You’ve probably noticed the latest trend rippling through hip-hop: rappers who don’t want to be rappers. Lil Wayne’s guzzled so much drank, he thinks he’s the frontman of Staind. Kanye wants to be Tom Ford. Mickey Factz believes he’s the token black dude in Ed Banger. Charles Hamilton wants to be a pink hedgehog. The rest announce their retirement before anyone ever cared in the first place. Rap, rock, and dance are on a collision course that suggests that no one remembers that only a decade ago, Fred Durst did it all for “the nookie.”
So why the 5 0’ Clock Shadowboxers? After all, fans of cartoon diet-coke rap will bitch that The Slow Twilight is too “intellectual”— it isn’t, it’s just smart. The backpackers in their bunkers will lament the Shadowboxer resistance to rehashing familiar but faded forms. Indie snobs will smugly and cynically cluck about the recognizability of the Slow Twilight’s samples. Yeah, The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, and The Unicorns appear, but people forget that Sugar Hill jacked Chic’s “Good Times,” and Flash lifted “White Lines” from Liquid Liquid—just months after it first hit wax. Besides, hip-hop was never about what you flipped, but how you flipped it. And with their inexorable impulse towards innovation, producer, Blurry Drones and rapper, Zilla Rocca, establish a new paradigm for what hip-hop can sound like in 2009.
Combining the best attributes of his predecessors, South Philly-raised Zilla, writes with a scrambled poetics resembling Aesop Rock, minus the esotericism and inaccessibility. His ability to catalogue relationship pitfalls is worthy of Slug (Atmosphere), without the emo-rambling, and his scythe-sharp punchlines are as witty any Scribble Jam vet, with no elliptical ramblings about lyrics, nor any played-out notions about “that real hip-hop.”
Stitched together with clips from the New York City noir flick, Blast of Silence, cinematic is the operative cliché at hand. There’s something crepuscular about The Slow Twilight—a record haunted by a grueling paranoia that only makes sense after the sun sets. Zilla Rocca catalogues “the worst year of [his] life,” without wallowing in soft-headed indulgence, balancing a nuanced introspection with that essential element of good hip-hop: if you crank it up, it knocks.
Lead track, “No Resolution” illuminates the aesthetic, with the shattered whelp of “Venus in Furs,” colliding with the warm-blooded break beat from “Impeach the President.” “High Noon” features a hook that pays homage to Gza and a Spaghetti Western Spindrift sample. “Stay Clean” pares a chipmunked Elliot Smith loop to Al Green’s infamous drums from “I’m Glad Your Mine”—not out of novelty, but because it sounds great.
If this sounds like an album archetypal for the blog age, that’s because it is. In addition to recording funereal folk under the Fresh Cherries from Yakima alias, the producer born, Douglas Martin, writes incisive music criticism at Freshcherriesfromyakima.com
. In addition to rooting against the Philadelphia Eagles, Zilla Rocca operates Clapcowards.com
, where he compares rap labels to major league baseball team and hates with comic impunity.
5 0’ Clock Shadowboxers formed not out of serendipity or geographic proximity, but via shared artistic ideals, and the desire to create something wholly new. A singular synthesis of indie rock and classic rap, The Slow Twilight marks the debut of an exciting new duo. If most rappers are color cartoons, it would only make sense that an alternative would emerge from the black and white shadows.