28 August, 2006@12:00 am
These days, being picked as one of Urb Magazine’s “Next 100″ isn’t really the coveted honor it may have once been. Sure, we’ve seen a lot of talented listed among those ranks, but think about all the hundreds of artists listed throughout the years that didn’t make it, or didn’t bring anything new or interesting to the table. Unfortunately, the losers outweigh the winners. Perhaps switching the list to the “Next 10″ or even “Next 25″ might be a more accurate and precise listing, but us Americans love everything in excess, don’t we?
San Francisco production duo Blue Sky Black Death might sound like two decidedly dark individuals, but these two look closer to Eminem than Trent Reznor. But the fresh-faced fellas aren’t anywhere near the Interscope roster, with their debut, A Heap Of Broken Images, landing on experimental hip-hop imprint, Mush Records. However the sound of Blue Sky Black Death is indeed as brooding as it sounds like it is, whether that’s your cup of tea or not.
Obviously schooled on records like DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing and much of Ninja Tune instrumentalist catalog, disc one of Blue Sky Black Death’s Heap is a heavy hour of melancholy, slowed down trip-hop grooves, built on samples, keyboards, and drum machines, with a few gems sprinkled in at random. It begins with the relaxing “Skies Open”, which sets up the album nicely, evoking the same images of peaceful nothingness that the album cover features. The moody “Days Are Years” follows, keeping in pace with the previous track, and beautifully sampled, hypnotic lyrics from some lost female vocalist from who knows how long ago.
The vibe created on these first two tracks is flawlessly kept throughout the entire first disc of the album, ideal for post-sex relaxation or the requisite weekend at Berkeley acid trip. This can be looked at as a positive or a negative, however. On one hand, the unified feeling they’ve created using (an assumed) large collection of weird and obscure records can be applauded. On the other hand, one could argue that this is a long, sleep-inducing hour of meditation music. But maybe that was the point?
The second disc doesn’t fare so well however. After hearing the first CD, one is anxious to hear what Blue Sky, Black Death’s heavy beats sound like with emcees on them. However, their almost random selection of backpack rappers does little to compliment their sound. Things sound interesting on the posse cut, “Engage My Words” (feat. Jus Allah, Wise Intelligent, & Sabac Red), but it’s hard to recapture the classic magic of Gang Starr or Hieroglyphics on “Floor Chalk” (feat. Guru and Chief Kamachi) and “Street Legends” (feat. A-Plus and Pep Love), respectively. But today’s generation doesn’t fare much better. Case in point is the aptly titled “Long Division”, featuring wordy NYC indie poets Mike Ladd and Rob Sonic, or the sloppy, Holocaust featured “I Catch Fire”, which doesn’t exactly build up a lot of hype for their upcoming collaborative album. The Virtuoso featured “Brain Cells” is a little better than some of the other songs included here, but the Awol One assisted “Everything” and the Mikah-9 bothered “Grimey Styles” bask in lyrical information overload. Still, there is an audience for this stuff, and the second disc will surely appeal to fans of these artists, but certainly won’t convert any brainwashed followers of mainstream hip-hop.
While not brilliant or terribly innovative, it’s nevertheless evident from A Heap of Broken Images that Blue Sky Black Death indeed has talent, and the duo may eventually mature into the super-producers they obviously aspire to be. Sleep on this or sleep to this, the choice is yours.
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