Wednesday, December 1, 2010

GANGRENE: Gutter Water

Gangrene - Gutter Water
I can’t help it. I really do admire skillful rapping, and the potential for complex word play is one of the things that draws me to hip-hop, but frankly, if you create an amazing beat, you can rhyme “fire” with “desire” more than once and I’ll forgive you. I know there are people who look for meaning and skill from an MC first, who can live with bland accompaniment as long as the lyrical flow hooks them. I know that a lot of rap fans are barely aware of how this music is made (I once had to explain to a group of students, all self-professed rap enthusiasts, what sampling is.)

I’m a producer-first hip-hop fan, and that’s my unapologetic prejudice. I could squeeze out a list of favorite rappers, but I’d qualify all of them with “In his prime, anyway…” or “Even though he’s pretty hit-or-miss” and it wouldn’t be the greatest display of enthusiasm you’d ever see from me. Ask me about my favorite producers, though, and I’ll ramble all day and pull out records and play you ten seconds of a beat before I absolutely must play another one and we’ll just end up listening to Donuts.

So here we’ve got an album-length collaboration; The Alchemist and Oh No doing what they do best and crafting a series of earworm beats from scratchy samples and breaks. I guess they rap over them, too, but that’s almost an afterthought. These guys are producers who rap, not the other way around and that’s fine with me. They’re great producers, demonstrating how you can do amazing things even if you don’t have access to orchestras, Rihanna and a million-dollar budget the way *ahem* some producers do.

This thing is a beast packed with details. The Alchemist gives us haunting harpsichords (“Chain Swinging”) incredible basslines (“Get Into Some Gangster Shit”) and even makes the ultra-clich├ęd twinkling pianos fresh on “Not High Enough”. Oh No gives us awesome vocal samples (“Wassup Wassup”) and horns (“Ransom”) and Kung-Fu strings (“Boss Shit”). As a bonus we get crushing turntables from DJ Romes (“All Bad”) and great guest verses from Raekwon and Guilty Simpson. And we’re like kids at Christmas.

The lyrics aren’t brilliant, mostly just talking shit and celebrating leafy intoxicants, but they’re delivered well enough to compliment the production. The album does feel a little long, and if it had been a thirty-minute beat tape instead, I’d be just as happy with it. Either way, it’s a completely worthwhile release, and if you like low-fi hip-hop grit, this is for you.