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Prefuse 73 - One Word Extinguisher

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Artist: Prefuse 73

Album: One Word Extinguisher

Label: Warp

Review date: Jun. 9, 2003

After All, the Game Is to be Told...

One Word Extinguisher marks the second full length outing for Atlanta-born Barcelonian Scott Herren’s Prefuse 73 project. While the Prefuse material traffics mostly in hip hop style and dynamics, bits and pieces of Herren’s other work as Savath + Savalas and Delarosa + Asora seem to bust through at the seams here and there, coloring jazz basslines and cross fades with glitch electronics and post-rock dynamics. And as opposed to other underground rappers and producers taking hip hop’s basic formula to exceedingly bizarre and diverse extremes, there’s a warmth and familiarity here, almost as if these beats could come pulsing off Hot 97’s airwaves at any given moment. But then again, the same anaesthetic gloss that coats a lot of commercial hip hop is noticeably absent. So Scott Herren is a tough cat to peg, and all the better for it – he’s equal parts throwback, step forward, common thump, and alien beat.

Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, Herren’s 2001 debut, emphasized his treatment of vocal lines, cutting them up like drum breaks, mixing them back together with an almost Burroughs-like sense of placement – jarring and yet still kind of methodical. But on this latest disc, everything is up for grabs. The rhythms and melodies cut in and out, ripping forward in short bursts that never feel unfulfilled, segueing quickly to the next idea before the previous one can even think about getting stale. “The End of Biters – International” immediately returns to the style Herren last explored with its exploding drums and vocal snippets, but then quickly ditches it, allowing the MC to spit a few lines unhindered. Diverse steps in hot on the heels, dropping rubber-tongued rhymes over a squelching electro beat for “Plastic”, only to make way for beat miner Dabrye’s excellent collaboration on “Uprock and Invigorate”. Here, a staggering, swaggering beat is laced with an upright bass line and some delicate keys before flipping it for a robotic synth and some quasi- G-funk bounce.

And even more so on that first full-length, bits and pieces of dialogue gave the listener and impression of flipping through radio dials, pausing here and there for beats and distorted vocals. This time out, the juxtapositions of different unnamed MCs and vocalists (as well as rising stars like Mr. Lif, who drops a few bars on “Huevos with Jeff and Rani”) and guest producers and musicians give the sense of a much larger picture – an attempt to lay bare the connections between hip hop and the differing styles of music that inform Herren’s work. In a sense, it reminds me of an almost romantic notion of radio stations that aren’t uniformly controlled from coast to coast by monopolizers such as Clear Channel. Dave from the Mercury Program drops in to supply the drum tracks for the intergalactic jazz-funk of “Dave’s Bonus Beats”, while up and comer Daedalus meshes with Herren seamlessly in “Busy Signal (Make You Go Bombing Mix)”. But overload isn’t always the method for this medium. On “Perverted Undertone”, Herren spins a melody backwards and laces it with a driving beat, brushing up against a simple vibe line that carries the whole thing home. “Why I Love You” relies on a similar sense of simplicity – Jenny Vasquez’s longing vocal clips placed against swirling electronics and some late-night lounge piano. And “90% of My Mind Is With You” relies on an infectiously off-kilter beat that forms the basis for more hazy electronics. The end result is an image of hip hop as an all inclusive sound, not something restricted by any arbitrary constraints as to what is or is not “real”.

One Word Extinguisher ends up conjuring images of a hip hop antecedent to this era of grossly over-exaggerated gangstas and swollen money clips. It’s a throwback of sorts to a time and a place where Kraftwerk had crossover success and producers prided themselves on crate digging – finding new breaks as opposed to using the same ten cats to produce every-fucking-thing on modern radio. The whole of Herren’s output under the Prefuse name sort of strikes me as what Prince Paul or A Tribe Called Quest would sound like today if they vibed heavily off Tortoise and Boards of Canada – funky, funny, irreverent, jazzy ,but also exceedingly on point in terms of samples and rhythms, all tied together under the veil of modern experimental electronics. And whereas a lot of modern hip hop records sound as if they’ve been stretched too thin past the sixty-five minute mark, One Word Extinguisher ends up feeling ridiculously brief with so many ideas and styles vying for attention. This record is a wonderful accomplishment – instead of relying on tricks and methods explored on earlier records, Herren expands via reflection, tracing sounds back to their roots in hopes of finding a new path.

By Michael Crumsho

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