Humble Beast (2010)
Review by Samson
In 2010, Humblebeast team member and Colorado native, Xperiment, entered the Red Bull Big Tune Competition in Denver and went head to head with the best hip-hop producers the Rocky Mountains had to offer. After listening to Precipitation, it is clear why Xperiment not only moved a crowd of over 1,000 but also won first runner up in the competition, coming just a breath shy of unseating what would later become the competitionâ€™s national runner-up. Precipitation blends thundering bass and heavy electronic influences to create what sounds like the love child of Tron and hip-hop. The result is ridiculous; a highly textured soundscape that is earcandy for the headphones and a guaranteed head-turner for those wanting to roll the windows down and let the woofers thump.
The album opens up gently with a mellow blend of bass and melodic synths that whir and buzz in a way that slowly dials up the energy. However by the third track, Xperiment fully powers up the system with the Pac-Man-esque Hard Times, where thundering baselines, manic keyboards, and echoing highs combine to dance across both sides of the headphones, attack the eardums, and leave listeners to feel as if they just joined Neo to enter the matrix as the album hits itâ€™s stride.
The distinct mood created for each track helps the listener avoid seeing the album as a mere collection of “beats” and adds to the overall feel of the album. The Search uses eerie boys-choir vocals to give the feel of an ancient quest filled with mystery and intrigue. Wait and See, is a dubstep-inspired gem that combines a meandering baseline, washed out fragmentary vocal samples, and sharp, choppy electric guitars to give the listener a sense of longing and desire. Cratehead Opus feels like a baseline that ran through the soundboard of a Sega Genesis resulting in an impressive culminating point of electronic mayhem that feels like a futuristic battle scene. On Handle Business, the energy is dialed up to eleven when earth-rattling bass drums combine with heavily textured electronic synths and a snappy snare to create what is easily the hardest track of the album that just begs to be made into a supercrew anthem. Finally, on Powerlines, a result of the efforts of Xperiment and B-Lewis (AKA The SeeSaw Kids), the track soars in a way that maintains a breezy but textured melody despite a robust organ, while taking unexpected turns thanks to innovative use of faders, surprise slowdowns, and crescendos.
The emcees on Precipitation are lightly represented, but when they show up, they come strong. Malik B. of The Roots shows up on a fun Don’t See Us sample used on the 1:42 minute Like an Xperiment. Othello drops some insightful rhymes on Catch-22 that live up to the expectations of listeners who are accustomed to the high quality of his lyrics and delivery. Xperiment also includes on the album, Up, one of the tracks he produced on Brailleâ€™s “Weapon Aid.” The production on Up, with itâ€™s brooding drums and electronic highs that peak and immediately nosedive into mourning lows, blends perfectly with the message Braille Brizzy conveys on the track. The caliber of Brailleâ€™s rhymes on Up are top-notch.
Although electronica seems to be where Xperiment’s strength lies, this does not mean he lacks other tools in his arsenal. Although he may sound like the Terminator behind the boards, there is no doubt he still has soul. Painless begins with wooden percussion that click-clack with the hard organic feel of castanets before launching into the synthesizers that seem to mark Xperiment’s sound. Xperiment also delivers a piano-laden and horn-heavy track worthy of Apollo Brown in Stayin’ Steady just to show he can.
In the end, the only shortcoming on Precipitation lies not in the production. All of the beats are strong and original in their own right. However, Precipitation probably should have been at least three tracks shorter. Unknown Truths, despite a promising start, devolves into a collection of odd, disjointed sounds and melodies by the end of the track. Other tracks like Bouillon Blast, Currently Flow, and Sound Barrier all in all have very little to distinguish one from the other. Not only that, they sound completely pedestrian when placed alongside the rest of the Grade-A body of work put forth by Xperiment.
A real Humble Beast record is one where it is hard to believe that the Portland-based record company is giving the music away for free. Precipitation is no different. Xperiment clearly has a knack for original production that combines the conventional instrumentation of not just everyday music but hip-hop in general and gives it the cyborg treatment. While he clearly can do more than electronic production alone, and there is no doubt he has and will, it begs the question: why would he want to? Precipitation is a phenomenal listen and a welcome development in hip-hop production.
For fans of: Humble Beast, Propaganda, Braille, Odd Thomas, hip-hop beats with a side of electronic music feel