, June 25th, 2009 06:48
Hip hop is designed to be fat; the very name has that boom-bap, up-and-down bounce. Sad, then, that hip hop today is flat, the same reductive click track issuing from non-stop TV channels, unimaginatively pimped cars and faceless MP3 blogs. Like any production-line good, it tends towards flat-punched surfaces and manufactured layers.
Willie Isz don't completely escape this predicament, but Georgiavania is a fine album whose very defects and oddities make it one of the few hip hop albums of the last year or two which break the mould. The duo of Philadelphia's Jneiro Jarel — a fat name if ever there was — and Khujo, ex of Goodie Mob and thus a former bandmate of Gnarls Barkley and an associate of Outkast, are a productively odd mismatch. Khujo's Southern drawl contrasts with Jarel's precise, shapeshifting vocals, previously heard in his fictitiously multi-headed 'band', Shape Of Broad Minds. Jarel also crafts the superbly synthetic beats, all rendered without samples and taking in psychedelic soul, funk, hyphy and all rhythms in between. Lyrical flows dribble, mercury-like, between the gaps of these incongruous hybrids.
The title suggests a fictitious Southern utopia in the lineage of Outkast's Stankonia, but any hint of an album concept is dissolved on the title track in mock operatic hooks and goofy hyphy shout-outs to their home state. The vocals here and elsewhere tend to be submerged in the production froth. 'The Grussle' is an awesome cocktail of backwoods country fiddle and steely bounce. 'Gawn Jet' is uptempo, with metal guitars undercut by a glamrock "hey". Prince is an obvious reference point, and they reach the same productive state of confusion, where the original thematic point of departure gets blurred into a whirl of pleasures.
'Violet Heart Box' is the most impressive track, where an often beatless mulch of drifting soul and gothic lyrics, with nursery rhyme melodies dabbed out on keyboards above, really does seem to forge a new plane of existence for hip hop. For the most part, the pleasures are in the slippages and disintegrations, the way it becomes weightier and weirder with every track. Georgiavania never seems to sound the same way twice — expect a straight album and you can almost visualise the duo glancing at you with quizzical, mocking expressions. But for now, the awkward, sprawling monster that is Willie Isz makes a real change from the flat-packed consumer good that most hip hop represents.