There are moments in hip-hop when silliness and fun shines: Shock G, the master producer of piano and organ beats, wearing a fake nose and glasses and gyrating wildly as Humpty Hump; Prince Paul wailing over jarring piano on De La Soul’s “Johnny Is Dead”; or more recently, Flex Matthews shouting out Deer Park spring water on “Live from Wonka Beats Volume 1”; or, Zeroh asserting, “This my world” before babbling nonsense at the end of “Cool Runnings”, causing Jonwayne to call out at the end, “It’s going to fuck it up!” Into this group, we might introduce Stranger Danger, a producer and MC from Highland Park in North East Los Angeles whose 2018 album “Einstein’s Guide to Losing Friends & Alienating People” mixes comedy, anti-social sentiments and inventive sample selections across its fifteen tracks.
As a member of groups including Blaq Tongue Society, Tha Roach Killaz and Dreadlock Jesus (whose album is notably called “I’ve Heard of Dreadlocks, But Shitlocks?”), Stranger Danger has been recording since 2001. And, long before that, as he rhymes on “No Realizm”, was “an ill mastermind as a youth”, spinning records on a “Fisher Price vinyl player”. A dedication to record collecting is evident on “Einstein’s Guide to Losing Friends & Alienating People”, with Stranger Danger making use of psychedelic rock and blues, soul and a variety of vocal samples from TV shows, viral videos and film. At its best “Einstein’s Guide to Losing Friends & Alienating People” resembles Edan’s “Beauty and the Beat”. The Hendrix-style guitar groove introducing “King of the Hill” featuring TG, and the shiny guitar feedback of “Where Ya Stylez At?” are reminiscent of the echo-drenched rock riffs on Edan’s “Making Planets”. Although, let’s not let the comparison sit too neatly. While Edan laced his fuzzed out hip-hop with psychedelic images, Danger’s concerns are, for the most part, schooling younger artists who’ve “got no steez, no direction” and “no sense of fashion”, dissing older hip-hop artists who “got mad old and soft” and flaunting lyrical skills: “Got a seven syllable middle between the double five riddle”. Danger seems particularly annoyed by uninventive artists, who are “all followers” and copying the musical trends of “the latest wack rapper”. Disappointingly, Danger employs homophobic slurs to get his disses across – they don’t come around often, but are jarring to hear and mark low points across the album.
When a large roster of popular artists in, what we might loosely define as the underground boom-bap genre, are working from blueprints drawn up by Roc Marciano, Stranger Danger is the belligerent, funny and inappropriate artist who crashed the party. He’s the new obnoxious Humpty, pelvic thrusting on stage, or “taking a piss in the crowd” as told in the cautionary “Mock Neck Nerdle Neck Sweater” – a track rivalling EPMD’s “You Had Too Much to Drink” in its depiction of a night fueled by alcohol and pills. At the end of the track, a voice quietly says, “Einstein, you dick”. Is Stranger Danger Einstein on this record? On “Pop Ya Pimple”, Danger rhymes that he’ll “teach us how to lose friends and alienate peeps”, implying that this is his – Einstein’s – guide. The line arrives two tracks before the title track like a forewarning.
The title track closes the record and is, as the album title suggests, an example in how to lose friends and alienate both fans and hip-hop peers. It’s likely that Stranger Danger will offend most listeners at least once during his disses towards a long list of mainstream and underground hip-hop artists – some names include YG, Migos, Jay-Z, Jedi Mind Tricks and Wu-Tang Clan. The unreserved attitude and scatter-shot disses, while harsh, are refreshing in their disregard for how they’ll be received. As Stranger Danger rhymes, in a sort of justification for the disses, he’s “frustrated because he’s underrated” while other rappers are “making money over dumb shit”. An easy dismissal of Stranger Danger would be to say he’s simply a hater and move on. Maybe that’s the case, but from the relentless dissing and frustration we might see an argument for why strange, goofy hip-hop like Stranger Danger – on an album that combines interesting samples, a collage of funny vocal snippets and complex lyric styles, not to mention a guest roster of MCs including A.F.R.O. – is overlooked or doesn’t meet the same popularity as other underground acts. Could it be, that instead of (as Kool Keith said on “Black Elvis”‘ “Intro”) making “mean faces” invideos, Stranger Danger in the music video for Toy Story, raps while on the toilet, with sneakers on his hands, and while pouring soy sauce over one hand while wearing a wig with a Humpty-style fake nose and sunglasses? Or, is it perhaps simpler – that some records live in obscurity or hold small, dedicated followings to those in-the-know, until perhaps re-issued by an underground label in twenty years.
Chopped Herring Records do an excellent job at unearthing records from ’90s artists who perhaps felt frustrated and underrated by their peers and lack of industry attention and fame. We only have to look at Brian Kayser’s interview with Natural Elements’ Mr Voodoo in “Chopped Herring Records: The Interviews Volume 1”, to know that even Voodoo took a break from music for a while due to, amongst other reasons, not feeling appreciated for his music. Born from frustration, or lack of care for how it might be received, Stranger Danger’s “Einstein’s Guide to Losing Friends & Alienating People” is a record brimming with creativity that says: here’s what I’m bringing to the table, I hate most others rappers, enjoy. I’m glad Stranger Danger reached out to Chopped Herring Records with his music, and I’m glad there are labels like Chopped Herring Records to put out such interesting, excellent hip-hop. It might not be the acknowledgement Stranger Danger’s looking for, but I love “Einstein’s Guide” as I’m sure a (hopefully growing) group of listeners with their ears to the underground already do.