Friday, February 10, 2012

Whatever You Do, Don't Get Killed.

Strictly considered, writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics. All the other arts can be talked about in the terms of ordinary life and experience. A poem, a statue, a painting or a play is a representation of somebody or something, and can be measurably described (the purely aesthetic values aside) by describing what it represents.
- New Republic, February 9, 1918

A day over 94 years later, I would finally find an album that lived up to that very description. Lord knows I’ve written my fair share of reviews about all sorts of madness. In some way shape or form, though, I was able to convey some sort of idea of what the sounds were like and how pleasant they were or weren’t.

Little did I know how tough that would be when I decided to give an ear to a podcaster I’ve come to enjoy over the last 6 months.

The podcast in question is actually plural, with both shows being from the same site. Panels on Pages is a tidy geek culture that focuses mostly on comics, but covers much more. Like video games. And wrestling. JFX316 - aka Jared Whittaker - is a site contributor and shows up on a couple podcasts a week offering his boisterous laugh and laser-focused opinions on a lot of subjects. After this long, I was aware of his music but hadn’t given it a chance until I was virtually dared to by the offer above.

The result? Okay, first, I have to pull a quote from JFX316 himself, from his Twitters:

Keep that exact quote in mind should you decide to make the intelligent decision to go spend $5 on JFX’s latest album, Don’t Get Killed. It speaks volumes about what you’ll hear once the download is done.

Looking for rock and roll? Trance? Trip-hop? A little metal? Dubstep? Where do I stop? There’s so much of a blender mix here it may be more apropos to describe it more like a microwave explosion. Sinking to cliches like “hodge-podge”, “mix of styles”, genre-bending”, and all the rest of those is certainly tempting. Cliches are such because they are true, and they all fit here. But going back to those wells to describe Don’t Get Killed does the record a disservice since it wears its insolence on its sleeve and, for that matter, on its Rusty Shackles-provided cover art:

The rhymes are sprinkled with metric tons of geek references from Tom Brevoort (look him up) to fellow PoP! cohort Dan Mahoney. Oh, and there are mentions of rasslin’ all over the place. And topical stuff that gets made fun of, too! Aside from all that, there are moments when these things are wrapped around JFX’s sonic fist like a chain that drills you right between the eyes:

Hip hop’s a dead man and I’m the White Lantern
Always backin’ up the fam, everyone else is catching a sidewalk slam...
All I wanted to be was the next Chuck D, MF Doom, Kool Keith, or DMC
Life in shambles, like DMZ

- JFX316, “Don’t Get Killed”

If you’re looking to dip out of here now and pick this up, I wouldn’t blame you one bit. But before you go, be warned now if you’re thinking this might make for a great record to have on in the background while you try and concentrate on something else, think again. The disjointed sounds alone will see to it that your attention is focused squarely on Don’t Get Killed whenever it’s playing. The closest thing this guy comes to a single is “Destitute”, which is still all over the place but somewhat refined with the most pop-esque sound you’re likely to hear out of JFX. Even that’s not very radio-friendly; in fact, it’s much more mocking of the idea of “let’s have a hit single” just in sound alone.

Self-effacing is something that JFX seems to do well. Not in the means that he has no confidence in himself, because it takes guts to put out a record at all in the world of digital media gluttony no matter who you are. It takes guts to make any kind of art, really. That having been said, he’ll apparently be the first to tell you:

A year ago, I was screaming “fuck you” on podcasts,
But now I get paid for shitty products like my name was Comcast...
I should change my name to Skynet, I’m self-aware, I’m everywhere
And I’m unsure why anybody fucking cares...
No producer please, sucker, please,
If you talk about me, please put the word ‘rapper’ in parentheses

- JFX316, “Sugary Disaster Cereals”

As far as the beats and the accompaniment go, not many dudes would be willing to make rap beats out of Nine Inch Nails and Danzig. I’m not sure how many would even be able. JFX pulls this off, and the kinda scary thing is those are probably a couple of the more tame beats on the record. An odd imaginarium of dubsteb, electronica, a dash of guitar, a slight hint of cacophony, and generous portions of middle finger are what the music itself is made of. Sits well right alongside the bouillabaisse of apathy, rage, disenchantment, disbelief, and generous portions of middle finger that comprise the majority of the vocals and rhymes.

I’ll be honest, after looking back at what I wrote objectively, it almost looks like there’s no discernible reason to give this a listen. But that might be the strength of Don’t Get Killed is that is might be a challenge to sit through. Let’s just shoot for a second - hip-hop, as we know it, is on life support at the very best. Cats like Apathy, Lyrics Born, Skratch Bastid, and Chuck D are doing their best to keep it alive when most of the art - or lack thereof - is slickly produced, soulless drivel that’s easily interchangeable. I can now add JFX316 to that list after haring an album that would rather stage dive in to a crowd of Occupy protesters on Wall Street from 50 stories up than be considered “Hip-Hop”. By being so openly defiant and not at all what the iPod crowd would probably not even consider actual music, Don’t Get Killed would probably shake the sleeping masses like a drunken nanny were it ever to reach them. For everyone’s sake, I would love to see exactly that happen, because this display of guts deserves that.

Go see for yourself and give Don’t Get Killed a try at the link your eyeballs just passed. If you think guys like Drake, T.I. and The Game are the kings of hip-hop, give up the mediocrity and pick this up. If you’re a music buff wanting to hear something different, treat yourself and pick this up. If any of those aren’t good enough reasons, this should be:

No comments: