Electric Purgatory Part Two EP
By Chet Betz | 3 August 2010
Part One of this Electric Purgatory project by Columbus hip-hop luminaries Illogic and Blueprint was a salvo of too-perfect beats from the future; Part Two messes with the formula, dirties it up, and in the process lets its rappers get a little closer to doing what they each do well. In promo form both parts are offered freely by the artists, a conscious devaluation of art-as-commerce that I talked about when I reviewed the first one and that Conrad talks about in his Crush Buildings review somewhere alongside this one. The industry’s pall hangs over these two EPs by Greenhouse to the extent that you can almost feel the compositions starting to give a little bit, even in comparing the first part with this one. There was an overall polish to tracks like “Cold Out Here” and “Never Gonna Make It” that’s missing here. Mixing and mastering seem like afterthoughts (and ones likely deemed unnecessary at that). The very format of release should have been a harbinger, Print likely jaded after the experience he had when he and then-member Fess released Greenhouse Effect’s Columbus or Bust LP in 2005 and not many cared, least of all the distribution partners that Print tried to team with.
Is it a paradox, then, that by process of degradation, of lost faith and dwindling energies, that this Electric Purgatory Part Two trumps all of its Greenhouse predecessors? Moreso than Part One it feels truly resigned to its title, comfortable in that limbo, even as Print almost accidentally burrows his production into a grimier underbelly of the cosmos. There’s some synth burbles in the background of opener “Hello World” that feel like detritus from Funcrusher Plus (1997). On “Keep It Live” an organ shimmers across the top of glassy drums while a slowed-down vocal shrugs the track’s title repeatedly, waiting for Aesop Rock to gobble up the heart of the song with his penchant for uselessly attractive non-sequitur. “Step Aside” casually flips syncopation on-off-on as whale songs get cornered into simple loops; “Spin Cycle” layers tiers of insidious synthetics over the laziest drum programming ever; even tracks that try to up their hype by way of hard, old-school breaks and choral parts or sunshine washes and crash cymbals (“Babylon” and “Smile,” respectively) feel too worn and weary to care too much. The threads are most definitely frayed and I think that’s why this is the first time that the Greenhouse entity feels completely sincere, at peace with the fact that the only expectations they must face are their own and at home in the small yet distinct space they’ve created for themselves.
It’s particularly refreshing to hear Illogic—after a half-decade since stellar Celestial Clockwork (2004) of trying too hard to attune his flowery yet viciously earnest poetry to bragging and assorted undie-rap non-concepts—finally just relish the idea of rapping for what it is and let himself flow. He still has some awkward moments, especially in some of the times where (like a more affable Sole) he forsakes rhyme schemes hoping the meter will hold up and it doesn’t quite. But on Electric Purgatory Part Two he mostly stops trying to overwork his imagery and emotional abstractions and lets the stuff just stream off his tongue. On “Step Aside” multi-syllabic twisters like “Capricorn pens Cancer with the sting of a scorpion” snap at the mic as simply as if Illogic were scatting them. And over the viscous smooth-noise grind of “Only You” Illogic manages to throw together his best verse in nearly five years, taking only about a minute to connect the dots between “the lineage of the pyramids” and “the offspring of a moonlit sky” and “my mother’s tears, my wife’s smile, my son’s eyes, my father’s fear, my brother’s laugh, my grandma’s drive, my friend’s beef, the world’s pain / I need sleep / I’m too deep / and all I really need to be is who I am” in a way that is both evocative and straightforward, finding a bracing simplicity at the heart of an epic personal arc.
Print, too, more than holds his own on the mic, his easy drawl the welcome complement to Illogic’s newfound confidence; Greenhouse now finally sounds like they belong in their own skin even as that skin’s sloughing off of them, as they’re getting older and their community seems like it’s starting to care a little less and the music world at large is being swallowed by a digital abyss of dissolution, of utter niche-ness and solvency. “Every year a little less is on your dinner plate,” raps Print on “The Spin Cycle,” which is like a state of the hip-hop union address coming from deep within the gut of that “union,” hopeful for better things to come but fully aware of how shit is really going down. And so Part Two of this humbly progressive, progressively humble project is about becoming okay with purgatory, about settling down and turning on the lights to take an honest look at where we are—and then figuring out who we will choose to be in the light of that.