Label: Echoes of Oratory Muzik
Distributed: Echoes of Oratory Muzik
By: Jon I. Gill/Gillie(ad)7
Available on Bandcamp
(get the physical version, the digital version, stickers, and t-shirts here)
In the postmodern and poststructural shit pool full of underdeveloped instrumentals and even more prehistoric lyrics and concepts, it is refreshing to find gems crafted with golden pens and MPC punch pads descended from divinity. In other words, it has been a long time since I have heard an uncompromising album full of hard, dark beats and catacomb conscious flows packed in battle axed deliveries. Gents and ladies, I present to you La Puente, Ca. staples Crop Circles720’s (consisting of Clock Wise, Word Man, Arty Swell, Nat Key Cole, and Subtrax) newest full length, existentialism.
In the scholarly sense, the term "existentialism" has been traditionally used by philosophers who created a school of thought bearing that name to discuss the unique situation of the human in the world, from the joys to despair. In contradistinction to Enlightenment, Hegelian, and other philosophical systems that focused on gaining meaning for the world from extra physical sources such as reason or "Absolute Spirit," the existentialist project ponders the phenomenon of the uniqueness of humans “being in the world” (to steal from the thought of Heidegger) and their experience (and our ability to reflect on our experience), and uses the world itself, not intangible concepts (the products of speculation, such as God and reason) as the basis of how themes (meaning) comes into existence. As a school of philosophical thought having much correlation and direct historical connections with aesthetics, it is not only fitting but appropriate that Crop Circles720 utilize the word "existentialism" to summarize their conscious, out of the matrix approach to both hip-hop and life itself.
An introduction is necessary here. Even for the faithful cult followers of this cerebral movement of SoCal underground hip-hop which could easily put your favorite rapper's head on the tip of a broadsword. The Crop Circles720 placed the foundation of their sound on the earth with their initial 2003 full-length and vinyl 12 inch single releases of Organized Suicide, a collection of dusty samples and tough breaks with blunt and solemn anti-industry lyricism. The development of an audio arsenal rooted in the atmosphere of the Gravediggas and Killah Priest began its formation. The 2008 CC720 sophomore effort, Cursive Melodies, built a solid framework on the foundation of Organized Suicide, staying true to the hardcore boom bap sonic quality they are known for, while verbalizing in rhyme anagrams tales of reptilians and secret societies and facilitating the conceptual space to host “A Community of Thinkers” (to borrow the title of CC720’s in house label’s 2012 compilation). So, with this brief history of the architectural ideas supporting the building blocks of the CCs music, we can now move into the latest offering of the crew, Existentialism.
Laced in heavy thought and a brooding sense of the unknown, Existentialism welcomes the listener into a sonic dimension in which human pain and despair is not avoided but confronted head on. Like Nietzsche, the situation in which we find ourselves is embraced and dealt with like the Gods that we are after the proverbial “Death of God,” a death which Nietzsche tells us in Thus Spoke Zarathustra has occurred by our own killing of the divine. From the outset of the album with 85er’s intro featuring a sample of a prisoner speaking of the immense power that he has in his cell to the end of this enlightening album, we are introduced to the simple yet immensely complex principle that through our minds, we can convert any reality that confronts us, making solace from chaos. Such resilience and commitment to the power of the mind to transform the empirical is seen in Arty Swell’s bars on the second track of the album, “Cypher 720,” where he boasts the lines, “And if these cats thought that we’d fall off maps/We roll like botanicals, plants and animals.” The track is a lively yet hard jam amidst Subtrax’s instrumental of abrupt strings and classic yet not overbearing boom bap kicks and snares, with Word Man, Clockwise, and Arty Swell MCing mental progression seamlessly. The album takes an immediate turn with “Academy Dropouts,” featuring SoCal veteran MC Snagneto. Over another Subtrax instrumental, minimal yet speaking volumes through the thickness of the piano sample and craftily chopped breakbeat, the CCs almost sound as if their bodies have been possessed by other life forms who see only dry reality when they view the universe. Word Man packs a dynamic punch with a breath-taking verse to open up the “cypher.” With bars such as “Master of my universe, guardian of my galaxy/So when you and I verse, we add on to this reality’s anatomy,” it becomes evident that the academy could only teach him what he already knew. So, he had to either drop out or endure the boredom of industry and independent hip-hop “professors” telling him nonsense. “Bigger Picture” displays the CCs ability to encode the disenchanting reality of how the many are controlled by the few over not only hard and fierce soundscapes, but also over semi light and cool ones. Clock Wise says some standout lines over this Nameless track such as, “One part human, one part of a program/In this cold slow dance, captivating low land/Where I caught on quick, and it isn’t hard to tell/That every step is a risk/Have to pull my own strings like the ones tied to my wrist,” he summarizes Sartre’s own concept of existentialism as not leading to complacency and despair over the hopeless and bleak human situation, but personal action toward creating meaning and joy for oneself with oneself.
Existentialism as an album hosts a severely polished presentation of the aesthetically dense atmosphere through thought provoking boom bap that CC720 have become known and revered for. But the curve ball on the album is “The Listener.” France’s Roger Molls provides a light and funky yet dark and pensive instrumental over which the CCs straddle the line between philosophical existentialism and more metaphysical philosophies such as Spinoza and Schleiermacher. The beginning chant, “Less love, more logic…/Less dumb, more cosmic/Less thugs, more topics…” is the demystification of the images we give lives of their own, while not realizing that these images are our own creation. Just as we created them, we can (and should) destroy them, according to the CCs. Clock Wise’s line, “The less love you have, the more efficient, you’ll see” is held in tension with his line, “The word itself holds people hostage by the names it claims/But I refuse to take the pain and throw my soul away.” Meaning of the world is lost in the same instant that it is gained. As soon as we step out of the matrix, we lose a false meaning and gain a more authentic theme which we author for ourselves. This is the foundation of a new society.
In short, Existentialism is an album that hip-hop needed. It will take several listens to unpack the gold. Even the sharpest treasure seekers will find themselves stranded within in the maze given to us by Crop Circles720. Please set aside time to intake the breadth of content held in this record, a record that would receive praise from the existentialists themselves.