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Mike Ladd - Father Divine

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Artist: Mike Ladd

Album: Father Divine

Label: ROIR

Review date: Nov. 28, 2005

It would be cliché to suggest that Mike Ladd is not of this planet. But just three minutes into his latest, Father Divine long-player, it’s apparent that while his body might reside on our plane of existence, his musical incantations are grounded in the celestial.

To those familiar with Ladd’s other projects (Infesticons/Majesticons, et al) Divine shares a similar aesthetic with much of his earlier work. The unorthodox vocal delivery is intact, even pushed to new limits as Ladd syncopates staggering choruses with laid-back verses. In the brazen opener “Apt. C2,” Ladd recites, “High-speed, action-packed / Change happen’ real fast / Lag-time, rewind / Forward on the skip disc / Blue chip predator / Blind as a soothsayer…Recourse tactics, spastic reactions / Crafted to past masculine it’s splatterin’.” Ladd’s voice builds to a near-scream as an exotic piece of vintage keyboard gear sears through the track, mirrored by the tinny cries of a toy piano. The unique timbre of Ladd’s voice draws attention to how the verses are constructed and phrased as opposed to merely their lyrical content.

In line with his typically sparse and deliberate vocals, Ladd resists the temptation to include vocals on every track, leaving Divine with quite a few deeply melodic instrumentals. “Crooner Island” is nearly a six-minute instrumental broken into two distinct movements: the first a tribal, dub vibe that sounds like a dusty relic from Roir’s back catalogue, and the second invoking a faster electro swing, digital handclaps, and a bad-ass organ chugging through to the coda.

“Crooner” is the flagship track exemplifying Ladd’s revivalist mission behind this concept record, summoning the brazen flair of Bad Brains through his own paradigm. Father Divine is so close to the mark that “Water Bomb” sounds like something the ’Brains might have actually concocted themselves in 1982 while recording “Jah Calling” if they had a Roland TR-808 drum machine. Perhaps what is most sonically distinct about Divine is its gritty, analog-processed feel; a characteristic that collaborators High Priest (Antipop Consortium) and Jaleel Bunton (TV on the Radio) undoubtedly played a large part in creating.

The name “Father Divine” is a reference to the leader of what is considered to be one of the first religious cults, formed in Brooklyn in the 1930’s. Father Divine, who considered himself to be God, is referenced by Ladd throughout the record, specifically in “So ‘n So,” a sparsely programmed track with haunting, and at times ironic, synth textures: “Everybody look high, everybody look low / When Father Divine step through…You can drop in the river / Or dip your toe in the tub / It really don’t matter; got a green light from above.” It seems as if Ladd is calling out the pitfalls of idolatry and self-aggrandizement, didactically drawing a tragic portrait of someone who believes his own hype.

Father Divine ranks among the best of Ladd’s efforts, and is easily one of his most adventurous. While a full appreciation of the intricacies of Ladd’s vision requires a rather attentive ear, the electro-dub rhythms of the record’s instrumental tracks make for an alluring starter. Amid High Priest’s synth patches and the pages of Ladd’s rhyme book lays a glimpse into the crystal ball of hip-hop’s future.

By Chris Tabron

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