Well is a collaboration between Cleen and Demune. Cleen, who hails from Southern California, has a deliberate, steady flow reminiscent of Aesop Rock. As he notes on “Yin Yang Brothers,” the compliment he gets most frequently is that his rhymes are easy to understand. Demune, who is from Portland by way of Hawaii, is more out there and aggro. Together the duo make an interesting combination.
The EP starts out with an instrumental piece of jazzy hip hop. It sounds like something off Digable Planets first album, and it lets the listener know that Well are something different. “Yin Yang Brother” and “Group Hug”, both produced by M. Williams, have smooth, jazzy beats, while “Piano Lamb,” produced by J.F. Lewis, goes in a more trip-hop direction. “Dreamers” has a sinister, funky beat that wouldn’t be out of place on Def Jux or even Anticon. There are also some instrumentals, including “Miles High,” which features M. K. Rayfield on trumpet, and “Outro,” which is three minutes of glitchy electronica. All of the beats are a little unique and experimental, which I appreciated. Well are clearly taking risks, and the result is an album that sounds different than most hip hop out there.
Lyrically Well is more hit-or-miss. In general I like Cleen’s matter-of-fact flow and his honest lyrics. Occasionally he can sound monotonous, and he sometimes tries to cram too many words into bars, or raps off tempo. Demune, on the other hand, is anything but monotonous. He channels Doodlebug from Digible Planets mixed with Kool Keith, a sort of jazz hipster meets Bellevue escapee. This can be interesting or annoying, depending on the song and/or your perspective. “Group Hug” and “Dreamers” are less successful in melding the rappers different styles, and as a result lean towards the annoying end of the spectrum. “Yin Yang Brothers” and “While the City Sleeps,” on the other hand, are better realizations of what Well are going for. “While the City Sleeps” is a powerful song about sexual abuse and the darker side of city life. “Chances are what’s done in darkness isn’t exactly fun stuff,” Cleen raps, “and let’s keep it real, this city isn’t so nice to look at when the sun’s up.” Demune’s sinister, deep voice perfectly fits the mood of the song, and is a nice contrast to Cleen.
“Dreamers” isn’t without its rough spots, but does offer four or five solid tracks of adventurous and interesting hip hop. The jazz and electronica influenced beats sound good and different from the norm. If Well don’t always pull of the contrast between Cleen and Demune, at least they are trying something new. Fans of artists on Anticon or Quannum should give this a listen.