In the interest of full disclosure, you deserve to know that I'm friends with K-Murdock, Panacea's producer du jour. He's been on several editions of my weekly Hip-Hop Shop podcast, including one record just one month ago. On that show we debuted a previously unheard Panacea track called "Lady Gives the Blues," which K revealed would be on his upcoming "Corkscrew Gaps" EP. The nine songs found here fall into a timespan between 2003 and 2009, when K and his Panacea partner Raw Poetic made more songs than they had room for on their commercially released albums. This isn't unprecedented in hip-hop, and such songs usually end up as B-sides or soundtrack cuts, but K decided to compile them all together into one EP and give it away for free on Bandcamp. As you read this review feel free to keep any bias I might have in mind, yet know as you do that Panacea was already dope before I knew K, and if you doubt what I have to say you can download "Corkscrew Gaps" for yourself at no cost to form your own opinion.
Now that we've got that out of the way, why the hell WOULDN'T you want to download a Panacea album anyway, free or otherwise? There's a reliably fresh feeling to anything they do, a pervasive sense that conventional rap norms do not fit this tandem. You can't pigeonhole Panacea. Raw Poetic is an emcee who can bust over any beat, at any tempo, on any topic, at any time. K-Murdock is as eclectic as they come on production, happily digging in a variety of crates from funk to R&B to video games to anime. The only thing you're guaranteed to expect when you check out Panacea is that they're on a level other people aren't - either going so far back they've made everything old brand new or so far ahead that listeners haven't caught up yet. "Lady Gives the Blues" fits that to a T, as the soulful hook lopes along at its own pleasant pace until K ramps up the beat with a clever transition and Poetic easily adapts to the format. The rap lives up to the title too as Poetic's genuinely blue about a relationship that doesn't seem like it'll work out:
"Thinkin out loud what I want to say
Try to play it cool that very day
About what we had I looked for segues
But I reached bolt locks inside my head's maze
First saw you and my heart could drop
And I think of the split and my stomach knots
Whole thing was a game that a dickhole played
Flipped me off when I called your name
Shit I can't front girl I did the same
But your fronting drove me insane
And I crashed a few times, scratched a few lines
You had to do yours, I had to do mines
What happened to those times? Not a bad one
Thought you was gonna give my moms a grandson
Can't be together but as friends we can't run
Time to advise to a lonely anthem"
Print really doesn't do justice to Poetic's blistering pace here, but the song is without question a work of art. In fact if "Corkscrew Gaps" could be said to have one singular theme, it's that all nine of these songs are individual masterpieces which somehow did not find their way into previous collections. K has offered explanations on his personal blog of how these labours of love got lost, but even if you don't know the individual story behind each one or what album it should have been from, don't sweat it. You can love a song like "Rope-A-Dope" without knowing jack shit. The haunting instrumental backdrop seems to be yearning for "more" yet it could hardly have more layers of melody, drums and strings than it already does. There's a timeless boom bap quality to the song, something that instantly evokes memories of your favorite Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Dr. Dre or Alchemist beat. Poetic's rap sews it together tighter than OJ Simpson's gloves:
"I fall against the ropes and then, kidneys hurtin from the jab
Used to think the kid was fly, now I'm stuck in turbulence
What if I bitch smacked my boss and broke my co-worker's neck?
Before my girl get my pay she'll get an attitude check
I may be blue collar, few dollars, but I'm the best
at bein me, baby hate it or love it, that's what you get
Because it's (MORE)"
"Coin Toss" opens the collection with a beat that seems to keep time with a mental image of Two-Face, but Poetic describes his flip as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" in musical form that you can enter and participate in. "Pack-Up Line" reflects the artistic struggle when you're doing music that's "food for thought" but the taste is too creative for an audience weaned on bologna sandwich hip-hop, "constricted like a boa" by their unwillingness to try the new. Revisions also play a role in "Corkscrew Gaps," as K-Murdock's anime influences creep in on "Spirit Bomb (Neosonic Super-Saiyan Bomb Remix)" and "Close (K-Murdock's Ronin Remix)." Pleasant memories of Shing02 and Samurai Champloo are evoked by the latter, which merges like a Blackalicious track into a musical culture inspired by many sources yet singularly identifiably as new sound all its own. When traveling through the "Corkscrew Gaps" just remember to hold on tight, because each space you fall through becomes a roller coaster unto its own, taking you for a ride you may be slightly ashamed you got for free even though K encouraged you to do so with his blessings.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 6, 2009