That's Stuart Bell, laying on an intro for "Madman," the ninth track on Cave Livin', the debut from the Chapel Hill/Greensboro hip-hop duo Endless Mic. In four years, Trekky Records--the brainchild of Will Hackney and Martin Anderson, then students at East Chapel Hill High School--has become one of the most remarkable things in Orange County, turning out several quality records a year in the black and now sitting very few latchkeys away from real notoriety. The roster--from Mortar and Pestle and Choose Your Own Adventure to Alvarez Painting and The Never--runs strong, an eclectic sweep cutting clear from high-calorie power pop to far-flung post-rock. Now, backpacker hip hop--an insult only for the myopes think that really loving hip-hop requires some mystical back story, some ability to know "what the fuck this hip-hop shit is about," as DJ Premiere puts it--is part of the roster, and Endless Mic carries that weight just fine, relying on the 1-2 interplay of Bell and Ryan Maiani.
Sure, there are expected holes in the formula for such a debut: Some of the beats are thin, and the nitpicking, attention-to-detail ear that takes good, verse-based hip hop and makes it great isn't always there. The beats are simple and augmented only by seldom guest appearances, live instruments and some select scratching, but dead space creeps up, especially on opener "You Know My Name" and "I Don't Wanna Be Ill." Opportunities for soul hooks--like "Didi," Maiani's poignant narrative of an uncle cool enough to play Sega with his nephew but troubled enough to kill his wife and himself--get lost in hesitation, Calee Salem's beautiful warble suspended in a doo-wop skat resistance to a hook.
But that's all excusable, especially given that emcees Bell and Maiani--hey, you know there name--aren't just flaccid imitations of their idols. There is little ostensible biting on Cave Livin', in and of itself an accomplishment for two guys that drop the names of their microphones gods--Black Star, Aesop Rock, Hieroglyphics--with loads of reverence sans stereotypical hints of self-delusion. They're not as interested in telling you about their skill as often as they are showing it, but they cleverly confess their skills if need be. Perhaps that's the primo backpacker's credo.
They're big on streams of alliteration-- "Dumbditty dopplegangin' dickhead divisionary"--and bigger on wrapping polysyllabics around the turn of the beat. Endless Mic brings wit into every bit of their lock-and-key lyrical interplay, too: On "Didi," Maiani's aforementioned narrative paean to his uncle, he finds the levity to joke, "I had a Sega Genesis, you know that 32-bit, but that's long before I got into this Fruity Loops shit." They poke fun at the discount Jesus bling of the commercial gods and at their underground selves for being "a bit of a head." Even the political commentary, delivered by Bell on "Madman," runs on innate wit and invasive wordplay: "Mention what you're hearing and make both of your senators ears rings/ The youth is getting conscious, pretty sick of this nonsense/ Because what we're being fed now isn't bullshit, it's more like toxic."
Not perfect, but promising enough. --Grayson Currin