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The same debate on rap music has been raging to no avail for over 30 years. Ever since its emergence, the question has repeatedly cycled as to whether hip-hop music is simply a modern style of pop, or rather, a form of poetry obscured by a pop-like etiquette. Regardless of whether or not this article might remain merely a single statement in such an everlasting dispute, perhaps hip-hop fans across the United States and abroad can consider hip-hop artist and member of the underground group Antipop Consortium, Beans, as newfound evidence that their long-awaited answer is now apparent: both.
In his three new albums (yes, three!), Wolves of the World, Love Me Tonight, and HAAST, all released March 31st, Beans strays from his familiar boundaries to create an artistic reflection of his perception of the world, while still staying true to the free, fun, and experimental facets of his genre. Despite lyrics exposing societal issues like widespread substance abuse, street violence, and racial aggression; however, Beans says that he does not consider his music a form of activism, but merely an expression of his own feelings as a human and as an artist similar to that of those who inspired him.
“Honestly, I’ve never considered myself an activist, per se, but I definitely come from the school of Public Enemy where hip-hop was CNN, and you report what you’re seeing, you’re truthful about that, and you base that on your own experience and what you’re going through […] that’s the school of hip-hop that I grew up with, and that’s the school that I think is lacking. In particular now, especially with what’s going on. I don’t think that that’s really being reflected in the music that’s being heard,” he says.
Beans goes on to reflect the mainstream hip-hop scene and the way that it had, for the most part, abandoned what he considers an essential responsibility of artists to report their environments.
“I feel like right now hip-hop is just being served as a sense of distraction, making you forget about the hells and the struggles of what’s going on around you, and that’s not necessarily being reflective of what’s happening in the art. There are little sprinkles here and there but it’s not necessarily the force that it could be, the force that I know it once to be. [I write] without being nostalgic about it, but definitely acknowledging that these things are happening” Beans says.
Along with his love for writing meaningful songs, Beans’ three new albums can be said to reflect a more potent influence of electronic dance music on his work than most of his previous tracks. He also sees experimentation as a way of distinguishing his sound from that of other artists in the genre — something that, according to Beans, was a highlight of the multifaceted hip-hop scene to which he was exposed growing up: “I’m a big admirer of the electronic sound, I mean the genre started [by] being plugged into a lamppost for power. The whole process of-hip hop is experimental,” he says.
“I just came from the school where when I grew up everyone was very distinct. I came into a school where Public Enemy, De La [Soul], Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, X-Clan, they were all considered hip-hop, but everyone was distinct in their particular style – what they were saying, or how they were saying it, but they were all still under the umbrella of hip-hop […] when I started to come out [as a musician], everyone was digging through crates looking for samples to try to be and sound like the next premier. I was getting tired of that because everyone was coming from the same sources of their particular music. It all sounded the same,” he says.
In one of his newly released albums, Love Me Tonight, featuring collaborative work from Interpol’s Sam Fogarino, as well as Laurel Halo, Tobacco, and many other artists, Beans took his experimentation to a new level with tracks such as “Diamond Wizard,” a song that was originally on the album Wolves of the World, but later moved to Love Me Tonight. Beans chose to release all three albums simultaneously because all three, he says, developed their own personalities and styles during his five-year recording period.
“I started working on the second record Love Me Tonight around the same time as my last album on Anticon, End it All dropped, so the longest album that I had been working on out of all three was Love Me Tonight. It went through all kinds of various transitions and different beats.”
He continues, “I think basically the thing about doing the three records over a five-year period is that it does show…where I was at the time of the creation in those particular albums. That’s why for me, it was important to put it out as three simultaneous releases as opposed to ones back-to-back. To me, they all sounded incomplete hearing all three in sequence.”
Beans is pleased with the final product of Love Me Tonight, mentioning that the collaborative work of other musicians was a difficult, yet rewarding process for the album, but he also points out that while Love Me Tonight is a diverse record comprising electronic music, as well as party-oriented dance beats, HAAST, Beans’ third album, is more saturated with meaningful reflections of the world today.
One of the more prominent statements made through this record is the track “This Knife Got a Gun,” which Beans wrote to expose the racial oppression and slaughter of African Americans still prevalent in cities today.
“I felt at that particular time, rap was really silent about what was happening, and what is still happening with police executing black men in broad daylight, or the multitude of deaths that have been happening at the hands of police. I just wanted to address that in this particular piece […] the majority of HAAST in particular is very current to the mind state of where I am artistically, and what is happening socially. HAAST is definitely the more political of the three,” Beans says.
Being a somewhat ambidextrous musician, Beans put together, in the span of three albums and five years, a cornucopia of musical styles all under the larger umbrella of hip-hop. Tracks like “Let’s Murder the Moon” on Wolves of the World depict a creative edge toward experimentation and risk-taking in electronic sound, while at the same time, not neglecting his crucial role as an artist to address the faults and beauties of the world around him in HAAST.
Through the duality of poetry and amusing distraction, Beans stands on a stable balance; he is not a protest writer, nor is he a pop star. He is both simultaneously.
Follow on Twitter @mrballbeam