So why have I never heard Rounds? Well gather here children and let me take you back to 2003: Bush was invading Iraq, 50 Cent was invading the charts and music journalism was by and large, still print-based. I know it’s hard to imagine in today’s blog-saturated cornucopia, but back then, in order to discover new bands, you actually had to walk to the store and buy a thick manuscript printed on dead trees. Pitchfork was still solely dedicated to groups of stringy-haired musicians that no one had ever heard of, while Hip-Hop was the domain of sites by the name of Sandboxautomatic and HipHopinfinity. Oddly enough, the later ALSO promoted stringy haired musicians no one cared about. I think they dissed Little Brother too.
Suffice to say, the barriers between different music scenes were stronger back then. Sure Napster and later AudioGalaxy and Soulseek meant that you could get just about any song for free, but this was a new idea. By and large Hip-Hop heads stuck to rap and stuff that rap sampled, while indie dudes did the same with Tortoise or whatever. In a few years this would all change and you’d have white douchebags ironically quote Young Jeezy on Williamsburg rooftops while Kanye chilled with Bon Iver, but that’s another story. In 2003, you stuck to your genre and found out about the latest buzz by reading XXL, Spin or Jockey Slut. Yes there was a magazine called Jockey Slut.
It’s in this musical apartheid that Four Tet released Rounds: here was a guy who dressed like guitarist, sampled like a Hip-Hop head, and hung out with people who knew the difference between Garage rock and UK Garage. It was confusing. Truth be told, Rounds didn’t sound all that different from RJD2’s Dead Ringer or whatever Anticon was putting out, but Four Tet (or his label) figured out there was more money to be made by labeling that stuff “Folktronica” than trying to convince rap fans to listen to beats without raps.
Remember – this is still an era where “serious” music critics refused to even consider that major label rap was a valid artform, let alone the most forward thinking form of music out there. Missy got a pass, as did Eminem and Jay-Z but otherwise, no Dice Raw. Long story short, Rounds wasn’t marketed towards people like me because of some backwards-ass prejudice, which in turn made me very suspicious: who was this Four Tet? Who were these white critics to tell me that this Limey interloper made better beats than actual Hip-Hop producers? I ignored the records and went back to listening to Freeway, Brother Ali, Sean Paul, Ghostface and this one kid Kanye West who no one ever heard of again.
Oh, and Rounds sounds pretty cool: probably better than Dead Ringer, not as dope as Endtroducing. After a couple of awkward years in which music critics overcompensated for their Mos Def fetish by glamorizing anything out of Atlanta, we’ve reached some sort of an equilibrium. Meanwhile, rappers started taking drugs and getting creative again once the MTV-fueled money train made it’s last stop with The Carter III. Folktronica died a slow death and somehow, Four Tet still remains a preternaturally cool musician thanks to his residency at Plastic People and subsequent forays into dance music, all of this despite having a hair cut that makes Malcolm Gladwell look like ?uestlove. Congratulations Internet: we now live in a world where music is judged not by its genre, but by its Metacritic rating.