hile the line between hip hop and IDM may be blurred, it seems to be a mostly one-way relationship. Many a techno auteur has cited old-school rap as an influence, yet rarely are modern hip hop artists likely to be influenced by what Autechre or Matmos are currently doing. However, this is changing: recently labels such as Warp and Thrill Jockey have added hip hop artists to their rosters. A much fuller synthesis of experimental electronic music and hip hop is on its way.
Prefuse 73 is the harbinger of this movement. It is not IDM. It is not hip hop. It is something new, exciting, and completely different. Scott Herren (of Delarosa and Asora acclaim) has said Prefuse 73 was about taking hip hop back in time -- before the jazz fusion movement in 1973, hence "Prefuse 73." However, Herren has done anything but take hip hop back in time -- he has catapaulted it into the future.
Herren has fully integrated the glitchy IDM instrumentation of Delarosa and morphed it completely into hip hop. Not a nod to hip hop, or a sly reference to hip hop. HIP HOP. Herren injects the tracks with groove and soul, while still using all of his kicks and synths from his previous work. He also inserts old jazz horn and piano samples, along with excellent turntable work. For a long-time fan of techno and hip hop such as myself, the end product is breathtaking and infectious.
The album title speaks volumes about Herren's theories behind Prefuse 73. Rapping is featured on almost all the tracks, but not the traditional spitting of verses. Instead, Herren sends the vocals of rappers into a blender and extracts bits and pieces of words and phrases and strings them together in a rhythmic pattern. The result is truly an experiment into what it means to rap. Herren completely de-emphasizes the meaning behind words, focusing on the sound of the human voice. Is it rap? Is it just samples? The answer isn't clear, a testament to the envelope-pushing Herren has undertaken.
Herren does allow a few rappers to get in their say. "Life-Death" is a head-bobbing slice of the best beats Vocal Studies has to offer, and "Blacklist" is an excellent jazz-infused track. Instead of detracting from Herren's musical message about rapping, it proves he can go either way - and do it well.
"Back In Time" probably represents the album better than any other track. The track starts of with a sample of Herren discussing his vision for Prefuse 73. A glowing groovy beat kicks in, with some pureed vox. The rhythm is continually altered, developing tension before Herren sets the beat back in place and lets loose with some glorious synths and soothing piano samples, with some understated scratching thrown in for good measure. It's a beautiful track, and a testament to the complete mastery Herren has over his craft.
Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives will definitely stand as one of the most revolutionary albums of the year. Herren has done something completely different, and has opened doors into new fields of music. It's time to get excited about music again.
Reviewed by: Gavin Mueller
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01