James Ferraro Cold [mixtape]

[Hippos In Tanks; 2013]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: R&B, beats, pastiche, hip-hop, mixtape
Others: BEBETUNE$, BODYGAURD, Three 6 Mafia, The Weekend

Listening to Cold, and the last several releases from the prolific James Ferraro, have made me think about the differences between parody and pastiche. In a parody, one imitates a specific style, and in doing so, manipulates the nuances of that particular style to mock its frivolous complexity. In contrast to this satirical form of mimicry, there is pastiche, parody without humor and sometimes without even an awareness that one is replicating a particular bygone formalism. The postmodern cultural critic Frederic Jameson posited in the 1980s that this new form of aping is an inevitable development of consumer society. He argued that where the high modernists each had their own eccentric styles, today’s artists, or all individuals for that matter, have become imitators of these highly privatized dialects. The effect is such that we all have become an island of linguistic norms all to ourselves. Each person develops a distinct style that references some codified system of the past (recent or not so recent), but fails to accurately communicate with the other.

Cold is an exemplification of this second form of imitation and, in its own right, tells the story of pastiche’s crushing isolation. The intro track, with the sound of an empty subway station and muffled street noise from above, sets the tone for the rest of the mixtape. As it continues to unfurl to show the full complexity of its canvas, with its dark beats, pitch-shifted and sometimes chopped-and-screwed vocals, and cries of “Let me burn” and “Don’t put it on my blood,” Ferraro inserts the musical archetypes that he needs in order to signal what classification of music he is imitating while also consistently giving us a lyrical mode that reinforces the solitude that his mixtape engenders.

Ferraro’s pastiche is a complex one, as he draws from many sources to compile his ode to the lonely heart. Although his vocals can easily be compared to an R&B performance, the beats have a horrific deepness (think Three 6 Mafia’s “Da End”), which lend a haunting dissonance to the often muffled vocal tracks. On the track “Slave to Rain,” probably the strongest track of the mixtape, he repeats “I got this cash/ I got this cash for you/ Imma make it rain down/ Imma make it rain down for you/ Gonna make you love me/ Gonna make you love me/ love me/ Wanna have babies/ Wanna shower them in cash.” It is here where I found myself pondering the problem of parody vs. pastiche most heavily. These lyrics highlight a familiar sentiment of the consumer-driven hip-hop and R&B industry, but Ferraro is embodying this sentiment rather than mocking it. It becomes clear from Cold as a whole that the overwhelming desire for love on display is a reflection of a deeper drive for personal success, one that Ferraro is bent on achieving no matter the obstacle.

Inside this blend of styles, we can find the exact kind of isolation that pastiche highlights. The desires Ferraro pines for are not novel, and he is keenly aware of that. But the expression of them needs a mode or a number of already solidified modes (R&B, hip-hop, the mixtape), and he has had to funnel his desires through these already existent forms to articulate his lust and drive in just these terms and at this exact moment in time. Ferraro bends the styles to fit what he needs to say, because that is all that has become available to him in this world of pastiche, where we have become unable to sufficiently express our desires except through constant (incomplete) imitation. Ferraro pulls this off better than most, and with a shocking consistency, poignancy, and efficiency that his contemporaries can’t seem to match. It’s what makes Ferraro one of the more intriguing artists of the past few years and Cold one of his many releases worth listening to.

Links: James Ferraro - Hippos In Tanks

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