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Prefuse 73 continues to redefine hip-hop

Performing and recording under the name Prefuse 73, 27-year-old Atlanta expatriate Scott Herren has collaborated with artists as far-ranging as rappers Mos Def, Mr. Lif, and Diverse, Chicago post-rockers Sam Prekop and Johnny Herndon, and pro-skater-turned-musician Tommy Guerrero. But Herren ó who co-founded the Atlanta-based Eastern Developments Music, which has released material from emerging experimentalists like HuVibrational, Kopernik, Ahmad Szabo, Dabrye, and Daedelus ó is best known for expanding the boundaries of cut-and-paste hip-hop, in some cases beyond what many would consider proper hip-hop. So itís understandable that heís a bit defensive about how Prefuse 73 has been viewed since he debuted the project in 2000 with the Estrocaro EP (Warp). When we sit down to talk on the weekend prior to the start of a Prefuse 73 tour in support of the new One Word Extinguisher (Warp) that hits the Paradise this Saturday, heís off and running.

" So when are you going to ask me what everybody does? You know the one about how I undermine the fundamental essence of hip-hop by disrupting the MCís flow or some other bullshit? Whenever anybody asks me a version of that, I always ask them if theyíve ever heard Mantronix or Just-Ice. In the í80s, hip-hop was all about sparseness and edits. Then when Public Enemy came along and started using shitloads of samples, you had this overproduction of hip-hop ó an explosion. Then people took that and broke it down to make the samples more musical. All the Native Tongues people added humor and jazz elements and created this new form. When it came to Prefuse 73, my manifesto was to bring all eras of hip-hop into one thing while accepting outside influences. Prefuse isnít about computer-slicing glitch-hop, click-hop, bitch-hop shit. You listen to the first De La Soul record and you realize Prince Paul was a pioneer who paved the path to what Iím doing now with just a sampler. "

Herren is several beers into a Saturday afternoon in his former home town, and heís starting to fidget. Wiry and wired, he sits with a snug cap pulled down across his brow and a cigarette tucked between his long, skinny fingers ó the same fingers that have so deftly tapped emotion from an MPC sampler, creating a new hip-hop vocabulary that he can call his own. Rhythmic pecks and claps, shifting analog pulses, and dense clutters of abstract sounds and voices form the foundation of Prefuse 73ís machine funk. On the first Prefuse 73 full-length, 2001ís Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives (Warp), Herren, a former studio engineer/producer, focused mainly on a cut-up æsthetic that deconstructed the fundamentals of hip-hop. With One Word Extinguisher, heís moved on from sonic experimentation to focus on the music.

Although he lives now in Barcelona, Herren was more comfortable returning to the familiar environs of Atlanta, where he cut his teeth as a studio engineer, to record One Word Extinguisher last year. But he claims he feels at home enough in Barcelona to work under any of his various aliases ó his main other musical vehicle is Savath + Savalas, which serves as an outlet for his more soulful and serene melodic meditations. Heís remixed One Word Extinguisherís source material overseas for an forthcoming 40-minute EP he describes as a more inviting mesh of beat-driven tracks. Still, Atlanta was the setting for this album in more ways than one, since the disc fed on events in his personal life. " Itís a break-up record. So thereís a lot of that emotion in these songs. My first Prefuse 73 album was much more about showcasing what I could do in the studio. This time, I think I got better at the art of composing within the confines of an MPC . . . with adding a more natural shuffle and swing in the way the sounds interact. "

Indeed, One Word Extinguisher seems to mark the end of one phase of Prefuse 73ís artistic existence and the beginning of another. Clipped beats and rounded analog synth lines bump up against stuttering spigots of percussion; vocal scraps litter the foreground on tracks like " The End of Biters " and " The Color of Tempo. " " Choking You, " " Female Demandsā " and " 90% of My Mind Is with You " are more linear experiments in groove. Herren even allows the flow of rappers Diverse and Mr. Lif to proceed uninterrupted over two tracks. Mostly, though, One Word Extinguisher remains a testament to his ability to assimilate influences without assimilating. Far from undermining the fundamental essence of hip-hop, Herren is taking it places itís never been before.

Prefuse 73 performs this Saturday, May 31, at the Paradise, 969 Commonwealth Avenue; call (617) 562-8800.

Issue Date: May 30 - June 5, 2003
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