Know Your Product
Dirt Platoon and Wendel Patrick
Baltimore hip-hop gets it done
Published: December 7, 2011
Start Ya Bid’s
Stinking Joe Tree
If the name Effiscienz doesn’t ring a bell within the local hip-hop production community, you’re to be forgiven. It’s what appears to be an upstart factory composed of four DJs/producers based out of Paris without a whole lot of work to their name that would actually ring very many bells over here. And Dirt Platoon’s new EP looks to be about the collective’s biggest-deal work so far, under the Effiscienz banner at least. So, upstart French production company connects with excellent—yet still not getting the attention it deserves—underground Baltimore rap duo for not a single or mixtape cut, but a whole record. Behold the power of the internet and its potential for tapping a vastly underrepped, talented Baltimore rap scene.
Of course, there are plenty of wicked savvy artists and labels in the city that’ve been doing most of their business this way for years—Under Sound Music and Bmore Original both come to mind. And Dirt Platoon sees the new way too, that getting ahead in Baltimore hip-hop is past the days of slinging mix CDs to friends and waiting for a major label deal that’ll almost certainly turn out to be bullshit anyway. On “Better,” the lead track on Start Ya Bid’s, Dirt Platoon’s not just rhyming about being better rappers, but better at the business: “10 years I’ve stayed in the game of self-management/ fans felt the flames and kept fannin’ it,” and then adding, “I could make a hundred thou off of download cards.”
Even later in the record, almost like Dirt Platoon is giving a lecture on this stuff, comes the boast, “I own my own publishing,” which is about the driest thing anyone could rap ever, but it’s to the duo’s credit that the delivery makes it sound like they could’ve just as easily been rapping about dominating a bar brawl. In any case, the future isn’t gold records, it’s this other thing that enables awesome transatlantic collaborations between talented, undersung rappers and eager producers with an ear for great things like, well, Dirt Platoon.
You’ve figured out by now, surely, that the EP in question is good. Dirt Platoon, with both Raf Almighty and Snook Da Crook boasting flows like the most lithe semi-trucks ever, could rap its way out of a Skrillex record unscathed. But the Effiscienz team has better ideas. The production here feels not so much like an exaggeration of the classic East Coast sample-y, Wu-Tang-y stuff delivered by Tom Delay on Dirt Platoon’s earlier Deeper Than Dirt than a further exploration. A soul vocal sample behind “Better” becomes an almost drone-y backdrop; a chamber string melody gets sliced up by record scratches on “Crash Land”; “Purpose” is haunted by an uneasy organ note that kinda just hangs there as Snook Da Crook rhymes about watching his daughter grow up. It’s a sound distinctly different, but still focused on a particularly great moment in rap music—kinda like Dirt Platoon itself.
At first listen, Effiscienz is about the hip-hop opposite of the jazzmatazz that Wendel Patrick, aka Loyola University professor Kevin Gift, delivers on his new, well-rounded full-length Forthcoming. This is entirely sample-free, live-instrument hip-hop with only a handful of guest verses providing any vocals. Gift’s an accomplished classical pianist, and while the name Wendel Patrick exists to provide something of an alter ego, it’s hard to ignore the sheer depth of composition here; you can tell these hands have a different sort of training behind them. Take “American Fairy Tale.” Saleem (of Saleem and the Music Lovers) packs a sharp-enough tongue guest rapping that it almost covers over the rest of the track. That part makes up its own one-song genre, lying somewhere at the intersection of Latin jazz, ’70s cop-show credit rolls, movie-score strings, and latter-day soft-touch underground hip-hop ? la Guru.
Forthcoming’s really a record to get lost in. Different styles, moods, and guest rappers all twist around into a meandering record as precise as it is fuckable. At times it’s even a little too fusion-y for widespread hip-hop deployment—like the quick scribbly cutups mated to smooth vibes of “Estrella”—but more often it comes out well, like the super-minimal spoken-word (courtesy Ursula Rucker) number “I’m Just Sayin’,” boasting a particularly cool mix of organ riff and weird synth sounding a bit more like an electric guitar. The spoken word itself fares better than those two words might lead one to expect, more of a super-toned-down and a bit sultry conversational hip-hop flow. Both Eze Jackson (of Soul Cannon) and Saleem get in more traditional verses on “The Cypher,” which is just as much a jazz piano workout under its punchy snare-beat veneer.
The title track’s an overachiever on a record full of overachievers. Take a wide-open jazz rhythm, just tumbling along hypnotically, and not so much pile elements on but puzzle-piece them together. Vibes with a touch of minor-key haunt give way to an undulating reed section, a smoky guitar line, and a brief, noisy climax with barely a few lines of overdriven/distorted rap. Even that sort of harsh, angry edge comes as no surprise.
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