Adventures in Lo-Fi
King Britt's newest CD experiment, the hip-hop fantastic voyage Adventures in Lo-Fi, may leave the average hip-hop fan a tad underwhelmed at first. But anyone who has followed the career of the Philadelphia-born DJ/producer/remixer knows that not dazzling the listener too much is something the man takes pride in.
Britt always tries to keep his beats (and his profile -- the man should be known as the producer who wasn't there) as subtle as possible. A dabbler in many genres and the owner of an equal number of aliases, Britt jumps from style to style without losing his signature soulful fluidity. The retro R&B he conjures up when he's Sylk 130 isn't that far removed from the deep house he mixes as SCUBA, or even the Afrobeat rhythms he summons as Oba Funke.
Britt's unspoken message is musical tolerance. His down-low producing method runs on the premise that if an artist can flow through genres and still maintain the same subtle aesthetic, niche listeners can follow suit and find that categories of music aren't that different from one another. You gotta love the son of a bitch for at least having a dream.
And ultimately, Lo-Fi, another talent-filled display straight outta London-based BBE's "Beat Generation" series, isn't as disappointing as it seems at first. In fact, the album isn't disappointing at all. Although the beats Britt lays out aren't spectacularly grandiose, they do serve their purpose. Britt's desire to be versatile is visible, as various indie MCs step up to the mike for each track. With "Rise and Vibe," he gives the tune a funk-band vitality. For "About Face," Britt piles on an unorthodox amount of heavy jazziness. He even remixes "Cobbs Creek," from his Sylk 130 Re-Members Only album, and turns it into a roller-rink anthem. (Any of those still around?)
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You also get a nice spread of rappers. Some are in love with words: Rilners jouegck sounds like he's skimming through a thesaurus on the mouthful of "Emotional Quotient Derringer of Chiek Anta Diop." Others are in love with hip-hop: Capitol A, the orator of "Caught Out (There)," is one of many MCs who complain about "funny rappers." Others, like Dice Raw, who talks about gals burning their hands "trying to feel on my johnson," are just in love with themselves. Many of them will make you wonder why they haven't been snatched up by Aftermath or Roc-A-Fella.
But the real star of Lo-fi is Britt's concept (yes, folks, it is a concept album!). With its organ blips, bubbling sound effects and overall intergalactic mood, Britt has made the ultimate mix tape for space travel. (The album is said to be based on John Sayles's 1984 movie The Brother from Another Planet.) If there ever are actual homeboys in outer space, as a UPN sitcom once dared to dream, this would be the kind of music they would be jamming in their spacecraft.
But you get the feeling that Britt doesn't care if homeboys or brothers or any other earthly life-forms ever hear this record. He would much prefer to blast it up into the cosmos to whichever alien civilization gets it first.
In this aspect, Britt queues up behind Prince Paul and the Neptunes in the long line of hip-hop producers with Carl Sagan complexes, guys who assemble hip-hop tracks with the conceit that ears elsewhere in the universe are listening. But Britt's Lo-Fi is a darker journey than theirs. With fellow Philly DJ and poet Rich Medina appearing throughout the album airing his -- and quite possibly, Britt's -- sentiments of global disillusionment ("A lot of times I feel like blasting off and never coming the fuck back to this shitty place"), the album sounds more like a pro-and-con treatise on planet Earth. (Most common complaint: too many wack rappers.) It's not clear if Britt wants our extraterrestrial neighbors to skip Earth altogether if they're planning on universal domination -- we've already doomed ourselves, he says -- or if he's inviting them to swing by and help clean up the place. Either way, it's a must-have album for stoners.
Just as the title implies, Adventures in Lo-Fi is low-key hip-hop with a dash of exploratory risk-taking. King Britt may be a producer who wants his presence on a song to be minimal to the point of nonexistent, but the man doesn't go at any job half-assed.
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