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Reissue Of The Week

Reissue Of The Week: Edan's Beauty And The Beat
Eden Tizard , June 17th, 2022 06:42

On 2005’s Beauty And The Beat, Edan produced the best psychedelic album of the decade, and the most fleshed out fusion of hip hop and psychedelia ever put to wax. Eden Tizard explores what makes it such a cult classic

There once was a moment, a minor one at that, but a moment nonetheless, and one with much potential.

It would be gross hyperbole to call 2005 hip hop’s summer of love. It was nothing of the sort. However, a loose cadre of like minded producers dipped their toes in psychedelic waters – some dove in head first.

Obviously there is a great deal of rap music that is psychedelic in effect – if we take psychedelic in music to mean a rewiring of our senses and approach to sound. cLOUDDEAD were like hip hop being smudged out by JMW Turner, while DJ Screw slowed things down to a syrupy sludge, with bars that groaned like a punctured whale.

But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about hip hop that draws directly from 60s psych, and with that the names Madlib and J Dilla might well spring to mind.

In May 2005, Madlib caught up with his alter ego, the brick chucking, helium menace, Quasimoto. On the cover of The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas, the words FREAK OUT! pop in vibrant candy pink, lifted from The Mothers of Invention, while on the song ‘Closer’ MF DOOM raps as part of a ‘new race’ over wigged out organ and acrid guitar fuzz.

J Dilla also experimented with a sampladelic approach. Particularly on 2003’s Ruff Draft. ‘Nothing Like This’ skirts the event horizon, reverse guitar licks that spill like streams of mercury. ‘Wild’, meanwhile, salvages a banger from a Neil Innes and Son tune, their Shaggs-like take of Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noise’, Innes Jr., who squawks in thrall to Noddy Holder’s mantra – “girl’s grab the boys, get wild, wild, wild.”

After the future shock of Timbaland and The Neptunes, popular hip hop somewhat lost its forward surge - for a time at least. What lay underground? Inspiration continued in the dusty art of crate diggin’, in keeping with that Art Ensemble Of Chicago mantra “ancient to the future.”

Lesser known than either Madlib or Dilla is Edan (Portnoy), a Berklee College of Music alumni, and another sore thumb to the notion that rock/rap hybrids are doomed from the off.

With 2005’s Beauty And The Beat, Edan made the most fleshed out fusion of hip hop and psychedelia ever put to wax.

One last element is key. Funk. After all, funk is a father of hip hop. And one of funk’s great acts? Funkadelic. A holy trinity where each element reinforces the whole, no clunky cock rock over drum machines here. Indeed, Edan follows the spirit of Afrika Bambaataa, if it’s funky it’s in.

“I hear the same good thing in Jimi Hendrix I hear in a Marley Marl dub,” he told Hua Hsu in a 2006 Wire feature, expounding on his studious ethics. “Anybody that’s just coming with something rough and creative.”

“There’s subtle differences between us all,” he continues, “but there’s one strand that connects us all – that strand of being alive and conscious. Any energy underneath the skin in kin, in one way or another. Put it all together, break it apart, mash it together – it’s an endless salad.”

Inspiration was never an issue for Edan, but fruition took its time. His debut Primitive Plus seems to belong to a past life. We get dick jokes aplenty, flatulent outbursts, and a whole lot of rapping about rapping. “Never say a rhyme that’s less than hooping,” he spat on ‘One Man Arsenal’, “intelligent all the girls I’m scooping”. By his own admission a juvenile record.

2005’s Beauty And The Beat is something else entirely, a true ‘what if?’ album – what if Prince Paul was hauled up in the lab with The Radiophonic Workshop? The album is a prismatic treasure trove, 34 minutes of carnivorous pillaging that sets him apart from psych rock revivalists; the paisley-clad obsessives on the hunt for that white whale vintage fuzz tone.

‘Polite Meeting (intro)’ is wide-eyed sunny bliss, a piece of plunderphonic collage, coordinates set to the kaleidoscopic world of West Coast pop, but refracted even further through the boundless art of sampling.

On ‘I See Colours’, intents are made clear. He writes how he “first saw the earth in 78, around the same time rap saw its first plate”, tying his own birth to that of hip hop, while his pen also spills more tripped out visions – “rainbows falling out the sky to turn liquid”. Musically we’re still on sunny pop turf, but delay, Moog whirs, phasers, all bend and toil in the mix, akin to the concréte/pop hybridity of Pierre Henry or The United States Of America.

The record contains two history lessons. ‘Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme’ is a truncated but linear trek through the streets and back alleys of hip hop’s past. We see how styles feed into one another, the mavericks who burst unannounced out the shadows.

"Slick Rick the Ruler was a screenplay producer/
Ultramagnetic had the vision for the future"

It’s a clarion call as much as a guide. “Any MC that's adding on to the list/ Pump your fist,” he encourages, “but first give praise to the true scientists.”

‘Rock And Roll’ is quite different. Dagha comes hard as fuck over gnarled, grinding guitars with a maniacal gurn and bloody fingers.

"Celebrate the maker/ I'll mutilate later/ And play a naysayer like an amplified bass player"

On Edan’s verse we wade through a swamp of rock & roll signifiers, picked and pillaged to build a mythos that gets to the primordial roots of the style, an expressionistic rather than literal lesson, Edan the Swamp Thing king drenched in the slime of rock and roll history – he even finds time to diss Elvis and Lenny Kravitz.

“Semi-automatic rap heavy metal jackets
Kill with mathematics then build with Black Sabbath"

It’s immense.

Lyrically the album is a work of exponential growth for Edan. It’s a style I could only really call whimsy with attitude, a bite keeps things grounded. However, there are moments devoid of any levity or absurdism. A song like ‘Smile’ would never have found its way on Primitive Plus, a tribute to his friend’s talent and struggle with depression.

"I knew this brother that was almost a genius
True brilliance would meet him at the zenith
But in the downside my man would get depressed
Negative thoughts destroyed what he did best"

Edan spoke of how “anyone who has the propensity for thinking about some bright, colourful shit probably has the ability to think of things that are equally dark and fucked up and based in fear”.

This is an idea explored quite thoroughly in psychedelic music. Those involved in ploughing the imagination in the service of their art are vulnerable to the heightened extremes of this exposure. One of psychedelic music's core texts, Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, captures the duality of hallucinogenic drugs. Over a lax drum march and guitar notes that meander uncomfortably from the familiar, Grace Slick warns, “If you go chasing rabbits, you know you’re going to fall”. Psychedelic encounters, like issues of mental health more generally, are often defined by extreme highs and lows. No extreme experience, whether sober or chemical, is without its risks.

But following ‘Smile’ we get a respite of utopic salvation in ‘Promised Land’. Edan closes the album with a verse debuted on Count Bass D’s slept on Dwight Spitz, though is put to even better use here, over a sun warped charge of acoustic chords.

"I fought fear with the Hammer of Thor lent me
And tangled with the Angel of Death for four centuries
Put a nameplate on a asteroid belt
And I ran through the future with an android's help"

It’s an audacious way to end the best psychedelic album of the decade. A surrealist victory lap of cosmic braggadocio, but also a glorious declaration of unity and unfettered imagination.

Beauty And The Beat made a small dent in the UK independent and R&B charts. It has been 17 years since its release. Edan is yet to release another solo album.

He has, however, toured the world extensively with the great Paten Locke – who sadly passed away in 2019. These were joyous shows, full of goofy oddball eccentricity; 60s wigs, kazoos, acoustic guitars, and even a theremin.

He dropped the 2009 mixtape Echo Party, made beats for Your Old Droog, and in 2018, dropped the collaborative mini album Humble Pi with Homeboy Sandman.

But no. A full length follow up we have not seen.

The greedy part of me wants more. Much, much more. But there we are. Edan seems content, and we do have as close to a perfect record as you could want.

Psychedelic hip hop then? A mini sort-of movement? Not really. It wasn’t even that. Let alone any kind of united force at the time.

That said, over the past ten years we’ve seen a wave of psychedelic trap, the interplanetary Afrofuturism of Shabazz Palaces, and Kanye West repurposing King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ for the hook of ‘Power’. Both A$AP Rocky and Chance The Rapper have shouted out the hallucinatory powers of LSD. Then there’s the likes of Quelle Chris, Danny Brown, and Mach Hommy all having rapped over psych rock samples. Indeed, Armand Hammer’s ELUCID just dropped album of the year contender I Told Bessie, and its highlight ‘Small Lines’, with its thundering, scorched earth riffing, feels like it would gel quite nicely with an Edan record.

Perhaps, even in his relative absence, we’re moving closer to a world Edan envisioned.

Edan's Beauty And The Beat is out now