It's still somewhat perplexing that anti-crunk artist/producer Guillermo Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73, was reared on the same booty shaking, skating-rink bounce music as more famous Atlanta cats such as Lil' Jon and Jermaine Dupri. More of an underground darling for backpack-toting emo heads (think a Latino DJ Shadow), Herren makes music that is hybridity incarnate and anything but commercial.
His 2001 debut, Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives, was an astounding Blade-Runner-esque, computer-love homage to Rakim, Kurtis Blow, Mantronix, and the Fat Boys, who heavily influenced Herren's continually evolving instrumentals.
One Word Extinguisher, a funky breakup record with emotional bite, was even more impressive and set a new standard for electronic hip-hop. Various side projects delved more into Herren's Cubano and Spanish heritage. In a recent interview, this is how he described the intent behind the surprisingly political release, Piano Overlord: "It's a play-by-play of an island immigrant coming to the U.S. to find bullshit and it's in response to laws set upon Cuba last May. There are so many things that are happening in Colombia or Haiti, where people come here and can't find shit. You can go to Spain, and Cubans are looked down upon. It's strange how people chop up where you're from."
Surrounded By Silence, Herren's latest LP, is rooted in the art of collaboration, and features rousing guest turns from an eclectic mix of emcees and musicians. Ghostface and El-P trade verses on the plodding "Hideyaface," Aesop Rock checks in on "Sabbatical With Options," and Masta Killa and GZA spit fire on "Just The Thought." Beans, the somewhat inconsistent art emcee, impresses on "Morale Crusher" and Cafe Tacuba helps close out the album on "And I'm Gone."
Although Surrounded is a generally satisfying effort, one gets the sense that Herren is at his best when pushing the boundaries of hip-hop solo, without the constrictions of the emcee-producer relationship. But for his most ardent fans, it provides ample rotations until his next project, in which he'll sing in Spanish and play the guitar. •
By M. Solis