Hip-hop has a long history of mind-bending beats and rhymes. From Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” to Cannibal Ox’s “Iron Galaxy,” rappers have launched their futuristic epics into outer space. Lil Wayne has unequivocally declared that he’s from Mars, and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien has given us an album set in the year 3030. Science-fiction is alive and well in hip-hop, but the genre has never embraced traditional psychedelia in quite the same way.
On his 2005 LP Beauty and the Beat, Boston MC, DJ, producer and Bob Dylan lookalike Edan makes up for lost time. He does it by building his songs as straight hip-hop, before splattering them in day glo. This is a man who understands the culture--he once released a mixtape of 20 songs that sample “Funky Drummer.” And he produces, rhymes, and scratches on his records, while most dudes stick to just one of those skills (if you get a chance to see him live, go: he DJs and raps simultaneously, all while projecting his assured, slightly nerdy form of braggadocio).
For Beauty, Edan digs deep into his crates, surfacing with an army of psych samples that are trippy and obscure as hell. He laces the whole album with groovy sound effects and weird soundbites, and turns the reverb up. Check out “Making Planets”: Edan, live from an echo chamber, spits the first verse as mellifluous noises orbit his lazy bassline. Halfway through, the track disintegrates, giving life to a swirl of primary colors, and a verse from fellow Bostonian Mr. Lif. Other song titles here, like “I See Colors,” and and the album cover give an indication of the strain of hip-hop that Edan’s dealing in. On “Promised Land,” he paints a tune as delicate and wistful as anything on Odyssey and Oracle, although I don’t recall any Zombies lyrics about asteroid belts or slapping a 40 ounce to the ground.
Lyrically, psychedelia works well for the Humble Magnificent, as Edan calls himself. On his early releases, including 2002 debut Primitive Plus, his persona was that of the class clown, if the class clown rushed home to study up on hip-hop history after school. With the acid-inspired imagery of Beauty, he inches towards a more distinctive outlook (“I wear the Prime Meridian as a wristband”), though he’s still given to goofy brags and discoursing on rap history. On “Rock And Roll,” Frank Zappa, the 13th Floor Elevators, the Velvet Underground, King Crimson, Black Sabbath and H.P. Lovecraft all get lyrical love from Edan.
We haven’t heard much from Edan lately. He dropped the Echo Party mixtape in 2009, further melding Golden Age sounds with dubby, colorful production. He didn’t rap on it. I saw him live in 2011, and he killed in front of a tiny, distracted audience. But there’s been no new album, and very little production work, since 2005. Let’s hope for a Born Like This-style reemergence sometime soon. Until then, we’ve got the vivid dreams of Beauty and the Beat.