Theravada Xennis Rodman

[2000 ENT.; 2019]

Styles: The Canal Street bootleggers who used to hock J.R. Writer mixtapes and the shogun flicks that convinced Vast Aire he was a samurai; holographic principle; 2000
Others: Rob Chambers, Sir E.U, VIK

Only after moving away from New York does one realize how integral that state is to one’s identity, background, and perspective. I’ve only ever lived elsewhere twice. Yet, even comfortably residing halfway across the country, I can’t see myself ever being “from” anywhere but New York. I am not there, but I am there. We will return. It is inevitable.

In mid-90s music, Y2K hysteria materializes as an apocalyptic complement to the conspiratorial slant of spiritual rap heard from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang, and others. Busta’s first three solo albums — The Coming, When Disaster Strikes, and Extinction Level Event — form a kind of triptych about the world coming to an end in the year 2000. The fourth, Anarchy, was released that year and continues the storyline, with an Armageddon-like event having occurred, resulting in planetary decimation.

In 2013, New York beatmakers Rob Chambers and Theravada a.k.a. Xen — recording under the name Trilogy — uploaded three instrumental projects to Bandcamp. Since then, the artists, who are also cousins and lifelong friends, have continued to collaborate, sometimes under the Trilogy umbrella but more often as solo acts, with Chambers providing beats for Theravada to rap over (and sometimes vice versa). In recent years, the phrase “It’s 2000” has been the pair’s calling card, not so much a thematic refrain as an earwormy drop. A label, yes, but also a mission statement.

Rappers sometimes make a sound when freestyling off the top, like a laugh cut short by inhaling. It’s the sound of a rhyme being conceived in real time, one so dope — at least in the mind of the rapper — that it nearly causes them to stumble over it but instead — at least, ideally — leads to the next ah-ha moment. It’s the thrill of spontaneous creation, in perhaps the purest form available to listeners. Make no mistake: wack rappers do this, too, and far too often. Theravada does numerous times on Xennis Rodman, but with good cause by my gauge.

Somewhere in the midst of the album’s 91 songs, Xen breaks down the relevance of the number 2000. It’s not time, but it also is, he says (not raps — this is on one of several tracks that’s almost like an interlude in that way). He continues; time’s flat — not on some flat-Earth propaganda, but in the sense that past and future are equally present. It’s all accessible. It’s 2000.

In 2001, I was at Wantagh High School, about 45 minutes outside Manhattan, when two planes hit the World Trade Center. I usually walked home from school, but my mom picked me up that day. While I was waiting for her, my best friend’s uncle, an ex-cop, pulled up and said of the day’s tragedy something to the effect of, “Meanwhile, you got the long-hairs out here talking about disbanding the FBI.” Everyone in my family got a cell phone shortly thereafter. Everyone got a cell phone after 9/11. Not for nothing, but “disband the FBI” is now a far-right position.

Disinformation has been in effect. The other time when I was living away from New York, Lyndon LaRouche cultists used to decamp outside my college on a busy city sidewalk. Once I was late to class because I got caught up arguing with one of these headcases. Well, it started that way, but by the latter half of our “debate,” or whatever they’d call that in “Platonic” terms, I was in callout mode — a loud, sustained onslaught like when someone’s driving stupidly and you point at them while holding the horn in order to warn the others on the road. Some 15 years later and 1,400 miles away, flat-Earthers are hanging out around the nearby university campus. Like the LaRouchians, they carry cardboard signs. Once, I saw a flat-Earther pay a homeless man to hold up a sign outside CVS. You can’t make this shit up.

When you get a DWI that’s borderline felony, the deal your lawyer makes with the prosecutor might demand you attend a weekly out-patient program. In addition to peeing in a cup, they make you watch these videos about substance abuse issues and fill out worksheets. If you habitually sketch in the margins, the group leader might remind you that the completed worksheets you submit at the end of each session are entered into your attendance record, which is shared with the prosecutor in order to fulfill the terms of said deal. There’s a labia-shaped roller-coaster-tunnel on one of those worksheets.

The other drop present in most Theravada songs is a time-stretched guttural yelp like the sound a Doom baddie makes. It takes a certain kind of beat to cohere that sound in such a way that it comes across as musical, harmonious even. It’s noisy but not noise, distorted but not quite lo-fi. Texturally, Theravada beats (including those he didn’t produce) range from crusty to crowned. Their sweet spot is in that millennial intersection of Def Jux and Dipset that so few seem to inhabit authentically, i.e., without need for forced reconciliation (Geng a.k.a. King Vision Ultra would be the exemplar who immediately comes to mind, though there are others); that pixel in the hologram that reveals their sounds as reflections of the same point in time and space rather than opposites of each other.

The Delta safety video is a metanarrative: virtual characters inside other virtual characters’ safety brochures. At one point, the overhead lights read, “YOU ARE A TWO-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTER.” At the video’s conclusion, as we pull back Inception-style from one two-dimensional brochure to the next, just before the final book closes, the closest-to-live-action virtual character turns inside his panel to face the viewers, his face simultaneously acknowledging that his entire existence is a facsimile and winking from the screen to say the same of ours. The government is also an arguably unnecessary yet often artful global safety protocol.

Categorization of any form of hip-hop music that sounds unlike trap or SoundCloud flavor du jour as “90s” or “boom-bap” is one of the most frustrating sinkholes in the swamp that is modern rap criticism. It has almost made me quit writing about music on numerous occasions. Please stop that. If the practice of genrefication is going to persist for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that it’s completely gratuitous, let’s at least do our research and avoid piling on additional redundancies. OK? By the way, Bandana is a 5/5 in every universe.

Xennis Rodman includes four consecutive VIK beats, four consecutive axpuzzles beats, five straight Paul Hares beats, three consecutive nephew hesh beats, three straight bart buurman beats, and three consecutive raji beats, not to mention the longer runs produced by Theravada and Rob Chambers. That the album is arranged this way seems to remind us that Theravada could easily have released it as 20+ EPs, a big enough body of work to keep his name buzzing for years. That he chose instead to release it as a 91-song album nearly three hours long speaks not only to his admiration for Dennis Rodman (who, of course wore jersey #91 during his time with the Chicago Bulls), but to a larger purpose. Considering also that 1991 is Xen’s birth year, it’s not hard to hear this album as the artist’s magnum opus. It’s as if he’s saying, “Here — here is everything I am. Enjoy… or don’t… whatever. I don’t need your acceptance. This happened. It’s 2000.”

But on a personal note [HA!], I first heard Theravada at a local pool hall in Bellmore, NY, circa 2014. (Side note: it would permanently close just a few weeks later.) At the time, he was still primarily focused on production, I think, so his performance was mostly live SP stuff. Mostly. Since then, hearing him find his voice as a rapper has been a sincere pleasure and one of the dopest listening experiences I’ve had over the past 5 years, only surpassed in this part of my brain by witnessing the artist fully realized here.

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