Def Sound - Anything: Thee.Idea.Machine
i L L a V 8 r: 2012
Being weird has always been an important part of hip-hop. The genre fully embraces the strange like rock embraces rebellion, giving credence and sincerity to people who would be viewed as out of place in other parts of society. How many poets do you know with names like Old Dirty Bastard, Keak Da Sneak, or Glasses Malone? Hip-hop has always allowed weirdos to be comfortable in their weirdness, to cultivate and explore their own eccentricities.
It is only recently, however, that strangeness has become a truly conscious commodity in popular rap. In many ways this is a good thing: the deep strangeness of Lil Wayne, Odd Future, or Lil B, just to name a few, encourages new and inexperienced rappers not to hide what could separate them from the crown. When, however, strangeness becomes a way to sell records, it begins to become less about self-expression and more about getting attention.
A quick look at the cover of this album is all you need to know that Def Sound isn’t afraid of being strange. In fact, he’s a little too proud of it. With lines like, “I’m so random / I’m Ted Danson doing the cookin’ dance”, it’s easy to see that Def considers his wacky attitude to be a selling point. Unfortunately, overconfidence and overstatement in hip-hop is not abnormal.
Given the smugness of his delivery, I was at first tempted to compare his rapping to Childish Gambino’s self-satisfied flow, but while Donald Glover’s confidence is unsupported by his own cleverness, Def’s is held aloft by real content. Whenever he isn’t talking about how deep his rapping is, he’s saying something interesting. As a rapper, he’s a mixture of creativity and empty confidence: half intriguing, half annoying. Sometimes, even his boasting is bearably clever: “Even egos have a humble beginning.” Mostly, his self-involvement is thankfully overshadowed by his eagerness. He is all too ready to show you his underdeveloped talent.
Like Childish Gambino, his self-focus leads to some memorable moments, but not a lot of structure. All of Def’s rap is punchline based, spewing piles of twitter quotables at an almost obsessive rate without concern for their relation to one another. If one line falls flat, he’ll try to catch you with the next. Many of his hooks are simply a line that he seems to like more than the rest and as a result his music tends to drag in its own redundancy.
The album’s production is no different. It is both creative and varied, swinging from crackly sampling to thick electro in the style of El-P’s recent work. Again, however, it lacks structure and focus. For this reason the album’s best moments are those with the least components. At times, Def assumes a willful silence to call attention to a particularly ear-catching piece of production. It’s this kind of self-awareness that makes Def Sound a hopeful prospect. It’s clear that he knows what good music sounds like, even if he can’t necessarily make it consistently.