Haiku d'Etat fills void of mainstream hip-hop
Scene Music Critic
When Motley Crue broke up, it became blatantly clear that a vacuum had been created in contemporary music. No one was there to take up the lyrical baton and sprint with it; the power of crap-rock was just too strong. What resulted was a growth of the movements of alienation: grunge and gangsta.
Both had interesting and important social messages to convey, and both were authentic for awhile. Eventually, however, Kurt Cobain died and Dr. Dre began producing radio-friendly but artistically vacuous products. The creativity so important to '80s glam rock had disappeared from the mainstream.
But seriously, the stream of hip-hop literacy has long been flowing underground. From the party beats and half-muted political engagement of the Sugar Hill Gang through the angry militancy of Public Enemy and the creation of artistic persona in the Wu Tang Clan, verbal intelligence was well-preserved.
The power of innovative and improvisational battle rhymes was the draw for this burgeoning hip-hop scene that sprung from underground clubs and small record labels. De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were the lyrical vanguards and prototypes of the East Coast style, and that tradition has continued to flourish today.
On the West Coast, the underground scene is driven much by the San Francisco Freestyle Fellowship.
Aceyalone is the propelling force behind the self-titled release Haiku d'Etat from a group comprised of Acey, Abstract Rude, and Mikah 9. It is not so much lyricism that drives this album but the sounds behind the words. While the group's battles are impressive — at one point they find five rhymes for "telescopic" — it is the jazzy feel that sets the entire effort apart from mainstream raps.
Nearly every track pays homage to the art that musically paved the way for the central property of battle-rhyming: improvisation. Saxophones and trumpets come in and out of the soundtrack, making more than mere cameos. Their contribution is central to the feeling of the music.
The jazz flow begins on the title track and sustains itself throughout, even when blending with a distinctive reggae tinge — with accompanying affected Caribbean accents — on "Los Dangerous."
Haiku's voices themselves become instruments, both melodious and percussive. It is clear that Haiku is having fun with its art, but its members are nonetheless able to address the important issues central to much of hip-hop: time, drugs, alienation, poverty, sex and relationships and the commercialization of the music itself.
The lyricism is there: this is an album full of the cerebral rhymes usually found out East, rather than the sex, money, guns and drugs associated with Dre's southern empire.
Most important, Haiku gets better with each successive listen. New observations rise to the surface, themes make themselves evident and the accompaniment is a vital part of this sometimes subtle success.
Like a sixteenth century amnesiac thespian improvising his way through a soliloquy in perfect iambs, this is spontaneous hip-hop at its finest. Haiku d'Etat is representative of a vibrant and vivacious underground scene that addresses art and society. The hedonists of MTV would struggle to keep up.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, April 24, 2001