Hip-hop is a catchall term. It has become one of those concepts that, like love, is difficult to define, but you know it when you see and feel it. How else can you explain how so many artists, though they may not participate in what many consider the defined disciplines of hip-hop, are still considered “hip-hop” by the general public. Hip-hop can be full-blown participation in break dancing, emceeing or street art or it can be displayed by something subtle as a certain swagger or type of personal composure. Is Mary J. Blige any less hip-hop because she has not demonstrated a windmill or spit flows for the duration of an entire LP?

Because of this type of hazy guidelines and lack of hard-line determinants for hip-hop culture, many people see fit to paint the picture in whatever perspective they visualize it. This results in a lot of art, which fails to paint within the lines of what many see as legitimate representations of hip-hop.

I received an album by Decomposure that would test any conventional hip-hop fan’s definition of hip-hop based off the packaging alone. The music contained within stretches the most liberal definition of hip-hop to its breaking point. Nevertheless, I need to give this album a fair assessment. I will consider my personal biases while trying to maintain an open mind to what I am listening. I will do my best to help you understand what I am seeing and hearing.

I have to start with the packaging. I was instantly drawn to the low-cost, yet inspired, packaging that the music AND DVD came bundled in. It is obvious that this packaging was a handmade effort and care was taken with each one (at least with mine) to achieve a certain look and total effect. The cd/dvd case was a piece of cardboard painted green and torn down the left and right sides. It was bound by a piece of thick brown string knotted in a complicate cross tie knot that would take me a week to learn to replicate. Inside, two green pockets hold the CD and the DVD at opposite sides of the handmade booklet within. There is a piece of vellum before pages of the seventy-nine count booklet.

The booklet pages appear to be made of parchment. It could be paper that was stained by the contents of a used tea bag, but the look is so authentic that you really do not waste too much time on how the facade was achieved. The booklet serves as a lyric reference for the album. The way the lyrics are printed can make them difficult to read, but it is simply beautiful to observe how they are positioned in a rectangular spiral (if that makes any sense). The are mapped across the middle of the pages providing text that is barely readable yet oddly exotic to gaze upon. The CD and the DVD are color-matched to the cardboard cover, completing an effort where every piece has a deep meaning. It did not surprise me to read his one-sheet and discover he is a graphic artist.

Again, this package was not terribly expensive, but it is miles ahead in terms of attention-getting quality. I will be using this as an example to demonstrate to other artist what you can accomplish when imprisoned by a short budget, yet unrestrained by an imagination that is ten-feet tall.

The DVD has tons of material. It is almost overwhelming how much material he has included with this package and how professional and engaging all of it is. I am including a list of everything I received when I opened the envelope.

  • A CD containing eleven tracks
  • A DVD containing all of the following material:
  • Introductory notes
  • 79-page annotated sketchbook in .PDF format
  • Original sound sources for all eleven hours
  • Video: vertical lines an overview
    (an audiovisual commentary on the making of the album)
  • Process recordings
  • Composite song screenshots
  • 3000 blurry photo gallery
  • Interview on CKUW 95.9 fm
  • Press kit

WOW! That is a lot of work your way through, but Decomposure most certainly has my attention so I am happy to give it a go. Let us begin with the music.

The concept for the entire album is that the author has recorded eleven hours of him conducting his daily life on a cassette. He transferred these recordings to his computer workstation and chopped the ambient sounds into bits that would be reconstructed into the beats that compose the album. The original sound sources on the DVD are the actual sound sources he used to build the tracks and, if you scan through them after listening to the album, you will recognize sounds such as breathing and doors closing that were implemented within his tracks as instruments or percussive effects.

The music itself is reminiscent of what I have heard from artist such as Squarepusher. For those who are familiar with genres such as broken beat or glitch, the music on this album will not be entirely alien. Many others may be surprised, or even turned off, by what they hear. This is not a conventional album by any means. Though he does rhyme for a portion of the record, none of it falls within the confines of what could be termed conventional emceeing veering much closer to a spoken work type delivery. Nevertheless, he demonstrates a considerable amount of articulation enunciation and breath control on the rapid-fire rhythms he concocted.

He spends a large portion of the album singing and it really works. He has a pleasant voice that translates well to his material and manages not to turn off the listener with dubious pitch correction devices, tone-deaf performance or slurring delivery.

The tracks are detailed, elaborate and built with a shocking concern for precision that will force anyone who peeps the song screenshots (of an unknown music software) to rethink what they believe to be work ethic when it comes to track composition. There are so many layers to each song and so many things taking place that it is easy to get lost between the cascading waves of melody and rhythm slapping across your ears from the speakers. Each tune manages to be simultaneously distinct and vague at the same time. It is clear that this is meant to be taken as a total body of work, listened to within the intimacy of your headphones from beginning to end. Because of this, I will waste time trying to outline the plus and minuses of each track outside of the context of their companions.

The recording quality is compatible with anything I have heard come from a major label release. The vocals are clear, the tracks sparkle and the mix is sublime.

I cannot extol enough about the overall quality of this musical package Decomposure has created. This is not just music; this is a total experience. Everything works together and I cannot help but admire the Herculean effort put forth to bring this package into existence. There is not an official rating for presentation, but if there were, I would give this one 10 out of 10.

Is this album hip-hop? Not in a conventional sense of the word. However, if you consider it hip-hop to create art that goes against the grain and to be the grandest statement of self-expression, this album is just as hip-hop as anything else you own. I have to explain again that if you are not comfortable with experimental electronic music, this is not the album for you and you should stay away from it. However, if you are comfortable with music that goes FAR against the grain and you are willing to make the serious commitment to listening that this album demands. You will be rewarded by an artist who has taken as much attention to detail as I have personally seen from a musical composition and you may learn something while you are working your way through all the extra material he has on the DVD. I most certainly have.

Decomposure :: Vertical Lines A
7.5Overall Score