Prefuse 73 comes clean with anti-bling
The Atlanta native is, after all, a musician and producer made both portable and prolific by advances in technology
But none of this would mean anything, of course, if his music was shit.
After all, there are hundreds of would-be artistes out there with a copy of Pro Tools, a handful of synthesizers, and plenty of time on their hands. But it takes a special kind of gumption, wit, and know-how to make the beats, rhymes, and musical landscapes found in the grooves of Prefuse 73's records (most notably, his latest, One Word Extinguisher, on the always-innovative UK imprint Warp). Prefuse 73 (and Herren) comes from a place where hip-hop's original river-deep current of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink experimentation never got lost in the stagnant oxbow of blingnification.
More exactly, Herren deftly mixes classic hip-hop with electronica, hints of exotica, and synthesized lounge, glitchy laptop algorithms, and the sort of funk that can only come out of a necessity to get the sounds in his head into a sequencer, onto a tape, just out.
"I'm not formally trained," says Herren. "I took lessons sometimes as a kid, but I'm just intuitive, I suppose. I listen and study everything I hear, then I learn how to play it on whatever instrument I have around."
But that casual-savant attitude belies the discipline necessary to create music as nuanced as Prefuse 73. It also doesn't fully account for Herren's ability to break the rules while obeying his own meticulous approach to avoiding formula.
And if you can tell the character of artists by the company they keep, then Herren has done an admirable job of ducking the familiar. His records have been graced by such luminaries of the hip-hop underground as MC Beans of Herren's equally adventurous labelmates, Anti-Pop Consortium, Mr. Lif from the crew Aesop Rock, and Ann Arbor's own Tadd Mullinix (who appears on One Word Extinguisher under his Dabrye pseudonym). He has also worked with the avant-jazz outfit William Carlos Williams and produced records for Atlanta dream-pop band Seely and done a goodly amount of remix work as well.
In short, dude's not afraid to stretch. And he gets around.
Touring behind the new album, Prefuse 73 has in tow not only DJ Ryan Rasheed (aka Leb Lase), but also drummer John Herndon from Chicago post-rock (whatever that means) instrumental innovators Tortoise. It's a connection to the outer fringes of rock exploration and boundary-less musical universes that is also affirmed by the appearance of Herndon's bandmate, guitarist Sam Prekop, on One Word Extinguisher.
Prefuse 73 is also certainly informed by Herren's adventures into other sounds. See, he's not exactly shy about throwing around the "aka"s. Prefuse 73 is the moniker he wears when crafting and performing his uncompromising vision of hip-hop. But he is also produced lush, atmospheric instrumental works (think Sigur Ros with slightly brighter lighting) as Savath & Savalas. He also busts experimental electronic boundaries as Delarosa & Asora. "I consider Prefuse my release of beatmaking, therefore I consider it hip-hop," says Herren. "My other stuff is more random, it's live, and I guess it's genreless music.
"My idea for it is all eras of hip-hop equally colliding into a mesh of something new," says Herren. "'88 vs. '03, '92 vs. '96, '82 vs. '01 ... it's all about eras hitting each other over the head - a timeline."
But what about the current state of hip-hop? Herren is downright bullish on the underground. "Inventive hip-hop is going back to its source of originality and experimentation, when things were fun and open for all people to discover," he claims. "I think there's more dope shit going on than people want to even believe."
Herren is as pragmatically vague about his music's place in the marketplace as he is meticulous about its construction: "I just make music. Digest it first, listen to it a few times, then hear it in a club and dance if you think it's possible.
For all its glitchy (to use an oft-brutalized term) sheen, Prefuse 73 is damn funky. For all of its mechanized and digitized airs, it's grounded by a street-level humanity.
In the hands of renaissance aural heads like Herren, hip-hop's future looks bright indeed. Hyperbole, schmyperbole. •