Electric Purgatory EP

(Weightless; 2009)

By Chet Betz | 5 December 2009

After a period of dormancy where I didn’t know if my city’s music scene was trying to hibernate through this damn recession or if it had just completely up and died (if I’m forgetting Diabolical Fun [2009] it’s because that’s what the artwork wants me to do), the premier Columbus (OH) rap duo Greenhouse Effect drops a new EP. It is, of course, a free download. Note that this economy of downsizing has also reduced the group’s name to just Greenhouse. Not to mention they lost a member (Fess)...but “they” (Blueprint) added a new member in Illogic, so I guess that’s a great example of addition by subtraction. Oh, and the beats knock like knees in February.

Which is to say this shit is ice cold. I dunno what Blueprint’s been smoking or spinning, except I’m quite familiar with this and know that Print’s a huge fan of that, and it shows. The whole new-millenium shtick is in full effect on Electric Purgatory, the beats crystallized out of the liquidity of alien synths and reverb chains, all held together by a nasty low-end that includes some of Blueprint’s most impressive drums yet. It’s basically Greenhouse Effect’s “You Must Learn” off Columbus or Bust (2005) multiplied times six. Outright banger “Cold Out Here” (a title and hook too apropos in Columbus right now) pitter-pats viciously, the snare and hat a time-bomb ticking where the explosion is an open hat hit that quickly shuts, reversing the unfurling flames back into their C4 groove to repeat and repeat. Print rightly plays up his break on “Never Gonna Make It,” keeping the drums muted during the opening run-through of the nice auto-tune hook and then letting the ride cymbal and bass drum pulse gallop out the gate. Speaking of auto-tune: Clay asserts in his review of the Drake mixtape that Drake made the album Kanye wanted to make when he did 808s and Heartbreak (2008). Personally, I don’t care what kind of album Kanye wanted to make with that turd; this is what dark, futuristic hip-hop should sound like. And, no, it’s not The Cold Vein (2001), but I think we’ve all come to accept that nothing else ever will be.

If I were to find any flaw in Print’s boldly progressive production it’d be the sometimes garish reliance on big strings, most marring in the case of closer “Next Generation,” which otherwise scintillates with woozy cymbal snick variation and a brooding bass synth arpeggio. The initial promise of the beat is too much to handle, perhaps, Illogic sounding a bit reticent with “alright…I got it” before launching into a flow too lax with the ominous groove. On his own handiwork Print fares better, his rhythm more precise, but the lyrics underwhelm, passing off a laundry list of technological advancements and cultural changes (i.e. Twitter and iPhones) as insight. And then all that abruptly culminates in “Larry Bird, Magic Johnson / Michael Jordan / Kobe Bryant, King James / Tim Duncan / If you livin’, you gotta love it / The shit you love the most is the shit you never saw comin’.” Huh? Does the NBA payola undie rappers now?

And that hit-or-miss rapping, much moreso than a couple instances of bombastic strings, is the Achilles heel of this EP. Which surprises me because I’d been feeling like Print had come a long way as an emcee and fully expected that Illogic, the dude that atom-split his soul open on Celestial Clockwork (2004), would debunk mere mortal existence over music the likes of this. But instead both cats do a lot of brag rap. That’s mostly the gist of “Boys to Men,” a diss of mixtape rappers, Youtube yappers, E-thugs, etc. Print lays off a bit and talks about how any point he wants to make he has “to make musically”—which is so true, Print, but now you’re rapping about not rapping about other rappers. And poor Illogic…rap’s circle-smack doesn’t suit him at all; the spoken-word aspects of his rhyme-scheming and his penchant for verbosity—shit that works so well when it’s used to talk about aborted babies examining the inner monologues of their parents (“First Trimester”) or turn frank introspection into epic poetry (“I Wish He Would Make Me”) or, like, just trip (“1,000 Whispers”)—render him sadly awkward in the context of a dick-measuring contest. He sorta pulled this kind of shit off on select tracks of 2002’s Got Lyrics? (“Stop Lyin’” is testament) and the Off the Clock EP (2004), but never again. Print at least does a good (in-the-know) job of riding his beats, especially on “Never Gonna Make It” where the two-syllable emphasis he uses to thread his bars follows the lead of his bass drum in a way that’s pure and kinda beautiful. That track’s a highlight all-around, really, what with the post-Kanye hook, Weightless heavy Zero Star making his cameo, and Illogic finishing the thing with a more-appropriate-for-him abstract verse about “laminated emotion,” “fabricated devotion,” and Biblical imagery—though he still might be dissing fake emcees.

In short, some astounding if imperfect beats here and rapping that does those droid-bumps only half-justice. It’s good to hear these two Columbus icons back, though, and not only that but together in a project that could prove to be something very special if Print can just keep killing it on the boards and they both can play to their utmost strengths on the mic. Apparently, there’s a part 2 EP to come for Electric Purgatory and then a full-length next year for this new-look Greenhouse. Right now I’m just content to have a sign that Bustown hip-hop still lives.