want to like Dälek, I really do. But considering Dälek are often described as representing the cutting edge of underground rap, I’m also naturally cautious. After all, I like rap, and I like plenty of “underground” rappers, but I’ve been led astray before by critical buzz. I’m sure we all remember the great Paul Barman fiasco. As much as I wanted Dälek to blow my mind, I felt a nagging fear that they would simply blow.
A little background: Dälek, as nearly every review trips over itself to point out, aren’t your typical rap group. The group consists of an MC, also named Dälek, producer Oktopus and “turntablist” DJ Still. They’ve toured with De La Soul, The Melvins, Grandmaster Flash and KRS-One, and their previous release was a full-length collaboration with Faust. Yes, that Faust. So there’s clearly something special about Dälek.
But, frankly, I don’t know how evident that something is on Absence. As a rapper, Dälek himself is perhaps the most disappointing thing about Dälek. Having been told to expect, in the words of the invaluable All Music Guide, “aggressive, intelligent rhymes,” I was surprised to find out that Dälek’s rapping isn’t much different than standard poetry slam fare. He’s got skills, but he’s also got some very obvious flaws. For one, Dälek’s got pretty much one mood: pissed-off. Truly great rappers, from Ice Cube to Ghostface Killah, are able to convey a range of emotions and moods with their voice. Dälek obviously has a lot to be angry about, but would it kill dude to break things up a bit? Of course, one can still be a great rapper and get away with this kind of thing. Rakim, for example, sounded pretty much like a robot designed to deliver really tight lyrics with amazing flow, actual emotion not included. But he had the lyrics. Dälek gets off some good lines, but he’s no Rakim.
But the rhymes are only half the story, perhaps even less. Dälek cite My Bloody Valentine as a key influence—the most obvious consequence being Dälek’s vocals mixed significantly lower than those of most other MCs, focusing the listener’s attention on the music crafted by Oktopus and Still. So it’s a bit surprising that the beats just aren’t very interesting. Although it’s initially fascinating to hear harsh, industrial noise in a hip-hop context, the novelty begins to wear off and it becomes clear that the shock value of the beats on Absence conceal a paucity of actual innovation. There’s some good stuff here, but there’s also a lot of stuff that almost wanders into rap-metal territory. Even the good stuff is used over and over, an approach that doesn’t mesh well with Dälek’s often monotonous rhyming.
I want to like Dälek, I really do. We need more rap groups out there that are willing to take risks and push boundaries. Absence may be on its way to my local used CD store, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be looking forward to their next release. After all, even My Bloody Valentine made some pretty boring stuff before they dropped Isn’t Anything.
Reviewed by: Ryan Hardy
Reviewed on: 2005-02-24