THE BAY CITY RAPPERS
RESPECTABLE, MIDDLE-CLASS, AND WORST OF ALL, WHITE; RAP ACTS DON'T GET ANY MORE UNLIKELY. BUT THIS ONE JUST HAPPENS TO BE HIP HOP'S FUTURE.
A disembodied voice with a slight hint of helium in it intoning the words: "I taught myself to survive a four-story fall wearing a space suit and a dead Englishman's socks," will not be everyone's first idea of the future of hip hop.
But listen carefully to the record on which this sentence occurs - eponymous debut by the Bay Area-based trio cLOUDDEAD - and you'll get the same thrilling sense of a new world opening up that the first LL Cool J or A Tribe Called Quest's 'Midnight Marauders' gave to people.
cLOUDDEAD's 12 six-minute tracks were recorded between 1998 and 2000 and initially released as a half-dozen 10 inch eps, but it is hard to find anyone in this country who has even seen one of them, let alone bought one. And just as the novels of Sir Walter Scott were even more gripping collected in a single volume than they had been in their initial magazine installments, the story of how this 21st century beatnik rap trio got where they are today seems to have been designed for consumption at a single setting.
Sent to Britain as a one-man advance guard while the producer, odd nosdam, and fellow rapper, why? cool their heals back in Oakland, ultra loquacious MC Doseone (Adam Drucker to his mum) turns the cLOUDDEAD story so far into a condensed book.
Moving out of a "shitty-ass" apartment in Cincinnati, having his wisdom teeth out, doing a show at a local rap club where an audience of 200 was driven out into the street ("Our idea/their idea: not the same thing"), heading for California and dreams of hip hop glory while his friends languished at art school "drawing wax fruits and being crucified, in a contact-paper kind of way."
Some might struggle to see a song like cLOUDDEAD's 'I promise never to get pain on my glasses again' (an impassioned meditation on what it is to find yourself engaged in manual employment to which you feel yourself constitutionally unsuited) as answering the same job description as say, NWA's 'Straight Outta Compton' but Doseone is rightly unapologetic about the distance between his life experiences and the more testosterone inflected subject matter for which rap is known. "I used to go to all-lesbian thanksgivings," he proclaims bullishly. "That's as much part of my life as anything else, so I shouldn't have to sensor it."
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of rap music that reflects bohemian, white middle class reality without the protecting filter of Tim Westwood-style streetwise affection. Doseone recalls an uneasy encounter with Spin Magazine's hip hop editor in which the latter proclaimed in the emphatic, pseudo-black style of the music business insider: "I'm not really feeling it." He has found kindred spirits too, though, in the form of the Anticon collective - a loosely affiliated group of California rappers, which churns out vast slews of provocative vinyl.
"Our bond wasn't our whiteness," Doseone explains. "It was the years of getting shunned... and then suddenly feeling: 'I can't get shunned anymore - I've got 10 people around me that feel the same way.'"
The psychedelic musical backdrops fashioned by odd nosdam - an endlessly intriguing blend of ambient wash and audacious sample collages - sometimes seem to demand classification as space rock rather than hip hop. But one strand of rap history has always been about trying to compress a world of knowledge into a single phrase, and it is to this proud tradition of laser guided eloquence - from pioneers such as Nicky Giovanni or The Last Poets, through De La Soul (and Doseone's oft stated ambition to pick up where '3 Feet high and rising' left off is earnest of how large the 'Long Island Daisy Agers' loom in their world view) to Rawkus records and Eminem - that great cLOUDDEAD lines like "Sunset is an all-day process" clearly belong.