November 22, 2011

Jonah Bromwich wrote his first draft of this on a smoked banana peel.

It’s hard to avoid self-deprecation when you’re standing right beside incredible talent. While yU is probably the best rapper in Diamond District (and maybe even on Mello Music) the producing wizardry is usually situated in Oddisee, whose Rock Creek Park is the best instrumental album of the year. So even though yU has the notable guts to release his own instrumental project, he felt the need to release it for free and call it A Garbage Beat Tape. Low hangs the head that’s next to the head that wears the crown. That’s how that saying goes, right?

While it’s true that the tape isn’t the masterful instrumental showcase that Oddisee laid out earlier this year, yU’s jazzy boom-bap minimalism provides a compelling lens through which to view some of the essential aspects of beat-making. The way he weaves his vocal samples, both sung and spoken, into his beats varies from track to track. The end result yields a wide diversity depending on the tactic yU chooses for each particular beat.

On “Durt” he takes advantage of the automatic delayed gratification that goes hand in hand with scratching, teasing out bits of his sample while a dusky loop keeps the track moving nicely. “I Know Nothing” takes a different route, sprinkling segments of the sample over seemingly random moments in the song’s progression, creating several interesting and unpredictable collisions between voice and instrumental. “Ahh” features live instrumentation from a beautiful muted sax while vocalists sigh.  “The Ohm” attaches a vocal sample to its beat so harmoniously that it’s hard to imagine the two were once separate pieces of music.

As impressive as some of these beat tracks are, the most impressive part of the tape is yU’s Madlibian penchant to pick inspired, interesting vocal samples. Many of these revolve around the subject of garbage, such as a snippet from a news story from 1968 concerning the sanitation worker’s strike, a piece of Bill Steele’s goofy folk song “Garbage,” and, my personal favorite, a minute or so given to some George Carlin bits, which start with Carlin humorously decrying the disgusting water in New York City, but then continue in a semi-unrelated gag about what to do with all America’s criminals.

That’s the thing about The Garbage Beat Tape. It picks a simple subject, but then uses source material to make you think about every possible aspect of the keyword garbage. Some of the most interesting tracks here aim pretty high. The tellingly-named “Where is God” uses a vocal clip of a Brit pontificating about both the wonder and horror of nature, and what that might say about the possibility of an omnipotent deity. While the end of “El(o)hsee” employs a spoken-word poem in a brief exploration of metaphysics.

Predictably, this record isn’t anywhere near garbage. Starting from the ground up, its workmanlike beats and simple arrangements disguise a wealth of interesting gems hidden below the surface. That doesn’t mean that you should start digging through every last trashcan on Nah Right searching for hidden treasures. But if the receptacle you’ve approached is the one that the Mello Music guys dispose of their trash in, you should feel comfortable looking. When you’re rich, you throw away the things that other people would treasure forever. That’s how that saying goes, right?

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