A Bronx Tale: AG & John Robinson Update the ’90s with “32 Synth”

Evan Nabavian takes a look at the excellent new single from AG & John Robinson.
By    May 22, 2018

Evan Nabavian is a machine.

“32 Synth” is autobiography absent wistfulness. Parables die in the pall of its groaning synthesizer. Instead, AG and John Robinson, aided by Eloh Kush, burnish their legacies as if they’re building mausoleums. Using the sparsest details, they trace meager beginnings—“momma sold food stamps; baby in the cold”—to awakenings at park jams, to seances with entranced crowds full of nodding heads. They make the discovery of music into a cosmic journey, but maybe that’s the Peter Tosh spliff talking, or the Saint Kitts sunstroke, or just Ray West’s moody beat.

Ray West makes 2010s rap using the tools of the ’90s, which is another way of saying that his distinctly New York boom bap eschews cheap nostalgia peddling. He need not fear rebuke from Mr. Freeman. Since the start of the decade, his Red Apples 45 label has been releasing exciting sample-based hip-hop with remarkable consistency, often abetted by people like Kool Keith, A.G., O.C., and the occasional Roc Marciano.

Recently, West has taken to alchemizing ’60s and ’70s wax into ethereal beats with barely-there drums, but still maintaining a Bronx sensibility that accommodates acerbic Kool Keith bars. It’s so good that you forget to use it as ammo in a tedious generational argument. So if you still get wistful about Fat Beats when you walk down 6th Avenue, maybe you should take the 5 train up to the Bronx and look up Ray West. But prepare to hear something you’ve never heard before.

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