Enter a particularly bewildering corner of the Mandosphere on “Humans Become Machines (人為機器)”, the first single off the highly anticipated debut LP from fierce internet rapper Aristophanes. Aristophanes is from Taipei, but it’s hard to tell here: “Humans Become Machines” warps its referents past the point of comprehensibility, but at the same time sounds instantly familiar, drawing from some kind of global left-field aggro-rap playbook where the words are secondary, if they’re necessary at all.
Aristophanes has rocketed to success in Western music circles under the aegis of Grimes, who stumbled across the former’s Soundcloud and has become a frequent collaborator and hype generator. (The beat here is Grimes’s first credit as a producer.) There is indeed something very Grimes-y about this track, which eschews the home-brewed quirk of the more experimental, variable-speed flows Aristophanes aired out on older work, and becomes bigger-sounding, more club optimized, more “weird” and less strange. The words themselves are baroquely adorned with a battery of Grimes-esque hard glottals and digi-reverbed falsetto moans; Aristophanes’ actual lyrics are spit so unnaturally, so affectedly, that they often fail to register as such.
(Though I speak the language I couldn’t make out most of what she’s saying here, so I asked the Beijing MC Dawei, who also raps very quickly in Mandarin, and he said “I don’t understand a word!”)
Guess the “meaning” is all meant for the machines then, but that’s just par for the course. Baidu’s AI is already pretty much better-than-human at understanding spoken Chinese, after all, and a major attraction of Aristophanes’ sound and vibe is that it’s more like a jet of vapor floating around cyberspace, a hyperstitial sound that doesn’t even need to be from earth necessarily, than something delivered in a specific language or from a specific place. As Mr P said about another Aristophanes jam a few years back: “The track was made in part for the Indelible Niche Collective, which therefore links this Chinese rap track with US beats and German references all the way to Puerto Rico, from a Taiwanese artist whose name references Ancient Greece. Holy shit.”
Yeah, so, just crank this vaguely familiar, totally inscrutable banger up to 11 and enjoy it from nowhere.