Mike Ladd pisses me off. There is an attitude that some artists take, in their music and in their nauseatingly earnest interviews, that they and they alone, are doing it all different; miraculously breaking new ground. In a BBC interview Ladd gave last year, he makes the breadth of his music clear. “My work chronicles a timeline leading up to the point we’ve reached now, which is post-futurism.” So wait, your work is all of time? Wrapped up in album form? Bad-ass. He goes on to expound exactly post-futurism is; I’ve got a shorter definition of Ladd’s music, though decidedly less eloquent – it’s hip-hop, simple.
Ladd seems to want to evade this pedestrian label. Hip-hop is something dirty and uncouth, crafted by people too poor to own musical instruments or learn how to play them. Hip-hop is for gangsters and high-school kids, not for musicians. I’ve never bought into this. Whether spitting rhymes on hot asphalt school-yards or in humming recording studios, no branch of hip-hop is so isolated from another, whatever rabid indie hip-hoppers say. And whether Ladd likes it or not, with “Father Divine,” he’s making hip-hop. Is it post-futuristic? I don’t know, but it’s far and away his best work to date.
Ladd has a penchant for grandiose themed projects, in his Majesticons/Infesticons releases he wrapped hip-hop up into a neat two LP set. An overly ambitious project if not a downright arrogant one, he pitted commercial bling-bling styled mixes against the conscious prose of indie-hip-hop, neither of the albums worked as well as you wanted them too, despite the fake beef he cooked up between the two. I’m not a fawning Ladd follower, I haven’t sworn by his previous work, and I was downright skeptical about his newest release.
Ladd though, has shut me up with “Father Divine,” his least ambitious and by far most successful work to date. Backing away from the lofty ambitions of high-art, Ladd has turned his attention to what turns out he did best anyhow; making hip-hop. “Father Divine” exhibits some of the most fearsome production since 9th Wonder stepped behind the board with Little Brother. It’s spare without feeling empty. Ladd’s voice shifts and morphs timbres while the minimalist productions and understated beats are engaging without being overbearing. The spacious drifting tracks are free to evolve, as well as provide ample headroom for Ladd to oscillate between his various flows; brick-toothed word-association riffs, heavy-lidded spoken-word, and an occasional despairing moan of a hook. “Awful Raw” is one of the best, with Ladd rhyming against brassy jarring horns and a pulsing bass line:
“Ooo this TV coming down at me
Old time subject like liberty
I try to not fuck with what they believe
But there’s a big fat carrot right in front of me
Newscaster got me like a parody
But I won’t parrot on some critical beef
Media is bigger than the shining sea
More like the weather when its raining beat”
“Crooner Island” follows, a Caribbean romp swimming in hollow drums and a hauntingly upbeat keyboard riff. About half of the tracks, including the hidden, “Baptism by Radio” (for some reason buried behind seven silent fillers), are dark instrumental compositions. They shift effortlessly, with science fiction effects bubbling across their backdrops and lively flexible drums. “Barney’s Girl” is another highpoint, a smoky ode to youth and lost love, in which Ladd pulls off the unlikely feat of successfully working together, “she had the ass that was on gyrate,” with a mournful poetic hook, “Ooo, she taste just like springtime”. The unstrained flexibility of the album is its greatest asset, providing challenging listening or just pure musical enjoyment, depending on where you look.
Ladd, for once without overstating his mission, has created something that lives up to it. There isn’t a weak track on “Father Divine,” and though some of Ladd’s lyrical styling can be uninspired (“Little Red” doesn’t really have a reason for existing, though the spacey videogame production still makes it worthwhile), the album is packed with solid material. Who knew that behind Ladd’s art school hip-hop leanings there was a talented musician at work? Maybe all his fans were on to something, as Ladd has succeeded where many fail; he has combined all forces indie into a magnum opus that is one of the best albums of the year.