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Meaty Ogre - Leo vs. Pisces

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Artist: Meaty Ogre

Album: Leo vs. Pisces

Label: Galapagos4

Review date: Dec. 11, 2003

Hip hop has been inundated by completely synthetic productions of late, a movement spearheaded, or at least dominated by the Neptunes. Not to take anything away from the sheer talent that Chad and Pharell, Timbaland, or Lil Jon possess, but it just goes to show how producers are staying within the confines of their bulky synths and G4 computers, and while this is by no means a bad thing, and has actually sparked a digital revolution of sorts, it’s people like DJ Shadow, Buck 65, RJD2, Cut Chemist, and People Under the Stairs that have constructed their soundscapes strictly from vinyl finds, in many ways preserving the once revered sound of the old school while keeping theirs definitively new.

Call it a club, but you can add one more producer to the pack in Meaty Ogre, a Galapagos4 mainstay that has contributed a number of memorable pieces to label mates Qwel (Typical Cats) and Offwhyte, among others, and released a superb series of instrumental 7-inches on Heardrum Records. But Meaty hasn’t sounded better than on his first full length release, Leo vs. Pisces, an enthralling assortment of instrumental and vocal tracks that only further swells the influence and importance of vinyl archeology, as well as solidifying himself and the entire Galapagos4 camp as some of hip hop’s savviest architects.

As an avid vinyl digger, one can only imagine what Meaty’s record collection looks like, especially after “Pornunciation” which uses bits and pieces of what sounds like an old children’s record to phonetically pronounce his alias. But aside from novelty records like this, Meaty, like all diggers that take their art seriously, construct their beats organically. It’s a peculiar hobby; not many people will understand it, but those that do know how tedious the process can be, so much that upon completion most producers will protect their vinyl treasures and studio secrets as if they were the Holy Grail. I can’t help but feel like Meaty is any different after listening to this record. The productions are crisp, thoughtfully structured, and finely tuned, giving off an undeniable aura of well grounded fundamentals and extensive production knowledge. Many of his productions, exemplified well by “Team Em,” show a strong command for drum patterns and breakdowns which he then melds to layers of foreboding noise and pent up tension.

But as much as Leo vs. Pisces is a showcase of Meaty’s talents, it’s a springboard for everyone surrounding him as well. Qwel and Offwhyte are the familiar characters here, each having released two full length albums on the label, and while their respective pieces are memorable (Qwel’s in fact is some of his best material to date) it’s the unfamiliar faces that garner much of the attention on Leo. The severely underrated Denizen Kane (Typical Cats), known for his blazing spoken word pieces that have produced more than a buzz in his Bay Area residency and landed him a spot on HBO’s Def Poetry, offers the powerful “Descending Son.” More good impression are left by the rough, tenacious flowing Actual Fact on “Raging Bull,” or the love manifesto “Mutable End” featuring Mestizo, Meaty borrowing a famous vocal riff from Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By,” the only recognizable sample on the album and one that displays his ability to reuse the obvious in good taste.

“Be Me, Leave Me” has to be Meaty’s finest instrumental piece to date, opening with an eerie guitar riff and a drum break I could listen to for days. The live drummer feel is what really makes this track special as every corner yields buttery changeups while the overall atmosphere can almost sedate you. That all changes at the 2:30 mark, sparking a double-time flurry of drums, almost Shadowesque, and at the very least should be considered in the same league. Stretching himself even further on “Go Cubbie Holes,” Meaty creates his vision of chill dub encased by full echoes and wisely used flanger effects while his downtempo expertise carries him through tracks like “5:00 A.M Shadows” and “Memoirs of the Blind.”

Not many producers can pull off a hybrid album as successfully as Leo vs. Pisces, simply because the curve between quality instrumental and vocal creation is so steep and varied. But in the same vein as Shadow, Madlib, and RJD2, Meaty Ogre’s instrumentals are consistently focused and intricately designed, while he eases off such complexities just enough to make his emcees glow on top of such beautiful production. And as much of a statement Leo is, the number of overturned rocks through the process only makes Galapagos4’s future that much brighter.

By Brian Ho

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