|As Sasha Frere-Jones noted recently in The New Yorker, hip-hop has come down with a serious midlife crisis. It dominates the US charts, but the commercial end is complacent, sclerotic and sedated. The avant-garde and fringe are overfreighted with a conscioussness of the music's now venerable history, and unable to move beyond a position which simply piggybacks the mainstream it criticises. Nas, essentially, is right: hip-hop is dead, killed by the increasing cost of sampling, and with it the culture of collage and reappropriation that created its most potent documents. Rap has outlived hip-hop, to appear over a music no longer unique to the form, which now merges mushily with R&B and, increasingly, four-to-the-floor club pop.
Thavius Beck illustrates this current impasse, but also suggests a way forward. A maker of beats for others (Saul Williams among them), he also contributes every verse to this, his third solo album, and fits into the long line of producers who should stay clear of the mic. His flow is as unremarkable as his conscious, anti-mainstream message. But in his beats you can hear flickers of a possible new hip-hop. Like Antipop Consortium's sound, it involves making a strength out of digital manipulation, but where APC's tracks tend to atomise and refuse any kind of hook, Beck conveys a sense of performance, that the track is mutating around you, as sounds stretch, zig-zag and chase their own tails, evolving into micro-riffs and refrains. What Beck needs now, apart from a few more basslines, is a rapper charasmatic enough to orchestrate his fizzing, fidgety inventions. - The Wire