Irregular Vegetables, Vol. 31

This newsletter marks the thirty-first installment of Irregular Vegetables, a weekly series of CABBAGES emails where I share links to recent writings from other hip-hop/rap journos and critics, squeezing in my own work as I see fit. These midweek editions hit inboxes every Thursday. Enjoy this week’s reads and keep scrolling for an interview with Machinedrum. After that, make sure to check out the latest Crudites, the recurring feature where I recommend three new singles/videos from hip-hop artists you may not be familiar with yet.

Open Mike Eagle Turned A Very Bad Year Into A Very Honest Album

“Anime, Trauma and Divorce” was recorded before the pandemic shut down the Unites States in March, but everything that’s happened since — not just Covid-19, but worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, a presidential campaign that has magnified alarming fissures in the country — has made releasing it weeks before an election that feels like a referendum on all these things incredibly uncomfortable. “An album this personal is difficult to talk about in general, but there’s this other layer of — what am I doing talking about my personal problems when there’s hundreds of thousands of people dying, everybody’s out of work and people can’t go outside?” he said. (Read more at The New York Times)

What's Happening In YNW Melly's Murder Case?

The case dates back to an incident on October 26, 2018, when Juvy and Sakchaser were killed in what Bortlen and Melly claimed was a drive-by shooting. A report filed by Miramar PD detective Mark Moretti lays out what the cops found while investigating. Contrary to Melly and Bortlen’s claims, the detective says, “The evidence shows the initial lethal shot occurred from inside the vehicle and was initiated from the left rear passenger side,” where Melly was sitting. In the aftermath, cops claim, Melly and Bortlen staged a fake drive-by. “The evidence shows that Thomas and Williams were shot inside the vehicle and then the surviving occupants (Henry and Demons) exited the vehicle and then intentionally shot into the vehicle from the exterior,” the document reads.(Read more at Complex)

As Pop Smoke’s Star Continues To Rise, Label Executive Steven Victor Reflects On The Late Rapper’s Legacy

Steven Victor’s Victor Victor Worldwide label had a very strong summer, dropping Pop Smoke’s “For the Night” on July 3 and seeing it climb its way to sales of 2 million song adjusted units, according to Alpha Data. The album on which the song appears, “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon,” has moved 1.4 million units bb since its release. These accolades in addition to previous hits “Dior,” with more than 143 million views on YouTube, “Mood Swings” and “What You Know Bout Love,” among others. It’s a “bittersweet” success, though, as the Brooklyn, New York rapper was gunned down inside a home he was renting in Los Angeles — part of a masked robbery in February. (Read more at Variety)

Kendrick Lamar’s Poetic Awakening

The poems Kendrick wrote about the changes he went through as an adolescent helped him navigate the social dynamics of his neighborhood. His understanding of the world grew exponentially as he began to study other cultures—those within and outside Compton—and compare their experiences with his own to strengthen his art. Kendrick stopped writing to make others feel comfortable; instead, he chose to elevate his thinking and make people catch up to him. By the time Kendrick was in high school, his career path was set. He was going to be a rapper, and nothing could make him veer off the course. (Read more at The Nation)

How Boston's DIY Hip-Hop Community Is Fending For Itself

The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for so many. However, for Boston's hip-hop community, restrictions recall those times when its artists didn't have space to perform and gather in. When the album release party that Red Shaydez was planning got canceled due to the pandemic, she already knew how to adapt: “‘I'm really going to have to take a page out of my book from 10 years ago and do it virtual,’ I said, ‘I don't know why I'm acting like this is new to me, it's not. This is what I started out doing.’” There's a hint of optimism here; the techniques and strategies hip-hop artists in Boston have been forced to employ in response to the lack of institutional support for their genre expand beyond music. They're frameworks of resilience that can be used to reimagine the contexts we all find ourselves in. (Read more at NPR)

Jay Electronica, Act II: The Patents Of Nobility (The Turn)

In reality, the only thing mysterious about Jay Electronica was why, having been anointed as rap’s second coming in the wake of “Exhibit C,” he would sit on what was by all accounts the next hip-hop classic. Fans and critics alike struggled to understand why someone with his considerable gifts would resist the industry’s beaten path to stardom, why a rapper with a critical mass of accumulated hype would decamp to London and hole up with an heiress, his magnum opus languishing on a hard drive, collecting dust. (Read more at Pitchfork)

Fuck Donald Trump & Fuck The Police, But Pray For YG

Officers arrested YG on robbery charges and took him downtown for questioning. Hours later, he made $250,000 bail, and two days later, he performed as part of an emotional Nipsey Hussle tribute at the Grammys. “The timing is suspect, to put it mildly,” said his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, at the time. “Out On Bail,” the single inspired by this incident, channels the euphoria of posting bail, in part because it borrows the layered kicks and steam valve hi-hats of YG’s finest jerk-era bops. And yet it is a lament; one of the darkest songs he’s ever put out. (Read more at Highsnobiety)

DJ Screw Was A Beat Head

It’s a beautiful thing to hear how he would extend a song to the edge of absurdity just to hammer home the importance of the production. Listen to Screw’s take on Spice 1’s 1992 track “Welcome To The Ghetto” as a prime example. Using it for the second track on his ‘G Love’ release, Screw takes the Bay Area pioneer’s self-produced, four-minute and nine-second masterpiece and turns it into a immersive listening experience nearly 15 minutes in length. It should also be noted that the original non-screwed version is a feat of production ingenuity in its own right. (Read more at Micro-Chop)

Why Rap Stars Like A$AP Ferg & Cordae Don’t Need Crews Anymore

While there are success stories—usually coming from regional rap scenes such as Buffalo’s Griselda—the long-term success of rap collectives in the new millennium has been rare. From GOOD Music’s continued mismanagement leading to talented rappers being underutilized and forgotten to the implosion of Cash Money Records due to Birdman’s alleged pocketing of the roster’s earnings, rap collectives and imprints don’t hold the reputation they once had. So, when Cordae left the now-disbanded YBN crew, and A$AP Ferg was reportedly “kicked out” of the A$AP Mob, the news was consumed mostly as a trending topic Hip Hop Twitter could gawk at for about a day, then discard. Because the relevance of a rap collective is only as strong as its brand. (Read more at HipHopDX)

Talked Up As Spoiler, Kanye West’s 2020 Bid Draws Mostly Shrugs

West’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment, but he did report spending $5.9 million on his quixotic run, including $4.1 million to get onto state ballots. While he failed in the swing states of Wisconsin, Ohio and Arizona, he’s is on the ballot in Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah -- all states Trump is expected to win. He’s also on the ballot in Vermont, which Biden will likely win easily. One state West could have an impact is Iowa, which Trump won in 2016 by 147,314 votes or more than 9 points. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Sept. 22 showed the race between Trump and Biden deadlocked at 47%, leaving room for a spoiler. (Read more at Bloomberg)

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Three questions. Three answers. That's a wrap.

Photo credit: Bethany Vargas

From his early “glitch hop” days on Merck to his critically acclaimed albums for Ninja Tune, Machinedrum has spent the last two decades exploring his influences through electronic music. In addition to his own albums under that longstanding moniker, including the just-released A View Of U, the North Carolina native has produced for other people’s projects including Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste and D∆WN’s ‎Redemption (The Red Era).

I'd love to take a moment to ask about your first Merck album, 2001’s Now You Know. What was it that inspired or prompted your chopped up boom-bap approach back then?

At the time, I was a huge fan of artists like Gescom, Autechre, and Boards Of Canada, but at the same time, a big fan of DJ Premier, The X-Ecutioners, and turntablists. I was a fan of hip-hop, but I was even more a fan of people pushing the boundaries and doing really out there kind of stuff with genre. I grew up in North Carolina in the middle of nowhere, so I didn't really have access to emcees or vocalists in general. So it was a combination of being a fan of those sort of wackier sides of hip hop, but also out of necessity of not being able to work directly with a rapper. I just gravitated towards this more chopped up vocal approach.

Whether it’s intentional or not, I think I go through phases where I ultimately return to that vibe. Definitely in the past ten years, my work has gravitated more towards the faster side of things. But I've always been interested in the relationship between hip-hop and drum n’ bass or jungle, and how [they’re] more or less are the double time cousin of hip hop. Even from the very first Machinedrum album, I was interested in that relationship between the genres. I think I go back and forth. Sometimes I go more towards the literal hip-hop leaning stuff, and then other times gravitate more towards the faster BPM work. And this album [A View Of U] has a bit of both.

To that end, do you see A View Of U as a continuation of your 2010s Ninja Tune work like Vapor City and Human Energy or is it something different altogether?

The main thing that would make A View Of U different than most of my previous work is the amount of time covered. For example, the song “Ur2yung” was written in 2012 and it was originally meant to be on Vapor City. And then, through Azealia Banks, I got introduced to Kanye West and he was working on Yeezus at the time. Also, Hudson Mohawke was working pretty closely with him, and was sharing a bunch of my beats with him. He was interested in that beat and another one of my unreleased beats, so I ended up holding “Ur2yung” back. I sent stems over to Kanye's team and nothing ever happened with it, but his team came back to me and were like, hey, can you still hold out on releasing that beat because we might want it for the next album. So I wait. Sure enough, it doesn't make it on the next album. By that time, I had began working on Human Energy and it just didn't make any sense to go on that album.

Anyway, finally eight years later, I'm putting together this album and instead of writing a bunch of material that would go straight towards this album, I started noticing that I was sitting on a lot of random tracks that didn't get released for whatever reason—either they didn't fit the project or the Kanye example or multiple other reasons. Maybe I just couldn't figure out how to finish certain tracks. “Believe In U” was written between Vapor City and Human Energy, maybe 2014 or 2015. I could never really figure out like where to properly put it out. I just started noticing I was sitting on a lot of music that fit that description, music that I thought really deserved to be heard, but it just didn't really find its proper home. When I was putting together this album, I started considering older music and applied what I've learned over the years with mixing techniques and new production techniques, and applied those things to the older tracks so that I could essentially bring them into the now and make them gel with the more recent that I've been writing.

Two particularly hip-hop focused tracks on the new album are “Kane Train” with Freddie Gibbs and “Spin Blocks” with Father. Could you tell me a bit about how you came to work with both of them respectively on this project?

Freddie Gibbs, I've actually never met in person. We may have briefly met at South By Southwest eight or nine years ago. I've been friends with his manager Lambo for years. I've been sending him stuff for Freddie's consideration over time. That beat, I had it in mind for a rapper, compared to beats on the album that don't really have vocalists. I had made a beat for “Kane Train” and the beat for “Spin Blocks” with that space for a vocalist. Anyway, I figured that that beat was perfect for him, sent it through, and he was down to get on it, which was amazing. It all happened during COVID as well, so we weren't able to link up on it. I'm super excited about doing that at some point.

With Father, we've just been chatting online for awhile, DM-ing each other and sending each other music. I figured I really could hear his voice over that track, so I sent it to him. We ended going back and forth on a few different versions and all of them were great. He went back to the drawing board at one point and came back with an even better version with new lyrics. It was super awesome working with him, but also kind of bittersweet that we weren't able to do it in person, due to the conditions of the world at the time.

Purchase or stream A View Of U here.

Three new tracks for you to snack on...

Jucee Froot, “T.H.U.G.”: An electrifying statement of solidarity, the Memphis native’s latest directly rebuts those who decry or dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement, offering empathy to those who’ve lost loved ones to police violence.

Real Bad Man, “Clockin' Fat Knots (feat. Kool Keith)”: With a down-to-earth feature from the legendary Kool Keith, this cut off the Los Angeles producer’s stacked new EP brings reciprocal funky ass vibes.

XP The Marxman, “Sueños”: A Roc Marciano fave, this L.A. rapper drops a dope teaser from his upcoming project that captures his lyrical essence over a dreamlike boom bap beat.

See you on Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter at @noyokono and on Instagram at @noyokono too.

Gary Suarez

Gary Suarez