Slowly but steadily grows a faction of underground hip hop that is as bizarre and difficult to describe as it is strangely engaging. Spearheaded by artists like MF Doom, GM Grimm, and Madlib, the work generally consists of burgeoning alter egos, conceptual albums, abstract lyrics and beats featuring obscure, sometimes even dark samples—often times offering an alternative, if not downright gothic feel. These artists, as evidenced by their music and affinity for the off-kilter, are enthralled by the depths of their own work and could generally care less about popular acceptance or rejection.
Rodan's association with Day By Day Entertainment and his appearance on MF Doom's Operation: Doomsday LP and Viktor Vaughn's Vaudeville Villain inherently link him to this "movement" (for lack of a better term). Not surprisingly, Theophany is much in line with the aforementioned artists and their respective releases. The sound quality is noticeably poor, the beats, courtesy of X-Ray, are equally dirty, and Rodan displays his genre's equivalence of lyrical heat throughout most.
Whether it's the sampled moans of female porn stars and light guitar riff on the aptly-titled "Erotic Peaks," peaks and valleys of string sections on "Wind Before The Storm," or the motion-picture-score-feel of "War In Heaven Pt. I," Theophany's sonic palette is as diverse as it is captivating.
On the mic, Rodan is, much like his schizophrenic predecessors, like few other MCs we've heard before. His delivery is very rapid, especially compared to peer MF Doom, and he fits a tremendous number of syllables into each track, spurning lyrical flare in favor of remaining true to the written side of his craft. This works both for and against Rodan. While the nearly monotone, quick-spitting style sounds lifeless without close inspection, it actually suits the quirky beats quite well. However, the lyrical content is difficult to decipher without close inspection, and the word-cramming often comes at the expense of the exclamation of Rodan's witty, sometimes funny, punch lines. And, perhaps most importantly, his lyrical style often buries a topically intriguing album. The crescendo horns of faith-challenging "G.O.D." and the prison war narrative of "Vengeance & Violence" fall prey to such a fate.
However, the multi-layered depths Rodan manages to lay down on much of Theophany is not necessarily a bad thing. No one ever said that a listen had to be easy, and it's apparent Rodan is fully aware of this. He is an extremely literate rapper in a sub-genre which places a premium on such skills, and the majority of his fans are likely cerebral ones. This release is no doubt for the attentive listener, so club heads might want to step aside.
Although Theophany is much in keeping with its contemporary releases, it is also unique in its own right. While releases like Madvillain's Madvillainy are so hell-bent on short, concept-related tracks that it borders on downright difficult to follow at times, Theophany is more traditional in the sense that nearly each track is of a more common length and generally deal with their own respective subjects. It's not for everyone, and, for many, will come over time as an acquired test, but the listen can be an extremely rewarding one once it sinks in. With or without the comparisons, Rodan produces a winner here with shortcomings kept at a minimum. For those who are hesitant to delve into this mutated little sector of underground without any idea of what it sounds like, Theophany could serve as a great introduction.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: April 6, 2004