Serengeti and Polyphonic Terradactyl

[Anticon; 2009]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: conscious rap, indie hip-hop,
Others: Themselves, B. Dolan, Madlib, Buck 65

I always thought it was odd that the majority of acts proclaiming hip-hop to be dead or alive tend to be either incredibly stale and unoriginal recyclings of bog-standard, booty shaking, backpacker themes glossed over with the musical trend of the week or a rewording of the same old chest-popping bravado. Illinois natives Serengeti and Polyphonic do not need to say that hip-hop isn't dead or that they are next-level shit. They prove those facts by keeping their heads down and forging some of the most creatively inspired conscious hip-hop of the new millennium. Terradactyl, their second album together, is so forward-thinking, it is almost a stretch to even refer to it as hip-hop. It defies genres as it reinvents them.

Polyphonic's beats are about the most surreal, inspired, and well-produced instrumentals this side of Odd Nosdam's work for cLOUDDEAD and Dr. Dre's 2001 (and far superior to the formulaic wank passed off in Dre's name ever since). A lot of Poly's work on their debut Don't Give Up aimed for a similar vein as Terradactyl (putting rap, electronica, and non-Western musics in a room together and trying to shoot between them), only they did not quite fully commit to the premise. His sounds were not as clean as they are presented here, so they did not have quite the impact. Terradactyl witnesses Polyphonic coming into his own, with an enthralling and unique signature style that rises to the top of indie hip-hop.

Not one to be overshadowed, Serengeti's compelling, cerebral rhymes create their own inarguable presence on this record. Born under the unassuming name of David Cohn, Geti's flow pairs the introspective storytelling of Buck 65 (who has the good sense to personally appear on this record) with a touch of Sage Francis's brutal sociopolitical realism. He reads the paper as much as Sage, but he handles it with the similar wry sense of humor and humility that works so well for Buck.

"My Patriotism" is a serious rant about class struggle and capitalist pitfalls, laid down over a demented beat made of accordion, mandolin, skittering bass, synth bloops, and field recordings of splashing water and eagle-mating calls. Yet, he takes himself down a peg after his righteous tirade by saying, "I'm probably wrong about all this shit, of course, man." Just because all this shit is fucked up doesn't mean you have to be an arrogant prick about it. That is a lesson Sage Francis never learned and, even though he is almost always right on, it has consistently held Sage back from getting into that next tax bracket.

Then again, "My Negativity" has Geti saying, "How could you really trust/ When everybody's trying to sell you something." He presents a level of give and take on Terradactyl that escapes most egotistical hip-hop records, an acknowledgement that, though we are listening to very smart and talented individuals, they are not always right about everything, and they are willing to openly admit it. Geti does not speak only to hear the sound of his own voice and shock you with a bunch of time-sensitive pop culture bigotry or soapbox grandstanding. He wants you to think about this record, not merely consume it, like how Buddha would eat a peach.

The characters of Geti's latest creation are flawed and tragic. His poetry is metropolitan without a hint a naivety or ass-kissing, like the prose of Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis's immortal comic Transmetropolitan. While Eminem abuses and propagates the basest human inclinations, making rape and homophobia seem cool and/or funny, Geti makes us confront our flaws for what they are. He speaks honestly as himself, not as a character he can hide behind when his ideas hit the streets. He nobly stands accountable and ready for judgment.

As such, Terradactyl is a much more honest record than Eminem's Relapse ever had a hope of being, yet it is equally controversial. But due to the challenging nature of Polyphonic's beats and the socially responsible, introspective base of the lyrics, Terradactyl will be lucky to sell in ten years what Relapse sold on its opening weekend, despite the fact it is a far superior record in every respect. Capitalism really sucks sometimes.

1. Bon Voyage
2. Playing In Subway Stations
3. Move!
4. My Negativity
5. Cleveland
6. Steroids feat. Doseone
7. Patiently
8. Call The Law
9. La La Lala feat. Buck 65
10. My Patriotism
11. Dawn Under The Bridge
12. Calliope

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