The Red Giants

The Red Giants

(Rip Smash; 2006)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

In one of our recent staff discussions (wherein we reduce whole subcultures into next week’s semi-witty site slogan), Clay Purdom admitted that, as a hip-hop fan, he’s having trouble moving past 1996. I imagine that The Red Giants might sympathize, at least a little. Emcee Jermiside actually flows and schemes out his cadence, which sounds like an increasingly novel concept these days. On the first track proper, producer Brickbeats lays chopped drums in a 4/4 with emphasis flat on that last 4, takes his soul sample and strings, alternates his end-tweaks on every bar, curls elements on the hook, and it’s so 1996, I’m wearing baggy pants and rocking a Bulls jersey. As such, The Red Giants is an almost completely anonymous slice of nostalgic undie-hop. As such, it’s also completely listenable. I’m getting old, and must heed older-than-me Aaron Newell: “Hold on to what hip-hop you can.”

This album’s not fresh, it’s cheese, and that reads like something Jermiside might rap in a tossed-off millisecond, which is part of why The Red Giants is so enjoyable, slash needed by us fogies. Big Pun’s long gone, boys. By laws of poetry, this many similes per stanza is English murder of the first degree, but by laws of “old skool” hip-hop, it’s just murdering the mic, which is all good and righteous. Jermiside works the wordplay, the convoluted references, the silly cleverness, punchlines to punchlines, and I just thank God that I get to listen to breath control again. Jerm effortlessly fits as many as forty syllables to a bar, every jot and tittle enunciated so crisp you can see the spit, all delicately sandwiched between two tiny, polite inhales. T.I.’s “What You Know” may end up the year’s biggest rap hit, but part of that will be because even grandma can sing along. It’s why Atlantic probably won’t make “I’m Talking to You” a single, as worthy as it might be, and it’s why you don’t hear more rappers mixing moderate and long meters under one measure, as on the Red Giants’ “Do Ya Thing.” That shit don’t pay.

Of course, technical criteria mean little when the vibe’s stiff, but Jermiside’s smooth-and-sticky enough to sound like Common covering K.M.D. Don’t believe me, that’s fine, peep the downloads, read the writtens: “What’s the time? I said ‘Hip-hop,’ and it’s as if I had a phony leg / Sippin’ Faygo Red, with homies at the pony keg / Hitting Skyline with cheese coneys, on the reg / Takin’ my memory to MPEG, 40 megs / Spittin’ thirty four rhymes, there were four chords there / 1994, saw Biggie Splashdance, Forest Fair / Since then I’ve been on tracks like a horse, mare / I see my niggas in a Ford Taurus / Coarse hair…”

Makes you think about when every single verse was an amusement park or a photo album or an 8mm reel, and rapping was just the contemporary urban form of the oral story tradition. Damn. And all of that effect would be lost if the music wasn’t some beautiful beat throwbacks, which it is, almost too perfectly so. I want to hug Brickbeats for his slavish dedication to samples, samples, above all else, samples. You know how Cool and Dre love to use rapid 808 trap taps on-and-off for syncopation of their drums? On “Illustrious Brothers,” Brickbeats achieves a similar effect with channel-panning of what sounds like bicycle bells. I clap my ass off. The metrically dynamic “Do Ya Thing” starts by baring Brick’s subtle foundation that makes it all possible, four-stroke stutters of the kick starting and stopping the drum line (thus becoming its middle, as well). It’s a beat that offers an emcee a lot of possibilities, and Jermiside takes full advantage, but what really sells the thing to the casual listener, along with most of the other songs on the album, is Brickbeats’ unimpeachable (if safe) use of gold standards, shit like horns and chipmunk technique and peppering croon snips.

Tried-and-true to a fault, The Red Giants offers no shortage of played-out song concepts presented in just the style you’d expect them to play out in, once again. Hip-hop archetype about hip-hop music as salvation (“Soundgazing”); brass bombast brag track, complete with Street Fighter II sample ("Magnificent"); moody orchestra loop with muted horn = emcee sad at ghetto and corruption, course (“Good Morning America”). But when Jerm and Brick try to step out the stylistic boundaries even just a little bit, like on the tropicalia of “Pair-A-Dice Island” and the discordant keys of “Beautiful Day,” it doesn’t really work out for them, the songs not comfortable enough to be effective and not different enough to be, you know, interesting. Though there’s not one bomb on The Red Giants, these few relative and losing risks occur in the second half, making the album feel a little frontloaded.

But that’s kind of 1996, too, right? Or kind of hip-hop, period. Get old enough, and even infirmities find their place.