KEEP IT SURREAL
cLOUDDEAD'S TRIPPY HIP-HOP PUSHES RAP'S LIMITS.
Asking hip-hop performers to attempt avant-garde art is like requesting professional wrestlers to openly support gay rights: Neither noble effort promises to go over well with the established fan base. Granted, there are more than enough socially conscious lyricists who don't mind showing the rest of the rap world that, contrary to Ice Cube's timeless message, life has more to offer than bitches and money. But few, if any, of those politically aware artists have found the strength or label support to escape the monotony of overused samples and big beats.
That was, until the arrival of cLOUDDEAD, a Bay Area-based trio that's managed to alienate rap and rock crowds alike while stumbling onto a disaffected musical middle class that can safely say it likes neither. Instead, these people like music that takes real risks, a rare phenomenon in the cookie-cutter hip-hop world where every flash-in-the-pan-superstar has a replacement waiting just around the corner. (Solé, meet Ashanti.)
The rhymes penned by Doseone and why? might not be hard in the slang sense of the word, but no one can dispute that it must be difficult to come up with surreal stream-of-consciousness songs that feature extensive dream sequences. For inspiration, the rappers look to both vinyl and the printed page.
"We take stuff from other rappers," admits why?, secure in the belief that no copyright laws were infringed upon when his group sampled everything from the Moody Blues to an Arabian horn, Gary Numan and Nintendo to create the group's schizophrenic atmospheres. "Rappers like Radioinactive and Circus defiantly seeped into our wordplay there, and of course, a little bit of De La Soul, too," why? says. "But a lot of what we write comes from what we've been reading. When we were working on this record, I would go to the library in Cincinnati, which is like this exquisite place, and check out random poetry tapes and find ones I liked. Personally, I was influenced by a lot of those poets, like Galway Kinnell, Marilyn Hacker, Phillip Levine, Dylan Thomas and David Ignatow."
If that sounds a little pretentious, don't worry-- it should. Pop stars are supposed to be the dumb ones who get ahead in life on looks and little else. It's the rule of thumb (and defense mechanism) that allows weekend rockers to take comfort in their cubicles, assured that it was appearance rather than talent or smarts that kept them off the cover of Rolling Stone. So when we find one that is smarter than the average fan and doesn't mind letting the public know, it can be disarming.