Music and drug culture have been known to go hand in hand from the beginning. From the reports of Ecstasy and Special K use at raves, to rumors of blatant marijuana use at rap concerts and Parliament-Funkadelic shows (and I have seen George Clinton and crew twice — it’s not just a rumor), drugs have become as big a part of the music scene as the performers themselves.
Nightmares on Wax, (a.k.a. George Evelyn, a.k.a. DJ EASE) is a band that is highly revered in the electronica/downbeat realm as well as the world of marijuana culture. The “stony” nature of their beats as well as the surreal soundscapes they have brought forth on their releases apparently go well with hits of Chronic (that’s marijuana slang, circa 1992). Their latest release, Mind Elevation, may or may not keep heads in both of these worlds pleased.
Nightmares on Wax’s 1991 debut, A Word of Science: The First and Final Chapter was considered by some to be a part of a “crucial bridge between the competing influences of New York house and electro, Detroit techno and soul, and London rave and acid”. At that time the group was still a duo, with Kevin “Boy Wonder” Harper and Evelyn both working the knobs. The pair split soon after the release of A Word of Science, with Harper pursuing a DJ career and Evelyn releasing a few house 12-inch singles on Warp Records’ Nucleus imprint before going on hiatus. Four years later, influenced by KLF’s Chill Out LP, Evelyn released what he referred to as an “instrumental hip-hop chill-out album”. Released again under the Nightmares on Wax moniker, Smoker’s Delight became 1995’s 90-minute anthem for hemp heads around the globe, despite selling only 100,000 copies. Carboot Soul, their third release came in 1999, and with it came a more eclectic, genre-defying sound, combining lite soul, jazz, hip-hop, electronica and trip-hop. Evelyn has always had a desire to keep his sound hip-hop friendly, and this was his motivation to have rap pioneers De La Soul guest on The Sound of N.O.W., an EP released in 2000.
Mind Elevation, Nightmares’ fourth official album, is vastly different from their previous albums. The first noticeable difference is the absence of “Night’s Interlude”, Nightmares’ signature song, which is based on Quincy Jones’ “Summer in the City”. In one way or another (sampled, live, or a combination of both), “Interlude” kicked off the three previous releases. This time around, Evelyn opens with the easy-breezy “Mind Eye”, an instrumental track that brings to mind thoughts of a lazy summer’s day from the late 1960s. According to the press release, Evelyn says he “knew straight away that this would be the first tune on the album. It’s definitely Nightmares. It says ‘we’re back'”. The next two tracks, “Say-say” and “Thinking of Omara”, are basically blissed-out dub cuts, which will keep the stoners feeling irie.
On cut four, entitled “Date with Destiny”, Evelyn dramatically switches gears and brings in female vocalist Chyne B, who sounds like a less-annoying Neneh Cherry. A practice virtually unheard of as far as earlier Nightmares releases, Chyne also shows up on the songs “Know My Name” and “Environment”, a bass-line driven head nodder with a hook that answers a question that fans of earlier Nightmares on Wax may ask after a quick run-through of Mind Elevation: “You wonder where the fire went / We’re shaped by our environment”. Hmm. Maybe George moved a few times since Carboot Soul came out.
The downfall of this CD may be that George Evelyn is trying to please everyone, from stoners to straight-edge, while nursing a late ’60s-early ’70s jones. The disc is all over the place, going from dub (“Say-say”, “Thinking of Omara”), to funk (“Know My Name”), to chill-out/downbeat (“Bleu My Mind”, “Humble”, “BBH”), to some flower-children-dancing-barefoot-in-a-field-drug induced haze (“Mind Eye”, “Soul-Ho”, “Mirrorball”).
Maybe the years of heavy weed intake finally took its toll on Evelyn’s gray matter. He was once a judge in Amsterdam’s High Times magazine Cannabis cup, but he insists he has dramatically scaled down his herb intake. While that is probably good for his health, it may be detrimental to his fan base. Maybe while stoned it makes sense, but sober, Mind Elevation is more confusing than uplifting.