2001 was my last year at Art school and I was busy smoking spliffs and listening to left-of-centre hip-hop acts while getting all paranoid about what I was going to do with a four-year degree that provided no real job prospects. I’d hazard a guess that the pot wasn’t doing much for my quarter life crisis, but I also suspect that surrealist records like cLOUDEAD weren’t helping much either.
I’m no hip-hop aficionado, my knowledge is limited to the nihilsm of early nineties Gangster rap and the uprising of ‘avante hop’ in the early 2000s when two labels in particular, Anticon (San Francisco) and Definitive Jux (New York) were spewing out a super strange hybrid of indie rock attitude, dadaist poetry and beats damaged by the spawn of Warp Records. A whole group of American kids suddenly realised that Hip-Hop didn’t have to be about old soul records, blunts, 40s and bitches. Rather, it could be about extreme experimentation so they set about fucking with the formula.
Anticon took this exploration to the furthest, and perhaps darkest places. Being based on the West Coast its acts were ensconced in Beat history, love-ins, rock n’ roll and the Zappas and Beefhearts of Laurel Canyon. Definitive Jux, which gave birth to Aesop Rock, my favourite artist of this whole scene, maintained an experimental edge but always kept a finger in rap’s New York roots. Of all these artists, cLOUDEAD pushed ‘experimental’ to the furthest limits, and while this record might not be an absolute favourite of mine, it’s such a fucked up curiosity that I constantly find myself revisiting it.
cLOUDEAD is a collection of 10” singles independently released by ‘band’ members and Anticon label owners Doseone, Why? and Sole. The sound is Hip Hop only because it’s rhythmic and (occasionally) the vocals rhyme. Overall this is a disorientating pastiche of odd samples, vocal snippets, drugged out keys and stream of consciousness lyrics. Occasionally the calamity dips into head-nodding territory and the boys signify their roots. Then Doseone gets all rapid-fire, nasally and sing-song on your ass rhyming about witches, Birkenstocks and crises and suddenly you have no idea where your head is at. Sometimes the sound is dreamy and light-headed, almost musical but always stabbed through the heart by some abstract collage of noise and samples.
Purists called these guys heretics, plenty of people thought they were a load of bollocks, and the collective only released one more album before disbanding into a myriad of unclassifiable, but far less rap-oriented solo projects. Indeed by the time this collection of tracks was release as cLOUDEAD each member was already busy experimenting with indie rock art bands and other side projects (do yourself a favour and check Hood’s Coldhouse record from this period which features some fucking amazing contributions from Doseone.). But you know, things are never really meant to last. Bursts of creativity such as cLOUDEAD tend to project musicians/artists on to greater things. Perhaps if it wasn’t for the surreal paranoia of this record I would never have stopped pretending to be an art student and started thinking about my place in the world. And looking back, this record definitely started me on a search for weirder and weirder music. Something I’m still doing today.