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Waxing prophetic
Edanís struggles with rapís relevance; the Perceptionistsí new perceptions

"Pretty much all it is is talking to beats." Thatís about as uninformed a dismissal of an entire art form as someoneís saying of photography, "All you do is press a button." You might expect it out of anyone whoís not hip. But out of a rapper? Worse, out of a really talented one like Bostonís Edan?

Well, he said it, but he had a point to make. As rap has taken on more cultural weight, transcending itself to become a medium of personal expression and social commentary (just donít call it the "CNN of the Streets"), its focus has moved from skills to story line. Youíre nothing mainstream without a few bullets in you. Less polish means a reciprocal degree of authenticity. Knock art but donít dare knock the hustle. This shift has produced some great acts, but Edan still sees the democratization of hip-hop as its most pressing crisis. His new Beauty and the Beat (Lewis) struggles with hip-hopís rise in social importance and correlating drop in musical integrity ó the wax of the artist, the wane of the art.

"What you get are people who arenít thinking from a musicianís standpoint because they donít need to to rap," he explains when I catch up with him. "And these are people who are more likely to become athletes than musicians, but they rap. The same way athletics is testosterone-driven and full of machismo, so is their shit when it comes to music, and theyíre barely musicians."

Thatís overstepping it a little. But a quick survey of our current G-landscape does show pro forma thugs like 50 Cent and the Game going through kid-tested mother-approved motions on some get-rich-quick shit, profiting off tradition and ultimately all dropping the same rhymes about their Escalades and Jesus pieces because they donít know how to say anything else. "Iím tired of all this shit, where people think itís cute for a minute in music to celebrate taboos," Edan says. "Is it still thrilling to talk about some sex shit all the time? Do farts still make you laugh? Get over this shit."

Okay, so hip-hop canít keep cannibalizing itself if it wants to remain relevant. The battle cry should be, "Letís push things forward!" But whoís doing that? The alt-rap abstract camps ó Anticon, Def Jux, Mush, Lex, and the rest ó contend they have a lock on it. But as Edan puts it in his track "Rock and Roll," "The underground is made of velvet/With brothers soft talk tough on wax/But they ainít sell shit."

In short, mind-over-heart futuristic flows, fragmented lyrics, and a production ethos that sees danceable rhythms as musical cancer. But protecting rap doesnít have to mean denying it of its pleasure and color and relevance. "Some people are trying to put up this smoke screen and hit you with the impression that theyíre light years ahead of you," Edan says. "They mask themselves in all these unorthodox ideas and things that are almost blinding so someone will say, ĎYo they fuckiní way ahead, yo, what the fuck are they doing? Iím baffled.í I ainít trying to baffle nobody with Beauty and the Beat. Just trying to figure out what works best."

Not every album has an agenda ó hey, most albums blow yo. But Beauty and the Beat has two of them. The first is to restore the art of rap ó not as a vehicle for social upwardness or even commentary, just as an elevated style of art. Edan is concerned with the music of hip-hop: "This shit is a majestic art form, and it has the potential to encapsulate the most intricate musical ideas." From his í60s psych-rock samples and open celebration of his own musicianship, you can see that heís eager to locate himself within the rap-as-art genealogy. Check "I See Colours" ("Prince Paul already used this loop/But Iím gonna keep you moviní/And put you up on the scoop") or the albumís other big single, "Fumbling over Words That Rhyme," which traces the history of skill pushers and production innovators but offers no empty shout-outs. Kool Herc and Wu and Nas make the cut, but this roll call is most noteworthy for whoís missing ó no 50, no Puffy, no Roc-A-Fella.

If Edanís first impulse is to reconnect with rapís healthy past, his second is to instill rap with confidence in its own power. Not with smoke screens, just with natural accidents, surprises. He handles all the albumís production ó "EDAN CONCENTRATING ON PUT SYD BARRETT FACE ON BIZ MARKIE BODY AND KOOL G RAP BRAIN," as his Web bio offers. Sounds nasty. But he finishes up with something much more wholesome, if only because heís honest about his influences and eager to embrace them in new and novel ways. "I have a bit of a tendency to rebel against the imprisonment of the sequencing and wanting to sound a little bit more human," he explains.

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Issue Date: May 6 - 12, 2005
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