Know Your Product
Dirt Platoon scores with solid Baltimore hip-hop and Skipper Tracks lights music for bedrooms
Published: December 29, 2010
Deeper Than Dirt
A little too easy, perhaps, but it’s hard to ignore the Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) love dripping all over this record. There’s the spare, soul-lit production that’s just eerie and weird enough to make its punch all the more felt. There are the out-there samples, and many of them. And there are the rhymes that are as lead-heavy as they are tight. In 2010, the result doesn’t sound at all mainstream, but it doesn’t sound especially underground either—which puts it in that broad, growing middle of local hip-hop that includes rappers such as E Major, A-Class, Wordsmith, Labtekwon, and many others who are quietly owning the Baltimore sound, no diss tracks required.
Dirt Platoon is two MCs, Raf and Snook, delivering equal parts Method Man rasp and GZA brick. The production, whether it’s a big record-scratch interlude or soul vocal cut, is often as much a part of the track as another MC, and the way Raf and Snook effortlessly trade off and shuffle around each other sounds like a big posse effort. Credited producers include Philly’s Fel Sweentenberg and Baltimore’s Tom Delay, both delivering two halves of the Dirt Platoon personality—Sweetenberg on the ribcage bass rattle and Delay on what’s become maybe the most recognizable production voice in Baltimore, a sort of old-meets-new production surgery.
Deeper Than Dirt opens with its very best track, “Pennsylvania Ave.”—“home of the Dirt Platoon,” “the East Coast coffin,” and a “heaven that turned out to be hell.” Starting with a sample of what sounds like a street fight, producer Delay brings a late-night cruise of a beat with a piano line’s suspenseful chill subbing for street corner blue lights. The cut is creepingly dangerous and a little mellow but packs a flow with freight-train weight. Later, on “1st Hand,” Dirt Platoon delivers a punch much less sly: “Black boys don’t know the logic of the system/ all constructed and built up just to diss them.” With its metronomic tick-tock beat and trading sax and spare but powerful vocal clips, the track packs the sort of instrumental part that does a whole lot with not very much. This economy holds for the wordplay as well, slight turns of phrase that translate to shotgun slugs. Deeper than dirt, indeed.
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More or Less
Much of the best minimal techno is the stuff that fully recognizes its ambient-pop or post-techno potential to skip the dancefloor altogether and go for headspace. It’s the recognition that a soft 4/4 pop can serve whole other purposes besides body rhythm. Take French producer/DJ Chloe, whose pair of LPs segue between lush, crushingly bleak pop and minimally breathtaking and lovely precision.
Such is Matt Diamond’s “Glass” opener for this four-track EP of mostly downcast, melancholic para-dance cuts. “Glass” is an absolute narcotic: A sly popping and shuffling beat lightly grounds it, but the layers on top of it are what really count, where flitting dream-state synthesizers and washes of minor-key strings mingle like ghosts of the afterparty. By the time an echoing piano line gently soaks the track, Diamond is fully under your skin and ready to launch a powerful existential crisis, but then the beat busies itself up, handclaps smoothly move in, and things turn a mite hopeful. And maybe, as the track drifts away, a deep listener will find at least a small hip shuffle hard to resist.
“Korg Love” follows, and Ryan Vanderbeck picks up the overall pace with a similarly moody, albeit more tech-y and uptempo track that’s a nice ‘n’ sultry 1980s time traveler. Jeremy Blake, meanwhile, delivers eight minutes of more or less canon-minimal with fairly interesting and alive percussion in the vein of, say, Bruno Pronsato—and a thick, rolling bassline to match. Craig Sopo, who has become one of More or Less’ standard-bearers and a hard-core tech-house loyalist, doesn’t stray from the Skipper Tracks vibe. But he does get fairly alien: a beat built from some kind of synthesized, hollow drum sound that might recall super-refined bucket drumming, and suitably spooky synth notes dancing along on top of it like big, weird PVC pipes. Skipper Tracks is ultimately not not a dance record, but it’s also one that will see many late-night hours in Baltimore’s bedrooms and basements.
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