“We came here to save the universe/ prepare for the change where intelligence comes first”
In times of great struggle and strife, people look to different avenues of psychological release. And in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in a little bit of a historical fulcrum right here and now in global politics, in environmental health, and in the state of Hip Hop. When there’s a war going on outside no man is safe from, some go under from the pressure, some dive head first into the muck, and some attempt to transcend through imaginative escapism, and in doing so, find a better way. The Beyonders new project falls heavily into the latter category of coping, but they’re far from escapists. As the above quote advertises, they aren’t merely here to imagine a better world, they’re here to bring it about. In the best tradition of Dr. Octagon and the Zulu nation, this two-man crew comes back from the future to bless us with a message from a distant time and space. The bad news is that the threats against what we hold dear, chiefly quality Hip Hop, are as strong as ever. The good news is that we have soldiers like Phoenix Orion and The Paranorml to fight the good fight.
Both of them Hip Hoppers with experience in multiple elements, Phoenix is a cool-minded East Coast dweller soberly spitting wisdom, while Paranorml is an unpredictable Monch-like former graf head spazoid from the West. The mission is to focus on the future, both in technological and chronological terms and in visions of what Hip Hop is evolving into. They do a convincing job of staying within this framework throughout the LP without becoming redundant or irrelevant, occasionally and effectively coming back to our current time and space with references that stay oblique and ephemeral, before inevitably drifting back to the surrealism and smart-talk of the future. Guests are welcome for the most part, especially the sharp-as-always Canibus, with the possible exception of Radioinactive on “Ahead of Our Time,” who sounds way too eager and way too white to ever pull off tightness (rap formula #2081: great breath control + unlimited vocab + amazingly dense wordplay = still no mic presence…caucasion!). As lyricists, the Beyonders won’t get you instantly hyped like a Nas or even a Juelz Santana, but they will effectively pull you in with lyrics and song structures entertainingly unpredictable and wholesome. This is music about people, not about killing them; its about ideas and possibilities, no matter how bleak those possibilities might be.
All this future talk runs over from one song to the next, never letting the album get too airy, effectively keeping a claustrophobic feel that runs over into the beats as well. The sound is one of heaviness, as the Beyonders utilize production leaning heavily on water-logged sounds of booming bass, stifling drum loops and urgent melodies that haunt more than delight. In other words, you don’t put this record on lightly in the background, you put it on loud and drown in it. Separate song structures bleed together, giving a cohesive and only occasionally stifling attitude to the album. Analytically, there’s really no way to cleanly define the sound; its not quite crunk, or club, or even underground. Energetic but dire, fresh but relentless, the sonic landscape of the future can bounce, ride and boom bap, but always sounds slightly decayed and harsh, leaving ’em wanting more with only 12 tracks. It would be unwise to play this in your walkman– it definitely needs room to breathe.
In short, the Beyonders have lovingly crafted a thoughtful, complete, intriguing sonic template that compliments their higher-minded lyricism and concepts. On “Time Capsule,” they are definitely reaching out to the uber-nerds and cyber-friends, but also to those who care where Hip Hop can and should go. To them, this is an art form based on conviction, effort and vision. Those who fail to actively shape the movements they care about will be doomed to remain standing in the stream of history. With artists like the Beyonders on our side, however, it seems hopeful that Hip Hop won’t be left behind like so many co-opted musical genres before it. So despite all the doomsday predications (justifiably) goin’ ’round these days, I’m geeked about the future still!