Hip-hop isn’t exactly the perfect musical backdrop to chill out to, at least for me it isn’t. It demands too much attention. You somehow just can’t ignore it. If you hate it, you will try to find a way to turn it off, if you love it, you will try to find a way to turn it up. And even if you’re indifferent to it, you will still be irritated by the fast talking, the chopped up rhythm patterns and the repetitive harmonies. Hip-hop goes against the grain. No other aspect illustrates that better than scratching, where you take a piece of vinyl and jerk it violently underneath a diamond-pointed needle to produce a sound that used to be a mere side effect of a disc jockey previewing a record he intended to play. On the other hand, these are the qualities that make people take notice. So whether you love it or loathe it or really don’t care about it, it’s hard to ignore hip-hop even when played at a reasonable volume.
But there have always been musicians who have tried to grind these grooves, to round off some of the edges of these ruff, rugged ‘n raw rap tunes while still keeping them interesting. “24OD” makes another attempt at the fusion of the clean and the mean, and since it’s an instrumental album it can do so without having to cater to any rapper. The main musical feature is the marriage of stutter-stepping beats to piano and keyboard chords, played by the man behind this project, Lazarus Divine. A few snippets such as sampled vocals, horns, a child’s voice or string-like sounds get thrown into the mix. The variety of the soundscapes shaped looks impressive from a distance, but upon further inspection the patterns stay pretty much the same: beats & pianos. Any instrumental music faces the danger of drifting into irrelevance. This pertains especially to hip-hop which usually is associated with a rapper taking up the spotlight while the tracks are condemned to play “the cosmetic background,” as rapper Chubb Rock once put it. That’s why instrumental hip-hop has to pack an extra punch to get noticed.
While it may lack said punch, “24OD” still manages to offer a welcome break (pun intended) from the run-down hoopties honking their way through the underground and the overpriced big body Benzes and Bentleys skating over the iced-out mainstream. If you’re among those who feel music can tell a story without saying a word, then my imagination isn’t that advanced that I could read this CD like a storybook, but as far as moods go it helped me get into some, whether through the determination of “Interpretation of a River” with its new age-meets-jazz sound structures, the take-off anxiety of the opening “The Walrus & the Carpenter”, the whale-like wailing of the guitar that suddenly surfaces in “Snail”, the underground head-nod of “Applause”, the sombering “No Chaos Dammit”, the sorrowful “Newfound Outlaw” or the images of cold winter nights evoked by “A Long Stretch of Highway”. Only once are we treated to raps, performed by someone simply named Aaron on the closing “Profession”.
Like many other ventures through these not anymore uncharted soundscapes that border hip-hop, jazz, classical music and electronica, “24OD” resists to being pinned down to any genre, but the steady pulsating of the beats makes sure this lies still within the realm or at least the reach of hip-hop. Like most similar projects these beats come with a great deal of understatement, and maybe that’s why they’re so relaxing in a rap world full of overstatement.