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April 19, 2005

{     Edan - Beauty and the Beat     }    

lewis007.jpg Low End Theory. It Takes a Nation of Millions. Funcrusher Plus. Each of these classic albums represent a paradigm shift in hip hop where the form is approached from a new direction, yielding a solid organic work of substance, void of flavor-of-the-week trends and here today, giggidy gone tomorrow gimmickry. While forever changing musical landscapes, these albums also serve to pinpoint the exact time when each of these respective artists went from good to great. Beauty and the Beat, the latest album from Boston renaissance man Edan Portnoy, is one of those albums that comes along and straight bumrushes the competition. Simultaneously monopolizing your box and testing your friends’ patience, this is that album that makes you run back inside to grab from the stereo, the one that gets you excited about music again, leaving you geeked and goosebumped. People first took notice of the Humble Magnificent as he exploded on the scene in 2001 with his critically-acclaimed 2nd album “Primitive Plus” (file his first album, “Architecture” under “Appleseed” and “Organix”… i.e. no distribution). The one-man-army Edan made some elbow room in the crowded indie hip hop arena as a microphone commando that could show-and-prove not only on the m.i.c., but on the production and dj sides as well, each with devastating ackniculous precision. A multi-faceted lyricist, Edan’s rhymes can switch from classic boom-bap braggadacio and underground historical perspectives to dead-on MC “tributes” and screwface comic wordplay all within the course of the same verse. But while Edan’s rhymes continue to drop math, science, and history, what truly sets off his verbal assaults is the unmistakable delivery. As many of today’s MCs continue to work that mumblin’, stumblin’ shit, Edan’s words are clearly enunciated in boastful, echo-heavy dummy-smacks… confident yet comfortable, reminiscent of a prime Big Daddy Kane. It can be argued that although he does often utilize a throwback style (more Non-Prophets than Jurassic 5), Edan seems to be working the most basic, effective and increasingly-ignored components of the culture in order to flip the script on some ol’ Flux Capacitor shit. Straight up, my man’s rhymin 88 miles-per-hour, gettin hit by lightning and shit. Production wise, Edan’s lo-fi style is just as unpredictably dope as his lyricism. Effectively utilizing distorted guitar riffs, ill piano loops, cymbal-crashing bass-heavy beats, and some of the best vocal samples ever used, E’s beats range from the classic Rick Rubin-esque beats and rhymes construction of “You Suck” to the complex multi-episodic horn arrangements within Mr. Lif’s “Live From the Plantation”. Drawing upon such a wide range of influences, it is clear that when Portnoy isn’t thumbing through his rhyme book, he’s digging in the crates. This is apparent in his popular “class is in session” mix series, where “Darth Vader with the crossfader” drops funky wisdom on a selected theme (beatboxers, the funky drummer, fast rap) over the course of each mix's hour-plus duration . Audio dissertations such as these, along with the guest spots, remixes, and the occasional fake live album have earned the ever-prolific Portnoy a growing legion of fans that eagerly await each unorthodox release. With the new Beauty and the Beat, Portnoy not only delivers on the promise his earlier material has hinted at, he breaks through with an album that surpasses even the most staunchest critic’s expectations. The concept for Beauty and the Beat is laid right out on the album cover: legendary hip hop heads juxtaposed over top a swirling psychedelic backdrop. Edan brings his trademark microphone mathematics but switches up speed on the production tip with densely-layered acid rock beats and whirling Moog rhythms. The potential for this psychedelic/hip-hop union has been hinted at for years (Stones Throw’s Now Again releases, Subtle’s New White, and the Shadow & Chemist Brainfreeze/Product Placement collabos), but never has the sound direction been so fully realized with such an uncompromised attempt. David Axelrod and the Divine Styler gotta be somewhere smilin after this. Always considered one of hip hop’s premiere lyricists, Beauty and the Beat shows the world that the underrated producer has got beats, too. With thirteen tracks expanding over 40 minutes, Beauty may not be the longest album (funny how most classics aren’t) but provides an ample canvas for Edan to display more lyrical versatility and growth on this album than in previous efforts. While the lead single “I See Colours” is textbook Edan wordplay, “Fumbling Over Words that Rhyme” is an impressive vocal essay showcasing the history of east coast hip-hop that is assured in the ease of its delivery yet lyrically-detailed enough to give the average journalist an inferiority complex. Plus, that sample is straight coconuts. “Smile” and “Murder Mystery” sees Edan delving into more of a storytelling persona, the latter serving as a perfect set-up for the Kool G Rap-inspired, borderline-horrorcore cut “Torture Chamber”. And although there are no Kool Keith impressions this time around, the show-stopping “Rock and Roll”, a rock-inspired, "Labels"-esque lyrical free-for-all featuring an impressive Dagha, kills it in such a way that cause Mos Def to give up the mic completely and go back to Cosby Mysteries. Listening to Beauty and the Beat brings to mind the first two De La albums, Paul’s Psychoanalysis, the Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride, and even Dare Iz A Darkside (when Redman was focused on hip hop and not going on safari with Cameron Diaz and filming deodorant commercials), in that the LP is more than a collection of singles. Beauty and the Beat is a cohesive work that functions as a whole. While each song can more than stand on its own, the album weaves in and out of different tones, tempos and textures so fluidly that the listener is almost jolted when Portnoy decides to place a pause between songs. The intricate segueways with which the album is constructed is refreshing in an age of iTunes and test demographic-approved track sequencing (the Kanye-produced single, the R&B chorus cut, the posse cut, the club cut). It is this attention to detail that allows Beauty and the Beast just the right amount of guest spots to naturally support the overall flow and concept of the album without watering down its identity. Fellow Bostonite wonderkind, the forever slept-on Insight brings Double Trouble on “Funky Voltron” and the bananas “Science of the Two”, effortlessly trading lines with Edan like a modern-day (and still good) EPMD. After hearing these cuts along with snippets from their live show, its obvious these two cats have more chemistry together than most groups out there. The rhyme inspector, Percee P, stopped selling tapes in front of Fat Beats long enough to showcase the trademark style on “Torture Chamber” that has made him a NYC legend. Personally, the real highlight on Beauty and the Beat for me lies on “Making Planets” where an uncharacteristically-cool Edan drops methodical knowledge (“My favorite color is math”) over a sly creeping beat with one Mr. Lif waiting in the wings, ready to snap necks once the beat breaks. Once it does, shit is money like Ted Debiase. Yeah, it runs a little short. But its also just as long Illmatic and Low End Theory and I don't hear you complaining about those, Mr. Pants. Simply put, Beauty and the Beat is one of those albums that the first time hearing it, you think your head's gonna explode on some Scanners-type shit. I don't impress easy... and look how long this fucking review is! Go out and buy this, wiseguy.

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Can't fault this guy, he's off the hook in all respects. Amazing album, still in my CD changer after 3 months, 'Torture Chamber'...damn, just damn. Best white MC since El-P and Aes Rock, that's for sure.

Posted by: Sam at July 7, 2005 4:32 PM
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