There are plenty of ways to make messy sound good. Record labels like Stones Throw, Warp, and Brainfeeder have made it their trademark to boast rhythmically challenging beats, but there is always a detectable amount of personal style included with each label or single artist. It can be in the sample of the original song, or it can be an added ingredient. It can be how the music is quantized, what program is being used to make it, which person from which genre is performing which instrument at which speed and which groove, there are tons of factors that contribute to the favorably messy sound of certain kinds of hip-hop and electronic music.
Yet, it’s not enough to play a few measures on an MPC and not clean up the notes. Whereas some producers can glide effortlessly between genres, exorcising and offbeat vibe in only places where it is called for, Nametag and Nameless stumble drunkenly along the line between good mess and bad mess on For Namesake. Luckily that is the very reason it is worth a listen. Some songs upon first hearing them make my pointer cover the skip button like I’m covering the brake pedal in a traffic jam, I’m just waiting to slam my foot down in anticipation. Other tracks might make me leave my computer, feeling certain that I won’t need to change the song at all.
As the producer, it would be easy to attribute the messiness to Nameless. However, as a producer/emcee duo, the blame can’t be distributed so easily. On a track like “Hype Break” both artists sound less than their best. Recycled raps about how much better Tag is than all the other over hyped rappers “In this industry filled with hype over skill, I feel like we need a hype break”. Nameless doesn’t do much to help the song, slapping a piano loop from untrained fingers over a simple beat with bass drum hits too close to each other. No bass line, no strings, nothing to add depth to the song other than little clips of “oohs” and a DJ Premier scratch effect.
The next track, called “Reaction” is much more entertaining to listen to. What starts as a very Odd Future-esque beat quickly transitions into a more easygoing and listenable track thanks to Nametag’s tight rap. They sound right together on this track. The snare/clap has a sort of flam effect, where two hits seem to want to occur at the same time but only slightly miss each other. The heavy bass manifests itself in a few different instruments, sometimes highly synthy, other times more funky and natural, sometimes they even cross over each other. Little accents of triangle and bells make the song feel like it was being paid attention to, a comforting feeling. Nametag raps “As I attack this track without subject matter/ I warm it up like the rappers who wore their pants backwards/…A camera can’t capture these pics I snap with/ paragraphs instead of a camera flash.”
“How It Get” is a good example of how the randomness and deconstructed beat can play to the advantage of the artists. This track sounds particularly authentic to my ears as a modern Detroit rap song. One likeably out of place ride cymbal per bar is a nice touch for reasons I can’t explain. “You know how it get in the club/ Homeboy was muggin’ and fussin’/ About a couple of thugs who was talkin’ that tough shit/ Sayin’ if they ever see him in the streets they’d bust him/ And pretty much, everybody drunk or buzzin’ with the red eye/ High off a drug or somethin’.” Nametag sets up a fairly gripping storytelling style rhyme filled with paranoia and raising tensions in a crowded space, while Nameless cuts a sample up and reorganizes it to match the urgency and brooding nature of the raps.
“Oxymoron”, which features Nametag’s cousin Black Milk, is a standout track. This is a refreshing example of when a feature works out the way it should, and it features a very simple instrumental with organ mashed over a hard beat. And instead of trying to outdo each other, Black Milk and Nametag match each other’s energy.. The other big name feature would be Guilty Simpson, who appears on the track “Raw-Dirty-Filth”. The beat in this case is more attractive than the raps. Both rappers do the job, yet Guilty sounds more like U-God than himself, and Nametag seems more concerned with his cadence than his lyrics.
The duality of the messy nature of For Namesake goes in several directions. Besides applying it strictly to the beats, the album does not feel as though it was carefully structured to be listened to in one sitting, nor does it feel like its variety is strong enough to make them some kind of chameleon duo. A certain effort seems to be missing from the album as a whole, yet the amount of effort per track is surely satisfying. Overall, the two work well together but need a few tweaks before they officially get put on the hip-hop radar.