Anticon's newest signing is a textural piece of left-field hip hop that dredges the depths of the human condition but manages to shimmer with excitement in the subtlest of ways. Serngeti & Polyphonic are a duo from Illinois and this is their sophomore record but debut for Anticon. Separately they couldn't have more contrasting upbringing and it's these differences that form the basis of their sound. Serengeti, born David Cohn, grew up in Chicago with his mother - a secretary, atheist and devout Communist on the then all-black South Side and with his father - a stressed, middle class business owner in the then all-white suburbs. So while he was busy handing out copies of Socialist Worker at May Day rallies Polyphonic (Will Freyman) was taking piano lessons at his dad's behest. So what we have as a result of all this is a duo who construct fiercely intelligent hip hop that is acutely tuned to this experience of life, but is surrounded and supported by an incredibly sophisticated musical structure.
Serengeti's delivery is monotone and reluctant, it plods and mumbles as if oblivious of the textures that encircle it. At first his connection with his sonic surroundings seems awkward and jarring. After all, he raps about characters that are constantly struggling to belong or connect with their surroundings so this lack of cohesion with the beats is quite apt. But as the record progresses this disjointedness never changes but seems to become the very glue that binds these songs. Polyphonic conjures some of the most complex soundscapes I've heard in this genre for some time. They are incredibly fragile and once analysed seem to exist on virtually nothing at all. They shimmer like TV static and glisten like a rain soaked city at 2am. They are polished with electronic precision and it's this that makes them bounce off the murky, buried vocals that occupy their cold environments.
Despite the fragility of these beats this music is dense to say the least. It's cold and empty and yet so overflowing at the same time. Like fine rain that goes virtually unnoticed but eventually soaks you to the skin, Cohn's deadpan observations tumble from the crackling atmospherics like dirty water from an overflowing street sewer. His depictions of place and the people that inhabit it are razor sharp and paint a lonely picture of modern-day struggle and confusion. Like Antipop Consortium or Fat Jon's work with Pole, the fusion of hip hop with electronic beats can often evoke bleak and sterile visions of our present day or future world. But with minimal orchestration being employed on songs like My Negativity Polyphonic shows that it's not simply bleeps and clicks here. As eery violin weaves its way throughout these fragile beats or My Patriotism's jaunty spanish guitar dances freely a massive wall of the most complex textural arrangement has risen up infront of you without you even noticing and to focus on it can be quite mind blowing.
The guest spots are used wisely with two Anticon heavyweights adding valuable verses. Buck 65 creeps in half way through La La Lala bringing a sense of nostalgia with his gruff delivery but sits perfectly with Serengeti's smooth rhyming. With the Bike For Three project such a success, Buck seems quite at home against Polyphonic's textures. Just as suited to this arena is Adam Drucker aka Dose One. As Dose's vocals emerge from the static on Steroids his usual delivery is so well disguised it's easy to miss the fact that it's him. Like a cloaked figure lurking in the shadows his voice morphs to the music like an ominous film-noir presence.
This record is tough going. It has a pretty stark outlook on the world we all inhabit but it sure is worth a listen. It takes all that hip hop was supposed to do and brings it fiercely into the present day. It also does exactly what this label was always supposed to do but in recent times has fallen somewhat short of the mark. Terradactyl is as forward thinking as any of the early Anticon releases and just drips quality from every expertly produced second.