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Edan - Beauty and the Beat

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Artist: Edan

Album: Beauty and the Beat

Label: Lewis

Review date: Sep. 1, 2005

The last couple of years have seen a declining number of “classic” hip-hop albums. One could make an argument for Madvillainy or I Phantom but really, when was the last time an artist made a record like Wanted: Dead or Alive, Long Live The Kane or By All Means Necessary? By constantly broadening its scope, hip-hop seems to forsaken its beginnings – rhyming over turntables. The lexicon’s golden age (the late ’80s) was all about hard (repetitive) beats, an initial evolution away from juvenile rhyme schemes and only casual brushes with experimentation.

Boston (Where’s the Ed O.G. shout?) by way of Baltimore MC/DJ/Producer Edan has made a record that sounds like it could have been recorded during that period – novel only in its departure from today. The collage-style he works in isn’t too far removed from Prince Paul’s approach on 3 Feet High and Rising; just messier, shorter (only 34 minutes) and skitless. What is impressive about Beauty and the Beat is that instead of making something new out of something old, Edan has taken from old and made something that sounds even older. His production, flow and rhyme patterns are straight ’88. The only detour is a heavy lean toward the outskirts of British Invasion (makes sense, he’s relocated to England) in terms of source material.

Essentially, Beauty and the Beat is a three-way between a sampler, forgotten folk/psyche/prog records (he namechecks Pearls Before Swine, Mothers of Invention and King Crimson) and ’80s hip-hop. On “I See Colors” he mocks himself: “Prince Paul already used this loop / But I’m a keep it moving and put you up on the scoop.” In 20 words, Edan let’s you know where he’s at. Similar to his last full-length Primitive Plus, where he dedicated entire songs to Ultramagnetic and Schoolly D., the record is more about preserving hip-hop culture that about creating something fresh.

And in this respect he’s successful. “Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme” updates Just-Ice’s “Going Way Back” with Edan spotlighting the importance of overlooked rappers like Kool Moe Dee, Tradgedy and MC Shan. Even Jigga’s boy from way back JAZ (who remembers “Hawaiian Sophie”?) gets a shout. Typical of the record the production on “Fumbling …” sounds dusty, like a Philip Jeck composition with vocals and beats. His limited mixing skills (on purpose?) also add to the vintage feel: tracks segue abruptly, like he’s still using belt-drive turntables and the pause button as production tools. Other spots are drenched in cheap distortion and echo chamber, while mini-Moog and rusty horn loops dress the beats shabbily.

As far as his emceeing, Edan’s not what you would call a natural. While a presence on the mic and far from an inept rapper, he can come across as overwrought; and his incessant battle stance doesn’t always match some of the flowerpot soundscapes. Rarely laying back in the cut or switching up his tone, it can seem like he’s trying to force too many syllables into one bar, giving a feeling of chasing the beat instead of flowing with it. His lyrics are just as spotty. For every "I use pens like hallucinogens” there’s “a dog takes a shit on the floor and grows wings.”

There’s no denying the purity of Edan’s intentions in making Beauty and the Beat – he’s Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” incarnate, 10 years on. But it turns out that mimicking the past can be just as dangerous as ignoring it.

By Jake O'Connell

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