In 2011 Antwon’s “Helicopter” video earned him heavy notoriety. Oakland friends were buzzing about him, encouraging me to check out his collaborations with SAFE (who possibly linked the San Jose based Nature Boy up with Greedhead) and Froskees. I kept tabs on the Bay Area rapper, but for me the vibe of “Helicopter”, courtesy of Walsh, made it an instant hit. Much like the Green Ova crew, it wasn’t in Antwon’s content as much as it was in the approach. ‘Twon might have lucked upon a catchy couplet or two, but the appeal of “Helicopter” was the Miami Vice-synths that gained intensity with every cut to a ’70s car chase scene.
It took researching Antwon in preparation for reviewing In Dark Denim to grasp the Nature Boys’ style and hear him as more than a bloggers wet dream of cloud rap colliding with the trend in hardcore alliances amounting to a deeper authenticity. Is it time to be said? Just because you copped a Thrasher hoodie, can name drop Black Flag, and kick-push ‘round town on a deck doesn’t give you a free pass to claim punk/hardcore. That takes broken bones, head-butts in the pit, tats done in a kitchen, and at least one cop story based on a trespassing charge.
Antwon is among the lineage of hardcore/punk dudes like The Beastie Boys, who saw the light and found hip hop. Even though he readily admits to jamming Biohazard as a youth, his thrash roots do not collide with his hip hop music into a rap-rock fiasco of arena riffs and cheerleader lyrics of it going down or getting live. Much like the actual Nature Boy Rick Flair, he flaunts an extravagant lifestyle and garb, but strip away the diamond-studded robe and he’s a technician of his craft. Walsh might have gotten the pin in the tag team of “Helicopter”, but he dissed you, your girl and her NuvaRing© on “Darby Crash”. With production assistance from noise-rap specialists Cities Aviv and B L A C K I E, Antwon’s In Dark Denim is a series of psyche-outs in a genre-gumbo.
Don’t expect in-the-red scuzz from the Cities Aviv contributions. ‘Twon selects tame, true to rap nostalgia with Dilla-esque chops and dubbed off the radio 90s R&B from the Gavin Mays’ collection. DJ Bad Slorp, who’s been producing for Antwon since 2011’s Fantasy Beds mixtape, lends a track worthy of a No Limit Records compilation on “Werk 4 Me” and follows up with a bubble gum ’90s beat on “It’ll All Make Sense”. Antwon wants it to all make sense by offering blue skies, but it betrays his denim coffin he’s worked hard to construct in the six songs leading up to “It’ll All Make Sense”. An aimless minute of a recorded phone call cannot undo the damage of “pussy boomerang / come back to a real n***a” on “Boomerang”.
Teamed up with Greedhead, the strength of a name beyond Antwon gives In Dark Denim the pressure of “official debut”. The record is aware of itself unlike the early mixtapes, which causes problems. It has intent of conceit that is lost on Side A. “Intro” creates a funereal introduction, of which styro-cups of lean are emptied into a six foot hole, but has no function beyond 1:31 minutes of drone fuggery. I could force a connection between “Intro” and follow-up track “Dark Denim” with something like “if Raekwon wants to be buried with the ‘Lo on, Antwon’s lining his casket with dark denim”, but it’s not there. The album begins in three different places: a funeral, an ’80s bedroom lined with Rick Astley posters waiting for a girl to call, and the NOLA Wards where chants ring out to the Triggerman beat. Antwon is chameleonic within the combating spaces, but it’s only begun. We’ve still got to prepare our ears for Berliner dance chopped n’ screwed into a noir-nightmare (“Boomerang”), mall pop (“3rd World Grrl”), vintage 90s rap nostalgia (“It’ll All Make Sense”), and a black power thread sown from Death Grips to Oakland-centricity of The Coup with the help of B L A C K I E on “Burn Away”.
Heard independent of one another, In Dark Denim is flawless, a track exists to soften the criticism of every faction of stubborn hip hop head, but compiled and stacked in succession it lacks cohesion and a single that dethrones “Helicopter”. The Greedhead signing translates to arriving in hip hop like being on Def Jam in the 80s. Investments have been made in Antwon. It’s on him now to invest in himself. Make a bounce record with DJ Bad Slorp and get Silk Da Shocker on it. Make a record with Pictureplane based entirely on mall pop samples. Make a socialist revolutionary record with B L A C K I E – please, please do – but do these projects independently of one another.