It appears we are firmly entrenched in the Gajah mailing list, and that's certainly fine by me, as he's never sent us a project that wasn't worth taking the time to listen to. He's also linked up with somebody that we're friends with tangentially - Uncommon Nasa - a former guest of Jeep Ward's Subways & Sidewalks podcast. That pretty much made reviewing "Hands of Gold Are Always Cold" a cinch-lock. The only reason it hasn't happened sooner (this one's from October 2014) is that it fell between the cracks quite LITERALLY, being mailed in a paper thin envelope, with the album itself coming in a slim sleeve instead of a full gem case. This was the kind press kit that winds up sliding between couch cushions, car seats or recliners - you take your best guess which one it was because I'm not telling.
It seems apt that this one ended up in a no man's limbo-like land though, because "Hands of Gold Are Always Cold" is as unorthodox as both Gajah and Uncommon Nasa themselves. It's not the kind of album you can listen to casually like the latest free DatPiff mixtape or put on for background noise while you have friends over to drink and socialize during a family function or gathering. No - this is a jarring album. This is an album of electronic noises, wailing synthetic sounds, and deeply modulated vocal samples that sound like demonic creatures. Coincidentally enough as I'm writing this paragraph the song "Bloodsport" just came on and it underscores my point - Gajah raps in the opening bars that "Every day is a fight night - the streets are one big Octagon where spontaneous brawls take place." It's gritty and unsettling and "it's not on pay-per-view/but the worst part is somebody's probably taping you."
The good news is that some of us like mixed martial arts - I happen to write about it professionally now and speak to several fighters for interviews on a weekly basis. I recognize that it's not for everyone though, as some people can't see the humanity behind the sport, and the intense amount of discipline and training that the top competitors go through to achieve and succeed. There will always be John McCain style holdouts who will refuse to see the beauty in the techniques, the story of learning to be well rounded in many disciplines to achieve athletically, the amazing skill of a perfectly executed armbar or rear naked choke. Some people will just refuse to accept it as sport. "Hands of Gold Are Always Cold" is a "sporting" album - it challenges the listener's definition of what competing in hip-hop is. It dances around and punches you from all angles. It is literally "Off the Chain."
Clever Mr. T snippets reinforce both the point of the song and the theme of the album as a whole, but the story here is Gajah's uncontrollable flow, flipping from fast to slow at will while special guest Atari Blitzkreig proves just as unbound by typical rap conventions. At times you may wonder if they're on-beat or off-beat, until you realize that for these artists the beat exists entirely independently of the lyrics and vice versa. Uncommon Nasa and Gajah are kindred spirits in that they both refuse to accept traditional definitions of hip-hop, and while Gajah will adjust his flow to match Nasa's production on songs like "Duly Noticed," it's with a wink and a nod to the fact either feels free to break the format at any time - as Nasa does about 105 seconds into the track when the beat suddenly turns into notes that seem to be generated by an old video game console. I do mean OLD - pre eight-bit Nintendo old.
Purposefully or accidentally no song may better describe this tandem than track #10 - "Radio on Acid." I'm intimately aware that this isn't going to be everybody's cup of tea - it goes from a loping, trippy smokehouse jazz to a super speedy tongue twisting rap to a guitar rocking headlong dive into a hip-hop mosh pit. I can understand and respect the artistic intentions behind each and every song here - from the grungy and reverberating "Soldier of Truth" to the epic sweep of "No Country for Young Men," but it's an intense cacophony of noise that's going to put off those who aren't prepared or willing to accept the noise-bending adventure. I mean it as both praise and warning to call this "arthouse rap." Much like caged combat you have to be schooled in the format to see the beauty within the brutality.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: April 7, 2015