I'm Always Recovering From Tomorrow
Gold Standard Laboratories
nless you religiously track every ultra-limited release available from ATAK or a devout follower of the incestuous west coast underground hip-hop scene, this is probably the first release you ever read about from Subtitle. With the indie-crossover success of the Anticon and Def Jux camps, non hip-hop labels want to join in the fun of releasing off-kilter hip-hop, and Gold Standard Labs is no different. Hell, even Warp has started a subsidiary label for that express purpose. However, don't misread this as some puerile wolf cry of how the underground is being diluted and compromised. All this should mean to you is less bullshit CD-Rs with flimsy, Xeroxed paper inserts and hiss-filled tapes being sold for 15 bucks a pop, and more professional releases with actual artwork, acceptable sound quality, and distribution to stores not named Amoeba and Below the Surface. Hallelujah.
Enter seasoned underground veteran and Project Blowed affiliate Subtitle. As far as this "debut" EP goes, Subtitle is still following fellow comrades the Shapeshifters' aesthetic of recording and releasing material from his How to Beat the Beat days. Similar to Guided By Voices, you can picture Subtitle trying to find a few hours between constant touring, crashing at a friend's house miles away from home, and fighting total exhaustion in order to record just enough material to pump out that next release. Flubbed your delivery on that last verse? The beat's not as polished as you wanted to be?
Oh, well. This is best exemplified on "Hard Light (That's Not It)," stopping his double-timed rap backed with jump-up drum-and-bass tinges in mid-line, deciding the premise of dressing up a rather tired story of jacking some guys for drugs in sci-fi clothing wasn't worth it, and let the last 90 seconds go without vocals.
While the sound quality has increased from previous releases, the production style has mostly stayed intact. Each track is built from a simple drum pattern, being covered in keyboard noodling, reverb, echo, distortion and sound effects in order to achieve a dense, claustrophobic background. Since the drums aren't the focus, it is easy to lose yourself in the primordial 4-track muck. However, an unlikely anchor is provided in Subtitle's lackadaisical delivery and reserved voice. Where Subtitle would drown in a hard-hitting boom-bap production, he has a dominant presence in this setting.
Although the production and delivery have the tell-tale signs of another abstract rapper peddling platitudes and self-importance, Subtitle has an uncanny knack for speaking his mind in a (relatively) clear manner. On "Smoke is Smoke," Subtitle speaks on his personal battles with smoking, simultaneously denouncing the habit and preaching understanding for the temporary relief it brings, all without sounding pious (take note, Buck 65) - after all, "We all feel the need to get wrecked (but you shouldn't have to really get wrecked)." The EP's main attraction, the original and remixed versions of "A Textbook Life," showcases Subtitle as he ponders on why he is creating music, the marginalization of music as a powerful artform to incite change, and false expectations many would-be artists and revolutionaries hold. You see, Subtitle has already accepted the fact that he probably won't be famous. He doesn't blame anyone for this predicament, nor does he feel inherently superior. All Subtitle knows is he's predisposed to making music and sharing his views with whoever will listen.
With this release, Subtitle is well on his way to help show non-backpackers that there's more to Project Blowed than Aceyalone and Freestyle Fellowship.
Reviewed by: Fredrick Thomas
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01