As a music critic in one capacity or another for over two decades now, the term experimental lands in my work more often than I'd like to admit. Of course, I'm not alone in committing this particular sin. Word overuse remains one of the crutches of the craft, where one hones in on a convenient qualifier and eventually relies it to the point of lazy exploitation. For example, post-punk revival scribes on the indie rock beat leaned on angular for so long that it bent itself out of shape and, ultimately, out of vogue. More jokes have been made about writers abusing the phrase hauntingly beautiful than writers ever actually used it, but points, as they say, were made.
Whether we're talking Odd Future or Veeze, rap journos unsure of how to approach an unusual or atypical set of sonics have often found solace in labeling it experimental and then leaving it at that. A cursory scan of then-contemporaneous reviews of 2013's Yeezus shows that many of my peers lacked the vocabulary to properly write about it, relying on that blasted word in the headers and bodies of The Artist Formerly Known As Kanye West's noisiest outing. In retrospect, I take some small amount of smug pride in the fact that my write-up of the album at The Quietus avoided the term altogether, though in fairness that's probably because it was The Quietus, an independent beacon of avant-garde art crit.
Though I silently justified my use of the word over the years as one of the few rap critics to have paid to watch Merzbow perform live, I can do so no longer. Yes, one could make a strong academic case that experimentation has been a driver of hip-hop as an enduring creative force in recorded music for about four decades, and it's an argument I'd entertain. But given the radical sounds emanating from scenes like Milwaukee, the warm reception for recent independent albums by Danny Brown or H31R or Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals, the existence of RXK Nephew, and so on, I now know better. Goodbye, experimental.
Discarding that term actually helps to better contextualize what They Hate Change do. A Floridian hip-hop act comprised of rappers/producers Dre and Vonne, they made their mark with 2022's refreshing yet challenging Finally, Next. Part of what made the album one of that year's best was how well it reflected their voracious musical appetites, respectively and collectively, as they rapped their proverbial asses off. That tracks seeing as the duo's origin story includes a tenure with Deathbomb Arc, an influential American indie that often serves as a leftfield rap incubator. (Leftfield is another questionable word, but damnit let me have this. I just lost experimental!) Like label alums Clipping and JPEGMafia before them, and with current DA successors like Angry Blackmen now in their wake, They Hate Change proudly peddle a cult sound with an auteur’s edge. And while Daveed Diggs rightfully earns acclaim as an actor and Peggy teases a bit part in Ye’s sophomoric Burzum phase, Dre & Vonne follow-up their aforementioned Jagjaguar full-length with a remarkable new EP that’s both theirs and, somehow, not theirs.
Wish You Were Here... (buy it / stream it) may seem slight on the surface, with just four new songs and a fairly lengthy intro comprised of dubious voicemail messages. Yet this is the next stage in They Hate Change's exciting evolution, the contents far more substantial and significant than the typical transitional EP between albums. First of all, that opener acts as a snapshot of where Dre & Vonne are at: worldwide artists with localized woes. This framework ties together the subsequent tracks, imbuing them with agency and purpose in comparison with the loosies and rejects that often comprise the "deluxe edition" dumps so prevalent in hip-hop today.
The guys' time on the road only seems to have expanded their horizons. In stark contrast to the insularity of Finally, Next, here they're working with outside artists like DJ Orange Julius and Warp Records' Wu-Lu to build on and augment their own style. A fertile extension of the Odd Future family tree, Vritra brings a hypnotically queasy vibe to "stunt (when I see you)," the rappers' taunts and declarations rising above the squelches and rhythms sloshing perilously below. The pair's preexisting love for club music in its myriad forms comes through with conviction on the 96 Back-produced “Wallabees & Weejuns.” Capturing the energy of the mid-track beat flip, a charged-up Vonne spells his name out in classic hip-house fashion and spits with the added confidence and sloganeering savvy of a late-90s Will Smith. (Yes, that’s a compliment.)
Vic Spencer & Original Super Legend, Be Double Clip Tight (buy it / stream it)
As prolific and autonomous as ever, Vic Spencer remains one of the most fiercely independent rappers of his generation. A frequent collaborator, producer Original Super Legend has provided the Chicagoan with beats on numerous occasions, not the least of which being the co-headlined Legend Laws of Power. Yet where that 2021 team-up sought to build, this savage sequel aims to destroy, with Spencer taking no small delight in taking his opps and haters down a few pegs. Opener "Memory Chemistry" addresses his tenure–and his age–in the game with a veteran's confidence, later feeling unapologetic on "Good Seats At Notre Dame" that he didn't quit emceeing as once threatened. His 420 affinity proves one of the record's most common theme, evidenced by the triumphant "Frog Nuts" and the cocksure "Mr. Outsmoker."
Pootie & Nothing_neue, Rinse & Repeat (buy it / stream it)
Brooklyn beatmaker Nothing_neue approached this utterly cool collaboration with New Jersey's Pootie with intentionality. He eschewed a sample-based approach to instead compose a soundtrack that matched the movie respectively playing in their minds. The resulting Rinse & Repeat draws from 1970s movies without ever caricaturing them, their inspired if willfully loose car wash narrative bolstered by thematic content and programming skills instead of rote retro gimmickry. Pootie's cinematic scope frequently crops up in his lyrics, elevating songs like "Assorted Cheeses" and the title track with pop cultural panache. His smoothed out raps coalesce around the boom bap brightness of "Body Royal" and "Moon Is Near," while closer "Drive2Jerz" conversely engulfs him in Nothing_neue's ominous smoky echo.
Three new tracks for you to snack on...
Che' Noir, "Vanilla Skies"
Myaap & Mg Sleepy, "I Ain't Hidin"
'92, "Above The Law"