October 10, 2012 6 comments
“Angst ridden underdog” is how I’ve caught myself describing Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats (the major mouthpiece of OF sub-duo Mellowhype) in my own character appropriation within the group’s dynamic. His solo EP from February of this year, Untitled, was a strong display of this biting introspection amidst basic (and sometimes bland) musings. There was a clear double-edged sword at play: Hodgy can hold his own on a track with no problem, but certainly not for a full length effort. Enter OF producer, and occasional MC, Left Brain. Left provides the synth-laden, bass-heavy atmosphere that Hodgy tends to draw some of his strongest and most cohesive bars from. Numbers is the opportunity for all of this dynamic chemistry to culminate into a showcase of what this duo can present given an LP’s worth of new material.
Mellowhype seems painfully aware of this chance to display what innovations they can provide their sound. And, honestly, they fail on that front. Mellowhype hasn’t made many strides in their sound since 2010’s YelloWhite, but that failure to incorporate anything fresh gives light to an interesting truth: Mellowhype’s original sound isn’t really in need of a facelift. First single “La Bonita” gave the impression that these two might be looking to broaden their scope in terms of musical arch, but that was more of a sunny vacation in Boca Raton when compared to the rest of the material on Numbers. And that’s likely the smart move, in the long run.
It may be a appropriate to listen to Numbers in a vacuum when one considers everything going on within their own group recently. We just got an Alchemist assisted Domo Genesis mixtape full of immaculate production and a menagerie of high-profile features. Earl Sweatshirt has collaborated with Flying Lotus and is rumored to be linking up with DOOM. And, even The Internet (Syd and Matt Martians) have found a cult niche in their tripped-out electronic soul. The point being, Mellowhype is the most Odd Future-sounding act in Odd Future ever since the group shot to prominence two years ago. Yet, it’s not really regression, it’s simply lack of advancement in sound. They’re stagnant. The keyboard synths still wail and predictably descend, (“Astro”, saved by a hook from the always-in-the-zone Frank Ocean) the trap hi-hats still run wild, (“Leflair”) and the hooks still run for way too damn long (intro, “Grill”).
Yet, despite all of these familiar pitfalls, Numbers works in its stubbornness. “65/Breakfast”, what probably should’ve been the proper opener, recalls a chill groove that Cappadonna might spit over some 14 years ago. And, as a matter of fact, many of Leaf Brain’s best beats sound delightfully 90s, like the spacious “Monster” and boom-bap rattle of “Under 2”. The production here is undeniably limited, though, calling into question just how much Left Brain has in his wheelhouse in terms of variety in sound — “Untitled L” was my last straw for the Lex Luger impersonation, and that was only half way through the album. “La Bonita” and the Earl Sweatshirt assisted “P2” are the only real compositional departures, and that somewhat leaves all the MC’s involved on an island, forced to rap a proverbial life-raft into existence.
Luckily, Hodgy steps up to the plate often enough to pull some substantial worth out of the more sloppily constructed beats. And, while he falls into familiar territory of brag-rapping far too often when it’s not necessary, tracks like “Snare”, (which may or may not feature his young son) that recall his troubled childhood and relationship with his parents, soak up some of the bullshit. Here, Hodgy presents some endearing perspective on digesting his misfortunes: “Wisdom isn’t given, it’s percepted through living”. “Under 2” flips the refrain “I need my cornbread” into a surprisingly touching homage to the dedication he has to his child. While he doesn’t always choose to mine it, Hodgy may have the most relatable life-experiences to convey.
Numbers, as a whole, is a bit of a mess emotionally, never really committing to a state of being for long enough to indicate any grasp of a narrative. Musically, it runs about 10-12 minutes too long, clocking in at nearly an hour, featuring some offensively obvious filler, and the middle of the album nearly derails any momentum to be gained. But, what is evident in Mellowhype is their willingness to stick to what they do well and squeeze as much out of that metaphoric tube of toothpaste as they can. There’s plenty of dead horse beating here, but if there were any group in hip-hop that could pull off the literal image of violently whipping a recently deceased stallion, it’s these two.
Numbers is in stores and on iTunes now.