Marlowe Fight To Have Fun
+ reviews of miles cooke, Jason Griff, and Stik Figa & Conductor Williams. This is CABBAGES #118
"Nobody has ever told me they like Eddy Appetite my whole life," L'Orange says with a laugh.
My evoking of this fictitious character seems to unnerve something within the North Carolina based producer. Though the imaginary Mr. Appetite's outsized presence can be felt in comic relief styled skits across all three albums by Marlowe, the hip-hop duo comprised by L'Orange and rapper / longtime friend Solemn Brigham, the joke may not necessarily land the same way with listeners.
"I don't care," L'Orange says. "I'm gonna keep doing it. Well, probably, I don't know, that might be the last."
"I don't think either of us take ourselves too seriously," Brigham says. "That allows us to do creative things like Eddy Appetite. He's a guy who just got one shot on the first one and was really excited to come back the second time, but kind of felt a little unappreciated so on the third, he really just don't give a flip."
"Anyone that knows me well knows that I'm super serious and everything's a joke," L'Orange says of how humor finds its way into Marlowe's work and elsewhere in his catalog. "Those two things aren't mutually exclusive. It's part of who I am and it's part of what I try to communicate in small ways."
Due out this Friday via Mello Music Group, Marlowe 3 marks the pair's third album in six years as well as the latest leg of their artistic journey together. "On Marlowe 1, we had no expectations at all for anything, so we were just having a lot of fun," L'Orange says in retrospect. "We took ourselves a little bit more seriously on Marlowe 2. We wanted to make sure that we were doing something that was good, trademark good."
A difference between Marlowe 3 and its predecessors stems from their time overseas last year, playing live in front of receptive and energized U.K. and European audiences in support of their 2020 sophomore effort. Seeing firsthand the response from their fanbase, especially in the oft isolating midst of the pandemic, affirmed what they'd been doing thus far. Yet the experience also impacted Marlowe in a significant way, albeit for better. "Seeing the world, it'll really change your perspective," Brigham says. "It'll do really big things for you."
The duo returned from tour with no shortage of creative inspiration and began to reevaluate what a Marlowe album could–and perhaps should–sound like. Their subsequent discussions not only gave them a direction for the third volume, but newfound faith in their own artistic abilities. "I was feeling so confident in my production, just feeling better than I have ever been in my life," L'Orange says. "I'm feeling good at making beats maybe for the first time in my life–not just being an artist, but being good at making beats." Brigham adds, "My worldview had gotten bigger. I was able to take the energy that I had on tour and all the fun that I had meeting the fans. I was like, man, I gotta put this in a record."
"My main goal was: let's have so much fun on this," L'Orange says. "Let's make sure this is an extremely fun record to enjoy, to make, to listen to, to write."
Marlowe 3 is, undeniably, a fun record. Brigham's animated delivery and pointed lyricism jibe well with the bouncy thrills and vintage cool of L'Orange's beats on vibrant singles "Light Trip" and "Past Life." A far cry from the increasingly generic drill, trap, and bap prevalent underground and aboveground today, the cigar chomping noir vibes of the production overall offers a unique musical backdrop for a modern day rap record, recalling Prince Paul's mischievous glory days while benefitting from its singular emcee focus.
The collaborative nature of Marlowe 3 is far more apparent than with the first two albums, something L'Orange cops to quickly in conversation. "When we first got together, Solemn was hella talented," he says. "But I definitely tried to take the lead in terms of what it means to put together an album, because that was my expertise." Indeed, prior to their 2018 debut, he'd put out several albums of his own, mostly through Mello Music Group, including full-lengths co-headlined by hip-hop luminaries Kool Keith and Mr. Lif. Working with an unproven rapper under an all-new joint moniker was considered risky enough, so it's no surprise that he made many of the decisions on the first and even the second album.
"On Marlowe 2, it was more of a shared responsibility," L'Orange says, adding "but [Marlowe 3] feels like the most collaborative album I have ever made in my life." Considering the control he's wielded over his discography thus far, it's understandable that he'd be reluctant to give up the reins, so to speak.
Thankfully, Brigham is no passive co-pilot on this musical ride. "I just wanna say to everybody out there, don't think it's sweet, because we be fighting," he says, eliciting a quiet chuckle from his cohort.
"The reason that we fight so much is because fighting is a vulnerable position to be in," L'Orange adds. "You typically don't fight like that with people you don't care about.
"When you work with somebody collaboratively, when it comes to art, it's gonna be like pulling teeth sometimes," Brigham says. "It ain't always sweet in the booth."
"On this one, it was a lot easier for me to sit down and respect not only Solemn's talent, which I always have, but also Solemn's experience," L'Orange says. "Now that we're a few records in, I really trust his vision."
Marlowe 3 is out on Friday October 28th via Mello Music Group. Pre-order it here.
miles cooke, i used to feel things (buy it / stream it)
Debut albums can be messy business, and self-produced ones by rappers rarely do the artist any favors. Yet from the introductory moments of "sway in the morning," this concise and cogent project by Brooklyn's miles cooke makes its exceptionalism abundantly clear. The rather raspy emcee enters the fray with a certain self-awareness, punching in with bars upon bars over a set of songs that scarcely reach the two minute mark. Far from frivolous, his carefully layered lyrics on "listen to what i'm saying, not what i say" and "oprah" suggest a writerly loquaciousness marked by a slightly askew vision of the world and oneself in it. From the gutbucket blues bap of "game face" to the baroque pop breeziness of "on the c," his beats feel as wonderously offbeat as his metaphors and wordplay.
Stik Figa & Conductor Williams, Valley Of Dry Bones (buy it / stream it)
A decade ago, rapper Stik Figa was part of the Mello Music Group fold. Yet the rapper truly came into his own when they parted ways and he started working with Kansas City producer and current Griselda go-to Conductor Williams. One of independent hip-hop's dopest duos, they've quietly been dropping outstanding records like Tomorrow Is Forgotten and 2021's Joyland. Their latest EP-length effort, Valley Of Dry Bones borrows from the biblical without getting too heavy handed. The contents feel fairly nondenominational, beginning with the personal reflections and Southern-fried reinterpolations of "Kirby Prkwy" and peaking with the profundities of "Dear John." Stik navigates the woozy sonics of "Mama Was Right Pt2" and "Priorities" well, delivering stark gospel with a veteran's control.
Jason Griff, Fireside Chats 2 (buy it / stream it)
Released back in the summer of 2021, the original Fireside Chats found Chicago producer Jason Griff introducing his punk rock influences to his indie rap contemporaries like he started a blended family. His sequel comes with more of that energy as the series fosters a veritable home for musical ideas that no one emcee should have dominion over. Powerful team-ups between Fatboi Sharif & Curly Castro, Teller Bank$ & AJ Suede, and Brian Ennals & Alex Ludovico coax different facets out of each beat, a testament to the talents of all involved. With "Three Strikes To Abaddon," Griff's Human Zoo collaborator Alaska earns one of the set's few solo moments, his refined rhymes and classic delivery an ideal foil to the track's angular guitar-led loops.