Dewtopia: The Tiniest Apartment

by Big Flowers

I am giddy when I hear what’s next, because as far as I’m concerned, every song coming from this scene of delocalized collectivism is another reason why it’s such an interesting time to be tapped into the underground. It flows, so fresh, so open, and only for right now; blood. 

The Tiniest Apartment:

An analysis on how we collectively approached Memories Bleed

To serve as an ideally unnecessary disclaimer, these are all subjective observations, not conclusive statements. I do not personally know many of the artists I will come to mention in this column, and by that nature some of this may be farther from the truth than I am from New York City on an average day. Regardless, this musical movement has given so much to communities close to me, and I have tried to do my due diligence to pay attention along with respect. This article will occur in two parts: memory & blood. 

MEMORY:

In several ways, the understanding of the plethora of sound which we could look at as “underground hip-hop” has almost always had its qualifying sonic factors intrinsically rooted within the cracks of the less properly paved roads in the city that bore the sound. Among every city breathes the wind of culture. Within every culture there is an inevitable meta reached; the fluidity of such a meta is inherently tied to the ebb and subsequent flow of the constituent choices not only the pieces/people themselves. In the sticks of every city there’s an enclosed space, hidden to most, where gazes might be averted, eyes, hands and hearts are busy in dim hours, shifting the culture around them, even ever so slightly. Magnitude, however, is an arbitrary limit with the ever-present marching of the second hand.

It’s been 4 years now since the release of both Red Burns [Standing on the Corner] and MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE [MIKE], and as I can hope to attest, 4 years is a long time. As the global pandemic showed us, a dozen or so months is an even longer time. Still these albums feel like yesterday, concentrated with novelty, sentiment and love, which transcended to innovation and inspiration. This sonic element novel to late 10’s NYC hip-hop had been informed by the worlds of Backwoodz, Roc Marciano, Ka, Mach-Hommy and others who were pioneering and innovating sound within the underground, but it absolutely differed in a way significant enough to deserve its own attention. Along with the release of Some Rap Songs [Earl Sweatshirt], a labyrinth of sentiment and poetic wax nested within the audio waves indigenous to the Empire State, the meta of the underground had effectively shifted. A fundamental bastion of what’s been considered “underground” for the better part of the last decade took inspiration from a shoreline displaced, effectively popularizing what much of the community I’m familiar with refers to as “sLUms.” I mainly highlight Red Burns (though not a part of sLUms discography) and MGBYH because of their density, their chronology before Some Rap Songs, and their locality to New York, while Earl has fermented on the golden coast. It was evident in hearing SRS, with sonics which seemed to be forged in shoeboxes above the rattling subways that don’t run all the way into Bed-Stuy, that the general landscape of our underground was being renovated. 

Cities have always had scenes going back to the genesis of hip-hop, and even sets within scenes that led to fleshing out the spectrum of genre until it cliqued. What I find interesting about Some Rap Songs, along with Michigan Boy Boat [Lil Yachty] is the entrance of a perennially celebrated figurehead in hip-hop entering a different, somewhat foreign sector of the overhead map, and symbiotically creating within a foreign place, driving the meta of not only their new host, but effectively their hometown. This is not to say this hasn’t been done before, but these are two examples which I find to be recent enough to account for the current meta of the underground. 

Before we address the current meta, a segue is in order. Sometime shortly after the release of SRS, internally kept reasons led to the diffusion of sLUms as a continually productive collective (not ruling out any future). If you are familiar with the underground of today, you’re likely not hearing the term sLUms in musical context for the first time. Nor would this be your first encounter with r/sLUms: the necessary evil that allows for what we hold contemporary following the era of 10k (another moniker for the sLUms collective). Somewhere within the backlit hallways of the subreddit lies a master list of sLUms affiliates, which by all intents and purposes is more of a fantasy draft than a real world roster of performers. These are all orators who allegedly all (albeit fictitiously) surrounded the aesthetic which, to most, either “sounded like Earl,” or were considered lo-fi. This list is easy to pass off as a naïve fandom gone too deep, but what it in turn outlines is the fog that has the potential to reveal the next landmark development in the meta of the underground (honorable mention to kastcord {RIP}). Among several artists whom lived in New York and California, the list began to include extremely small market artists, boasting little to no following, forsaking promotion for dedication and commitment to their own craft. This thread has become a virtual laughingstock, as it is so arbitrarily ridiculous, but without the full delineation of the iceberg, however fictitious, one is left with a thin understanding of what truly makes it so massive.  Q Prodigal, brwnsounds, metroworldpeace; you may not have had the pleasure of hearing these names, nor their music, but these are some of the several cursors of our new meta. As testament to the interconnectivity found within the social networking of post-millennial culture, however, these names began to sporadically fill a national map. The age of the internet began to crystallize into something much less central, but just as concentrated with love, fresh pressed within the voice channels of underpopulated discord servers in the small hours of the night. These are the spaces people have been pushed into following the pandemic, still hoping for some sort of connection even when it is not guaranteed. How faint the memory is of how things used to be.

BLOOD:

Blood is only present for the time being: liquid, flowing, but eventually congealed to leave a scar as a part of history. I don’t mean to imply that the era of sLUms was a wound, but a battle hard fought, and effectively won. Many of the local artists to NY in the community surrounding sLUms have found their footing at the beginning of a long and fruitful career in music. AKAI SOLO is on top of his (several) worlds, maassai and Jwords are blazing through the patriarchal brush that litters the playing field, Keenyn Omari is being recognized as a studio & stage polymath. The once submerged sonic essence of New York has been elevated to a world tour. It is no longer bleeding, though, at least not in the torrent that is currently emitting from the aforementioned discord servers. I would like to offer the term of delocalized collectivism. Over the course of the fallout of the era prior, several collectives have sprung up, none of which with a stoic sense of home.

As far as my listening and research has brought me to understand, the depths of the meta to funnel through the project Memories Bleed. A full album, the duo’s first effort boasts the down-sampled playful contorted consortium of ragged, yet bejeweled instrumentals of Pepper, and the furious engine of lyricism, honesty and precipitated humanism found in EYESWIDESHUT as an orator. This album is nothing short of brilliance, and to me it signifies the departure from r/sLUms into something fundamentally different. Pepper and EYES have never been in the same room, but every time the three of us are on Zoom together I can feel the geothermal sense of brotherhood between them. Communication changed after Y2K and now that those born into a digital landscape are becoming adults, we have approached a standard on how to be human through these connected devices.

Across three time zones, this album was continually molded throughout the course of the national shut down, as time became sticky, taking longer and longer to see the hours pass. In these moments, what did most of us do but wait, remember and consider? These are the foundations of Memories Bleed. If you peel back the statuesque form of EYESWIDESHUT’s performance, you begin to reveal a turbulent, fluid network of collective understanding. Though talent is abundant in any scene, to me there is always one that does it best. Following MIKE, in the context of delocalized collectivism, I find it hard to consider anyone but EYES as the deserved owner of that title. His ephemeral wisdom precipitates at such a young age, always having his periphery stretched to its limits, taking notes of the simple, yet largely inexplicable struggles and qualms in modern humanity. There is homage paid to every night spent lonely, the only member of his community partaking in the evolving meta, along with most everyone else in 10PENNY. Dirt is the only rapper I’ve ever heard from Hartfort, CT. Wavworld and Uhuru Noir blast their originality as the sole contemporary representatives of Baton Rouge, LA to the best of my knowledge. This collective is effectively locally isolated, sharing their solitude over fiberoptic signals. As part of this collective myself it’s felt somewhat shallow of me to write this article, but no matter how closely I work with EYES and Pepper, and the rest of 10PENNY, I cannot subdue my fandom. I am giddy when I hear what’s next, because as far as I’m concerned, every song coming from this scene of delocalized collectivism is another reason why it’s such an interesting time to be tapped into the underground. It flows, so fresh, so open, and only for right now; blood.

Sonically, Pepper is a student of the decades before him, in the same way that Rene Redzepi was a student of the French culinary practices that set precedent of the industry before him. Redzepi’s novel response to his teachings was to saturate himself with history and technique, and then return to his homeland of Copenhagen to utilize those French techniques as a lens for his indigenous culture’s food. Pepper mirrors this sentiment, channeling boom bap, dusthead anthems, jazz and even 4-on-the-floor at times to warble and stumble into a novel sensibility. Something also needs to be said about the young sonic engineering phenom that is E. Throughout the landscape of this new, freshly scored meta, E is perennially involved. His work on brwnsounds.’ With Love [SAROS] along with Memories Bleed highlight his roninism (if I may). A static nomad, traversing the still hot mantle. I mainly bring up E because in this up-and-coming evolution of the meta, there are few who can boast the resume and the dedication to collective world building E exhibits. He dives into your oceans, and rests within the adjacent fields all on a planet that is not native to him. This takes humility, modesty, and deep technical understanding. E possesses all of this and more, along with fervent passion, still hard working on the masters for Memories Bleed thirty minutes before the release. Before E, Pepper’s production breathed; through his lens Pepper’s production breathes for you. These beats corrode you. These beats consume you, and hold you in the moment you’re in, revealing that same turbulent network behind the shut eyes speaking. This to me is where the ideas of this article, along with this album and the meta surrounding comes full circle.

What Memories Bleed simply succeeds at is making you feel human as a listener, primally connected to the sentiment of not EYES and Pepper, but George and Bennett, resembling the remarkably relatable spectrum of emotion we all eventually fall upon. No matter who or where you are, I would argue that some part of Memories Bleed will break you, build you or bury you all the same. This to me is the paramount example of delocalized collectivism, you, I, no matter the location, will be family in these folds. Collectively understood. We all suffer, we all bleed, we all remember, but not all of us could translate that understanding to such stark wisdom. Across this continent, this globe, the underground is becoming more and more delocalized and at the same time more and more collective. 10PENNY, SAROS, Apollo’s Harp, Beartooth, IND, the list goes on of the brewing network of collectives which technicolor the landscape of our current state of hip-hop. Each group is another pocket of excellence, another tiny apartment where someone is plotting to get us all rich; not financially, but morally and integrally wealthy. In this broadening, globalized, secular scene, the information is freer, and so are the musicians. I am so excited to keep understanding this beautiful genre and continue embracing this infinity-karat diamond into the ever-roughening rough. Memories Bleed is a prism for the human experience in several hues, I implore you to refract yourself.

Buy Memories Bleed at eyeswideshu7.bandcamp.com and support Pepper Adams’ instrumental projects at pepperadams.bandcamp.com to stay tuned for their future endeavors. 

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