By Chet Betz | 15 September 2014
Early on, Noah23’s colossal Street Astrology lets us know exactly what’s up. Beautiful cold-burn opener “Ayahuasca Popsicle” finds Noah in classic form, professing himself a “techno-shaman” and “yeah, it’s a sacrament / get lost in the quantum entanglement.” Over the next track’s lush synth cascades Noah starts rapping pretty standard fare about euphoria in paradise until a “paradigm shift” brings us to the moment where he states “I stay blessed as I stare right into the abyss.” That’s semi-echoed 21 tracks later on album closer “Climbing” when Noah, in a blur, spits “the bottomless pit don’t got shit on me.” Word.
Street Astrology drops a mere couple months after Noah’s 15-track Light Years tape with David Klopek. If you go on Noah’s Bandcamp you can see that, aside from a year hiatus or so, the dude’s music output seemed to be accelerating at a rate at which he must have been hoping to slow down time. And yet out of this obscene prolificacy Street Astrology rises like a phoenix. It is the best record Noah’s dropped in a decade, and if it’s not the defining statement of his artistic persona the way Quicksand (2002) was, it very well might be his defining statement on hip-hop, the music he loves. For the first time he incorporates trap influence into his goofy abstract weirdness and somehow the marriage is utterly harmonious. This isn’t just a great sci-fi nerd rap record, it’s great trap rap, it’s great cloud rap, and with its endless assortment of indelible hooks and strong melodic undercurrents, it might just be the best hip-pop record known to man. Will.i.am wept.
On cloud rap: Noah has experimented with it before, and in some way he might be its neophyte prototype, his “fuzzy logic” and elliptical aesthetic back in the early aughts seeping into rap’s subconscious while now here in 2014 we have “Zodiac” with its beat that sounds, straight up, like Clams Casino…or the daring ditty “Junky,” a song about drug addiction where the content gets progressively sadder as the music gets brighter. On trap: I mean, “Tearz in Heaven” is an absolute jam, what a Cash Money banger might sound like in a universe where Philip K. Dick is as rap-influential as Tupac; “Ten Feet” intros with an Aaliyah sample then staggers along on an Eastern loop and trap drums while Noah’s ad-libs sound Danny Brown-inspired, which makes it that much more hilarious when Noah emphasizes how he studies hermetic philosophy and that much more bracing a conclusion when Noah says he’s “got that glimmer of hope” and then clarifies it as an isotopic rainbow drop but, still, “yeah, I got it.” And there are even points on Street Astrology where trap and cloud converge perfectly without sounding like A$AP: be it the Weezy-meets-techno-crescendo of “Death Grips Broke Up,” or “Give It Up,” wherein Noah channels Jeezy while producer Nem270 channels Friendzone. On sci-fi: sure, “uranian born of nova condition” and all that, but it’s the sci-fi of the substance-addled mind; “My Mama Bought Me a Nitrous Balloon” might be the most singular and bizarrely moving this-is-how-I-got-started-on-drugs song in the rap canon, and it throws Noah’s eccentricity into sharp, tragicomic relief.
Which is why it is so important that Street Astrology is so many things. This is a Noah greatly diversified from the years of Quicksand and Jupiter Sajitarius (2004) but this is the first time the increasing prismatic refraction of Noah’s art has taken on such a resonant and cogent aspect. What Rock Paper Scissors (2008) tried, Street Astrology perfects. “Many layers, like an onion,” he jokes on “Change,” but then he murmurs his mantras of “rap art so chic,” “abstract booty,” and “upside-down motifs,” until finishing with “back in black, on an odyssey” and a synth swell in Lofty305’s beat takes you to another plane. The song’s hook is one of the most straightforward Big statements that Noah’s made in his whole oeuvre, and yet his phrasing is poignant: “All the things / that may come / in your life / changing you from the inside.”
It’s also one of about twenty hooks from this record that lodge in the brain, and since they all lodge simultaneously it’s as if one could mentally experience the hour plus of music in Street Astrology in one overlapping moment, like that part in Under the Skin where the film communicates humanity flooding into alien ScarJo by the glow of imagery multiplying and coalescing. On Street Astrology we are hearing the alien and it’s us. And so here is the titular autotune hook of “I Made a Baby to Sade” (the track itself an apotheosis of Weird Al rap and #FakeWeekndLyrics), the post-Kanye yodelings of record centerpiece “Hidden Mountain,” the super slick “street astrologists and we stay exalted” of “Exalted,” the pyrrhic crunk that “Tearz in Heaven” culminates in…all this and so much more, ready to party together in one’s mind like it’s spring break forever. “Quantum entanglement,” indeed.
23 tracks is daunting and maybe unnecessary but, fuck it, 23. There aren’t a lot of tracks that should be flat-out dropped, the pacing is mostly on-point, there are smash hit runs like tracks 1-8, there are central peaks, there are chill-out valleys, for something probably cobbled together via the Internet it’s actually a pretty fantastic collection of beats and guest spots (and nowhere are both of those things more evident at the same time than “Lost in the Crowd,” Vic NS’ oscillating light streak made for Shady Blaze to murder)…on first glance the record’s a mess, on the ninth listen or so it’s a vast, verdant expanse that’s a joy to explore and get lost in. Over Nedarb Nagrom’s West Coast slink on “Great Work” Noah posits that, yeah, “this is a great work,” and you can feel that ambition and aspiration in every nook and cranny, no matter how hurried the assemblage must have been. Even corny yet noble throwback “Wild Life” has its place, reminding of when 2002 Noah said “imperfections is what makes me sexy.” There’s rough around the edges and then there’s that level where there are no edges; Street Astrology is a shitload of gems that give off one collective shine. It is a glittering mass where indulgence crosses over into brilliance; it is that fertile and holy ground where hip-hop is no longer just a genre but the genre that other genres plug into and grow out of.
On “Hidden Mountain” Noah23 describes “this place” as a tree of life stretching higher and in the tunnel system of its roots, a homeless man who is “the new Messiah.” Noah is the homeless man and is not him, just as we all are and are not the fat lady described in Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. Street Astrology surveys current hip-hop, current music, and says that it is “good,” like the decree of a humbled god. In his own words from “Weight Up,” Noah “flow(s) constantly while the patterns emerge,” and for all its intense musicality, its enjoyable populism, its exemplification of Noah’s ceaseless pursuit of rhythm and melody, mystic musings and third-eye sights, Street Astrology is the flow and it is the pattern. “Lose yourself in the music,” Eminem yelled, and Noah has, and, behold, it is good. Street Astrology is Picasso self-portraiture, extreme in its honesty that, yes, rap is absurd and, yes, rap is life-giving. Thus, it stays exalted.