#40: JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
Once upon a time there was a collective known as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, a bunch of L.A. kids who straddled the line between punk rock and hip hop. They did their own thing, composed their own beats, rapped about whatever came to their heads. At one point, after finally being picked up by mainstream news organizations following a long period of internet-driven hype, they were tipped to be “the next Wu-Tang” and the “Voice of the /b/ Generation”. Much like the Wu, they didn’t put out a huge amount of work as a collective, preferring instead to provide an umbrella to a number of groups and solo artists operating within the collective. Five years later, some of these have flourished, while others have languished. Frank Ocean is the obvious breakthrough act, although Earl Sweatshirt has done okay for himself as well. OFWGKTA’s “leader”, Tyler, The Creator, has fallen off since his highwater mark of 2009-2010; Domo Genesis was never much more than a second-tier Wiz Khalifa; Left Brain and Hodgy Beats have been simmering in the background since forever, never really coming to the forefront at any point.
Then there’s The Internet, the jazz/R&B/soul outfit helmed by the coolest of OFWGKTA’s secret weapons, producer/singer Sydney Bennett, aka Syd Tha Kid, and backed up by Matt Martians. The Internet have been releasing albums as long as OF has been a thing, but they were always of lesser quality to albums like Bastard or even Rolling Papers. That changes completely with Ego Death. Freed from being an adjunct to the OF universe, Syd and Matt have crafted an album that is as subtle, smooth, and mature as Tyler’s own Cherry Bomb was abrasive, awkward, and juvenile. This is an album awash in sultry vocals and thick, bouncing bass lines, an album that revels in the humidity of the high summer and makes sweat seem as sexy as anything else. Expanding the group’s sonic pallette has made for an exponentially expressive voice, letting the duo talk about love and sex in all of its myriad shades. Unlike their first effort, Purple Naked Ladies, there’s nothing tiresome or immature about the sex-jamming on display here – it’s first rate R&B all the way.
There’s been a lot of talk about “neo-soul”, which is really a catch-all term for moving urban music away from the synthetic pop it became synonymous with in the mid-2000s and injecting it with more shades of the past. This has produced some stellar albums – Black Messiah, To Pimp A Butterfly, The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets – but there are moments on Ego Death where it feels like The Internet might be the only R&B group progressing the genre towards the future. It’s hard to remember here in 2015, but that was the original point of Odd Future: to break the mold and craft something different. Some of the formerly key players may have gotten lost along the wayside, but Syd and Co. seem to get more on point as the years roll on.