Beats Ain’t Nerdy: Commodo’s How What Time

The new record from Commodo carries on the tradition of RJD2 and DJ Shadow.
By    April 29, 2016


Son Raw knows the only “Lemonade” belongs to Gucci.

Commodo’s How What Time is a left turn from the frying pan to the fryer. Casting off the last-remaining-Jedi dubstep that’s defined his career so far, this long form debut mines the sort of sampledelia that defined instrumental hip hop pre-Donuts. It’s enough to make your friendly neighborhood blogger feel positively decrepit: a decade ago, dubstep’s future shock stood in stark opposition to boom bap’s aging modes of production, but now the differences have flattened into one beat-led Ur-genre. The line between beat music and bass music has never been blurrier.

It’s partially because the vultures have left both styles for dead—if sequels to Endtroducing or Skream! fell in today’s critical woods, they wouldn’t make a sound. But if How What Time’s stoned grittiness isn’t particularly trendy, it allows Commodo a freedom to explore the crevices between boom bap and sound system music without catering to people for whom Beyonce’s Lemonade will be the peak of music in 2016.

Sampling has never been easier or more over-used, so it’s surprising that How What Time manages to zero-in on the vibe of records made during the technique’s early days without falling prey to classicism. This is a record of half-heard snatches from old black and white movies, drums that sound ripped from moldy funk records and sounds more textural than melodic, all combining to create the sort of junk store atmosphere that materializes when dudes with too much time on their hands and too few people around start working on beats.

If that sounds like backhanded praise, it’s not meant to be–hip hop’s socio-political side is receiving some well deserved limelight after a 20+ year drought—an essential part of the genre has always been its coded male geekiness. Pete Rock and Large Pro weren’t just black men: they were nerds making some truly weird music, and guys like DJ Shadow and RJD2 didn’t have to push their innovations much further to land outside the boundaries of black pop into sheer experimentalism.

And that’s the ground that Commodo mines here, minus a few loops and plus an extra dollop of bass weight, despite the music press’ current antipathy to this stuff. It’s not arriving on a wave of hype, but I suspect it’ll have a long shelf-life: there’s always going to be a market for bong-hit ready beats, and the combination of dusty chops and extra low end practically targets the pleasure centers of potential Outlook-festival attendees. That’s not an audience in the limelight at the moment, but they know good beats when they hear them, and they’ll like this.

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