Album Review: Cult Favorite ‘For Madmen Only’
Knowing versus believing. The nature of truth. Having vision and being accountable to it. Perspective’s impact on complacency. These are the types of themes and concepts that run wild through Brooklyn MC Elucid’s rhymes. The yin to producer A.M. Breakups yang, Elucid shows throughout For Madmen Only, the duo’s first album as Cult Favorite, that not only is he one of the best MC’s in the world, he is a flat out brilliant writer no matter how you classify his words. Elucid’s past tendency to rhyme mostly over busy, glitch-hop beats may have provided him the aesthetic that he desired, but it often shrouded his abilities to all but the most adventurous hip hop listeners. At first listen, A.M. Breakups production might sound similar to the electronic production that Elucid is used to rocking over, but A.M. is incredibly versatile as a producer and knows how to capture a vibe while making sure that he’s still showcasing the MC that he happens to be working with.
For Madmen Only is a quick listen at almost 36 minutes, but it’s been two years in the making and is about as dense as a 9 song LP can get. Throughout the album Elucid and A.M. consistently seek to explore the varying gaps between perception and reality (Elucid through his rhymes and A.M. through his atmospheres and clever vocal sampling). Elucid is especially adept at getting a listener to look at the world through a different lens while infusing his own hard earned knowledge and philosophies. A.M. Breakups’ lifelike production is the perfect setting for Elucid’s parables and helps give the album an ageless quality. A.M. also contributes an excellent instrumental track, “Planet Earth About To Be Recycled”, that is reminiscent of MF DOOM’s legendary sample based collages from the King Geedorah album.
Right from the jump Elucid lays out the album’s concept. “People’s Temple” is a song that immediately reminded me of John Hawkes chilling portrayal of a horrific cult leader in the 2011 film “Martha Marcy May Marlene”. Elucid rhymes, “Catch them preying upon the lost/ Speaking to your distortion/ Sheep ‘ll follow for fortune/ Seek until they’re exhausted/ Pay till they can’t afford it”, laying out a devious depiction that could really just as easily be applied to an opportunistic pastor as an evil sociopath. Elucid then follows with the messiah’s mantra- “Fear not you are perfection/ Would you die for my message?/ After all that I’ve invested?” before repeating his own commentary- “For who so ever believes.” This stretches the concept even farther showing how manipulation can turn a mere mortal into a godlike figure. Elucid has a curiosity for the gray areas in life and an ability to show how wide or how narrow the spectrum of these gray areas can be.
“Then He Rose” is another standout song that features metaphorical religious imagery. This time Elucid uses the track as an exhibit of his outstanding wordplay, depicting himself as a Christ-like figure on the mic. A line like “Still cut the cards I’m dealt/ shuffle, perspectives tilt” might not resonate at first, but the more you dwell on it the more impact it has. Conversely, when he rhymes “rappers hocking poppycock/ my cosmic slop layered like a Basquiat” the impact is immediate, but equally impressive. Perhaps the best display of Elucid’s unique vocal talents, “Then He Rose” is also a prime example of A.M. Breakups ability to have a lot going on in a track, but still not make it sound overwhelmingly dissonant. No matter how experimental A.M.’s production gets, he never loses the melodic root that his music grows out of.
The album’s lone guest appearance comes from Thoughts On Tracks favorites billy woods on “Omega3”, who seems to have found a kindred spirit in Elucid. Woods has worked with both A.M. Breakups and Elucid in the past and plans to release a collaborative EP with Elucid later this year. Billy is the type of MC that tends to outshine most MC’s that get on a track with him, but Elucid has always held his own alongside woods. “Omega3” is no exception, as Elucid spits my favorite verse on the album. He opens the song with the lines- “Have you ever asked a redneck how his sister taste?/ I just got called a n***** and that really made my fucking day/ I smiled for a second, asked the aforementioned question/ First time when I was 6 alone in my daddy’s green cutlass/ wouldn’t say it corrupted barely knew what it meant honestly/ just an old white man walking past, I’m far from Rockaway” Elucid’s vivid reflective verse was the result of a self-described “shitty customer service job experience where (he) was racially harangued on the phone”. The eye opening verse shows off Elucid’s development as an MC and his ability to turn a common life experience into a compelling artistic statement.
Elucid’s gruff delivery and apparent indignation might be the first thing that grabs your attention on For Madmen Only, but it belies a strong emotional core that allows him to be revealingly honest about every aspect of his life. His vulnerability in relationships with the opposite sex is made clear on a few occasions, especially on “For All Of These Birds”. While the song is a virtual kaleidoscope of Elucid’s personal philosophies, the end of the first verse details an exchange with an ex that was particularly memorable for Elucid. Although he seemed committed to putting the relationship behind him, her closing salvo “You are what you attract and I be back on the reg” left him questioning how much control he truly has of his life and relationships.
Cult Favorite’s music allows a lot of room for personal interpretation, but For Madmen Only closes with its clearest statement “Mollywhop”. While both Elucid and A.M. usually tend toward the abstract, on “Mollywhop” they take a more traditional route to making a classic hip hop song. A.M.’s stripped down beat gives Elucid room to drop jewels like “Whatever truth is, shouldn’t need to be explained” and my favorite bars of 2013 to this point, “5000 years they been talking ‘bout the last days/ I don’t hear a word of it/ Talking crazy, “Melo kinda hurt the Knicks””. Elucid and A.M. Breakups are fully committed to their vision, a fact that may not help their bandwagon in the present, but will only help it grow in the future. Cult Favorite’s debut album may be a culmination of years of hard work from two talented artists, but it feels like the genesis of a new chapter in the bible of hip hop. Stream For Madmen Only below and cop the limited edition vinyl over at CultFavorite.com.
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Written by John Bugbee
Compilation Review: Reservoir Sound ‘ALEA IACTA EST’
In a very short period of time producer A.M. Breakups’ Brooklyn based Reservoir Sound collective has become one of my favorite underground rap labels. Similar to other NY labels like Backwoodz Studioz and Uncommon Records, Reservoir Sound may have roots in the underground hip hop boom of the early 2000’s, but their focus is on advancing the art with unique and talented artists who are willing to take chances and are given freedom to create. While they’ve released a handful of EP’s and singles, as well as an LP from A.M.’s longtime partner from 11:00A.M. MC Eleven, their new compilation ALEA IACTA EST (The Die Has Been Cast) feels like a coming out party. With A.M. Breakups’ highly anticipated Cult Favorite LP with Elucid right around the corner, this compilation serves as an appetizer the main course that Cult Favorite should be, as well as an introduction or update to several artists within the collective.
The majority of the compilation is produced by A.M. Breakups, including two standout instrumentals that bookend the project in “Filters (4LAS)” and “2 Hours of Attention”. A.M.’s roommate and beat making collaborator Jeff Markey offers a couple instrumentals of his own, as well as the albums funkiest track “Gimmie Dem Boots, Inc.”, made with Breakups under their moniker Surface Tension Beekeepers. A.M.’s frequent collaborators Elucid and Eleven each make four appearances and deliver several of the album’s highlights. Eleven contributes one of his strongest songs to date on the A. Smart produced cut “Alpha Alpha (beta version)” which is immediately followed by Elucid’s standout collab with label newcomer Hype Wonder “Newer, Better”, also produced by A. Smart and featuring the memorable chorus from Elucid- “A newer you, a better me/ and I don’t mean superior”.
Baltimore MC Teddy Faley is also prominently featured, contributing vocals to four tracks as well as showing off his production chops on a couple tracks, especially his solo track “DC4”. Faley’s beat for “DC4” is a flat out banger, matching his gruff delivery to a tee. A.M. Breakups contributes a stellar remix of Faley’s classic cut “Straw Man Argument” which was originally recorded back in ’08. Faley hasn’t released a solo project with Reservoir Sound yet, but he’s definitely become one of the collective’s greatest assets.
Warren Britt and new addition Shape round out the MC’s who have tracks and A.M. Breakups’ frequent collaborator billy woods makes the compilation’s one guest appearance on “We Are Not For Them –Captures, Pt. 1”, which also features Britt and Eleven. Britt and Shape both contribute excellent solo tracks, showing how deep the Reservoir Sound talent pool runs. Starting a record label in the current climate may be a roll of the dice, but when you can lead with a project like ALEA IACTA EST you may not need luck. Stream/Download the album below and find out why the Reservoir Sound collective is one to watch.
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Written by John Bugbee
Album Preview: Cult Favorite (A.M. Breakups & Elucid)
New York producer A.M. Breakups and his Reservoir Sound record label reside on the cutting edge of the region’s progressive hip hop groundswell. The collective’s talent has been apparent for a while now but they’ve lacked a definitive project to this point. That is all set to change with the release of A.M.’s joint effort with New York MC Elucid. Going by Cult Favorite, A.M. and Elucid are one of those producer/rapper combos that seem like they were made for each other. Elucid has built a buzz through a series of projects featuring his gruff, intelligent style over abrasive, glitchy production. I’ve always been a fan of his straightforward delivery, but some of the busier electronic beats on his releases made it hard for his vocals to make the proper impact.
When I heard A.M. Breakups would be lending his ever-evolving sound to a full length project with Elucid and listened to a couple songs they created for Backwoodz Studioz’ Cost of Living compilation, I got excited. After hearing their album preview mix The Kingdom a few months later, their debut LP immediately became one of my most anticipated releases of 2012. A.M. Breakups’ beats aren’t a 180 from the type of beats Elucid rocked on in the past, but Breakups attention to detail assures that Elucid’s verses don’t get lost in his atmospheric soundscapes. Both artists seem to strive for a post-apocalyptic edge to their sound. All of the songs found on The Kingdom not only achieve that edge, but are so impressive it’s a wonder they didn’t make the full length album.
A.M. Breakups’ production is particularly impressive on The Kingdom, maybe his best batch of beats yet. He constantly has me asking where he gets the various sounds he utilizes on every beat, but on these tracks he takes it a step further by truly building his effects around Elucid’s serpentine verses. Every beat has a solid, rhythmic base, but Breakups lifelike samples levitate around Elucid’s vocals, giving the music a three dimensional feel. The opening track “Heavy Metal (Version)” has the type of grinding beat I couldn’t see anyone but Breakups making, accentuated by his alternating swirls and jingles that create a strong visual beneath Elucid’s metaphorical musings- “I’m lost but still on course, fuck the anchor”.
Elucid’s content-rich flow is as assured and versatile as it’s ever been, and it’s obviously the focus of the music here. His sharp, rhythmic criticisms combined with Breakups’ spacey beats almost make him sound like a repulsed alien who’s been observing injustices from afar and compiling an audio journal. Elucid has a way of making every song sound like an opus with his cryptic, probing verses. He doesn’t wow you with an astounding vocabulary or delivery, but he’s found a way to use his unique voice and creative perspective/thought-process to his advantage. Clear cut song meanings can be tough to pin down, but each line is carefully crafted and contains its own (usually subversive) context. Check out the 20 minute, 8 track (one mp3) mix The Kingdom below and gear up for the full length Cult Favorite LP, due later this fall on Reservoir Sound.
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Written by John Bugbee