoid of excitement). The result, then, is an icy-hot combination that might seem to have fits and starts, and dramatic ups paired with abrupt downs. I agreed, but from the little I had seen of Star Trek, I viewed the character of Captain Kirk as part-McCoy (emotional) and part-Spock (logical), a personification of the "golden mean" of moderation who was able to synthesize the best of the two extremes. And, I argued, since "Mic Mulligan" and "S. Future" emanated from one source (Specs One), then this record might have been enhanced by such a synthesis. Indubitably, the crewmember disagreed.
Our conclusion: there are indeed intelligent signs of hip-hop. Although Original Space Neighbors is a touch on the short side, it keeps us hopeful about creative releases on the horizon. For those who are searching for "something different" and suffering from radio sameness, One Space Neighbors offers sanctuary.