Recone Helmut is pH10. Helmut will say otherwise if he’s interviewed, claiming that pH10 is a duo or a group, but the sole reason pH10 exists is because Helmut is producing all of the tracks. Helmut makes no secret of the fact this is a means to an end either. Helmut and friends moved from Denver to New York in the 1990’s in pursuit of one goal – NO MORE DAY JOBS. Argue if you like that this is not the most noble of motivations for making music, but it’s also refreshingly honest. There’s no pretentious arthouse crap going on with Helmut, despite the fact his name might make you think he’s painting the walls of the electronica scene with International Klein Blue.
Oh wait – did I forget to mention that “Well Connected” is ELECTRONICA?
Don’t trip just yet. pH10 may be coming into hip-hop through the back door, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t instantly recognize “79MC” featuring KCutz as rap music. The vocal samples from “Training Day” are aggressive and boisterous, spitting phrases like “WHO THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU FUCKIN WITH?!” and “I RUN SHIT HERE.” Heavy bass beats and pounding drums provide the backdrop to the insanity, and the turntablism on the track turns the whole presentation into something straight out of an Invisibl Skratch Piklz set. In fact the most accurate comparison I can draw to pH10’s sound on this song is what would happen if El-Producto produced for DJ QBert.
In fact for an album ostensibly labeled as electronica the entire “Well Connected” album is remarkably hip-hop. Frequent guest vocalist Pete Miser spits respectable backpacker hip-hop verses throughout the album, even getting off occasional punchlines like “masturbating next to me you couldn’t CUM close” on songs like “BK United.” His are not the only rhymes to the beats on pH10 though. The strongest performances may be from Prodigal Son and I-45 on “Bulldozin,” a track where the latter says he’s “blowin up faster than the price of gasoline.” You can also hear Pete Miser rapping with Jamalski on the reggae influenced speed freak track “Enter the Underground.” This track’s breakdown between verses that really turned on a metaphorical light bulb in my brain. I’ve heard this before. I know I’ve heard this style of hip-hop electronica before…
“Look at ’em move up the wall like roaches
That’s right you see the coaches
Look through the microscope and glance
People are ants”
That’s it! “The Return of Dr. Octagon.” Kool Keith was his typically enigmatic self when it came to this album, denying anything to do with it yet clearly having provided exclusive vocal tracks which were at least sampled in it. In pH10’s case things are a lot more clear – Helmut is providing all of the beats and having his friends come in to scratch or rap over them. Now not every track on this 15 deep release features these elements. In fact some like “Space Baby” are noisy beats which have more in common with Nine Inch Nails than Nas, but there’s no denying that the pulsing beats of electronica have a common heritage with hip-hop. To put it another way if house, techno, electronica and hip-hop had a family reunion they’d all instantly recognize each other as cousins.
That whole “Return of Dr. Octagon” steelo is going to be a turnoff for some rap heads though. Keith himself has been very dismissive of the sound, having ‘killed’ it lyrically and referred to the style as “candy pop – something called candy-hop.” Perhaps he’s right. On the other hand there’s a lot of room in the world for a lot of different musical styles, and even though many people hated “The Return of Dr. Octagon” as much as Keith did this writer in particular thought it wasn’t half bad. It’s hard for Keith to complain about something being different and weird when that’s his entire shtick – his only beef is that it wasn’t HIS kind of weird. Perhaps pH10’s “Well Connected” will be yours. None of the raps here are embarassingly simplistic techno-pop fluff, and while computer generated noisy beats and melodies aren’t for everybody the steelo here is okay with me. This album will occupy that DMZ between two entrenched groups who think they have nothing in common with each other when in truth they have EVERYTHING in common if they could only see it. If you like Nine Inch Nails or didn’t hate Doc Ock’s return, take a chance on this one.