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Awol One and Daddy Kev / Fat Jack - Slanguage / Propaganda

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Artist: Awol One and Daddy Kev / Fat Jack

Album: Slanguage / Propaganda

Label: Mush

Review date: Apr. 25, 2003

Context is Everything

Los Angelino Awol One has been making bleeding-edge hip hop music for some time now, flying solo and into outer space as a part of the always bizarre Shapeshifters crew. His voice, often described as one of the most recognizable in “the underground,” rasps near the breaking point, though it’s more Tom Waits than Tricky; a broken loom on which he weaves his particular breed of vocal tapestry, a hip hop of non-sequiturs where each line is clearly unsure of what will follow next. This style has led to reviewers labeling Awolrus’ music as “nonchalant,” “impulsive,” and “inconsistent,” questioning his ability to stay on-topic, or really whether he even has a topic at all.

In 2001 Awol teamed up with producer Daddy Kev to turn out his most complete album up to that point, Souldoubt, a straight-forward hip hop opus that ran the gamut from the jiggy “Rhythm” (“people just want to have fun / and all you suckas are so fucking temporary”) to the grotesque “Solitude” (“watch me cut my tongue out of my mouth / because I love you”). Last year found Awol sweeping up his various guest appearances into the forgettable and inaptly-titled Rebirth. Now, in 2003, he has teamed up with two very different producers on two very different labels to create two very different albums, and a contrast that sheds some fascinating light on Awol the artist.

Fat Jack, a long-time co-conspirator of Awolrus, produced the EP-length Propaganda on Massmen Records, the label of L.A. avant-godfather Abstract Rude. The album is very consistent with the duo’s previous work, opening with an upbeat distortion-driven track and sprinkled with string stabs and scratches courtesy of DJ Roach. Awol is his typically scattered self – though the lyrics orbit mainly around drugs and women, there is no clear thread from one verse to another. The next track, “Trilobites,” was released earlier as a 12”, and finds Awol contemplating his drinking tendencies over a layered low-key track punctuated by The Rock shouting “gimme one more hell yeah!” The song is very reminiscent of “Agony,” a similar track with similar themes off Souldoubt (A lyrical comparison: “Why do I always destroy the good things in my life? Self destructive behavior...” vs. “I get drunk, and make beautiful things fight each other.”) In fact, the entire album follows the pattern laid out by Souldoubt: good beats, upbeat for the most part, interspersed with a few introspectively melancholy songs that are a bit more topic-driven.

Ironically, Slanguage, the Mush records-sponsored reunion of Awolrus and Daddy Kev, is a dramatic departure from that sound, and one that leaves Propaganda looking damn near amateurish in retrospect. In fact, its complexity and cohesiveness easily outstrips any of the previous albums on which Awol has appeared – this is an album that has more in common with Dose-one and Boom-Bip’s Circle or Sixtoo’s Duration than it does with other Awol releases. The soundscape borrows liberally from free jazz, all upright bass notes, pianos, horns, and schizo drums, with D-Styles scratching to round it out. And for once, finally, within that context of free jazz, Awol’s sequenceless steam-of-consciousness makes perfect sense. He blurts asides and interjections, makes running commentary about the beats, converses with the vocal samples, playing his mind and voice as musicians shout chords and notes into the cacophony. These scriptless moments flow through and between the more premeditated tracks, where Awol shows his vocal range, singing one moment, whispering in his thoughtfully raspy tone the next. Yet throughout, the impulsiveness that seemed out of place on other albums sounds in careful harmony with the music here, with the most random of lines making sense in the overall picture. Leave it to Mush to give artists room to explore uncharted territory in a way that works wonders. Slanguage is a knockout punch. Kudos.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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