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Weekly Playlist: Engineered Environments

When one thinks of atmospheric-music, what is conjured within the mind? Perhaps this means you sonically revitalize acoustical ghosts of a nostalgic past via musical subgenres like Lo-Fi, Vaporwave, and even the distinctly vaporous stylings of the relatively-unknown offshoot of Alternative Rock called ‘Dream Pop’? Maybe you aurally envision the whimsical stylings of Icelandic, multi-medium Artist Björk, or even the ambient profundity of Brian Eno, revered Composer of 50+ years and original developer of the term ‘Ambient music’ itself? Regardless of what ‘atmospheric’ means to you, the subgenre of mainstream Hip-Hop most comparable to its non-H.H. companion [Lo-Fi] would be ‘Cloud Rap’, a ‘mutation of southern hip-hop’ [referencing the South’s affinity for trap-aesthetic based vocalisms] which utilizes eclectic musical nuances, quite literally hypnotizing its listeners with kaleidoscopic soundscapes and transformative usages of ‘New Age-like atmospherics and sedated beats’.

However, the subgenre is recognized as being a natural product of the Internet-based culture it was birthed from, thus its production and dissemination are usually solely digital, engendering the music produced with a sort of formlessness, where although the content exists, it still retains a level of fictitiousness, never really being ‘real’. The metaphysical genre has been ‘formally’ around for only 10 years, after having been introduced in 2010 by Walker Chambliss in his description of Main Attrakionz second member, Squadda B, as ‘the king of cloud rap,’ referencing his early innovative use of techno-dreamscapes, paired with lyrical flows imbued with psychologically relevant material, starkly contrasting conventional modes of musical communication [although not entirely]. Although Squadda B’s musical career in the late 2010s-early 2020s was and is rocky, to say the least, his name will forever be recognized as signifying a pioneer of the once revolutionary and now ever-broadening subgenre that I consider a perpetually modernizing example of the multidimensionality of sonorous Innovationism.

This week, I thought I would honor the indiscernibility of the ‘Cloud’ aesthetic via the lens of five completely dissimilar songs of various home-genres that I considered to embody the strangeness of this idiosyncratic aesthetic tendency, which has been made profitably mainstream by creators like American Rapper A$AP Rocky and to a lesser-extent Kayne, Post Malone, and even XXXTentacion to a certain degree. Because this group is an agglomeration of disparate tracks, feel free to listen to them in any order you’d like, as there is no linear storyline being portrayed, nor does the presentation order of the tracks suggest any such narrative! Like always, feel free to like, share, and comment on which tracks you found to be your most favorite, or if you have any suggestions on what types of songs or genres we should cover next time!


1. funeral: EARLEAK (Nov. 2020)

Fitting to Cloud-Rap’s recognizable celestial characteristics, funeral [a relatively new Artist who has shows a proclivity for electro-acoustics and hallucinatory atmospheres], compounds undulating techno dreamscapes with textually incoherent, hazy lyricism, all preceded by a baby-doll melody which infuses the entire track and adds a surrealist quality to the sonic fray. With what I call a cyber-baby timbre, he talks of the ‘earleak’, an allusion to blood pouring from the ear, and his crude adventures of ‘walking thru this house’, killing his enemies who want to emulate him to the point of death. Poetically, it reads like a general diss-track, articulated through a computerized voice as if an A.I. decided to rebel one day against its creators. Listen for the tempo change at [1:47], as the way he slows down the speed and lowers the octave is great.

2. The Herbaliser: Shattered Soul (1999)

Taking an Instrumental perspective on C.R’s [Cloud-Rap] enchanting portrayals of hyperreality, the U.K-based Jazz Hip-Hop group The Herbaliser, still creating music 25 years after their first EP release in 1995, included an Instrumental track on their 1999 Album ‘Very Mercenary’. The track’s ‘spy-funk’ suaveness is articulated through repetitive melodies, falling chromaticism [think 007], and a unique blend of harmonic sameness with virtuosic riffs and ‘trip-hop’ improvisations. The C.R. sentiments are palpable through the track’s narcotic subcurrent, facilitating a nostalgic longing for the era of sunken living rooms, boxed TV’s, and shows like I-Spy, Charlie's Angels, and James Bond, while simultaneously capitalizing on the digital-era through artificial sounds and psychotropic lulls.

3. DJ Shadow: C.O.N.F.O.R.M. (2019)

Invoking the sounds and sentiments of 80 and 90s ‘conscious Hip-Hop’ Artists like KRS-One, Public Enemy, and even Tupac Shakur, the American Music Producer and award-winning Soundtrack creator DJ Shadow [Joshua Pual Davis], released his lengthy, 23-track Album entitled ‘Our Pathetic Age’ in 2019 to mixed reviews due to its length [91 minutes long] and convoluted structure. Despite whatever qualms the critics may have had, I present to you his 16th song, a track which embodies Cloud-Rap’s ephemerality, although fitted against the dreadful backdrop of the contemporary disintegration of the modernized ‘Self’. Using a consistent Twilight Zone-inspired piano arpeggio, archival audio-samplings relaying the dichotomous existence of the ‘cell phone,’ and several unambiguous storytellers, one is left to contemplate on the heavily important question of ‘Who am I really' and 'Who do I want to be?'

4. Kno: La Petite Mort (2010)

With its French title meaning ‘The Little Death’, a macabre reference to the metaphysical belief that at the zenith of any human experience, either sexual or emotional, a minuscule yet vital part of the soul quite literally dies, never to be regained in this lifetime, and this track’s acoustic identity as the subconscious narrator is reminiscent of C.R’s misty relationship with reality itself. This track was created by Alt-Hip-Hop Artist Kno [Ryan Wisler] for his debut 2010 Album ‘Death is Silent’, which was praised highly with a 4.71 [/ 5] on HipHopDX, and unofficially named one of 2010’s best Albums. Kno’s usage of mythological characters like suicidal Antigone and Underworld-Ferryman Charon to depict the dual nature of sexual pleasure, along with his soothing soft-Rock aesthetic, bathe the track in a ‘golden-hour’ state of abstraction, where guitar-pangs and drum beats seem to shimmer like an ineffable mirage among the warm rays.

5. Clipping: Looking like Meat (Oct 2020)

Taking a 360 degree turn from the past four interpretations of C.R, this electronically-saturated track, which incorporates textual influences from microgenres like Horrorcore and the antagonistic carnality of Gangsta Rap, with musical influences ranging from the obscure digital-dissonances of Dark Ambient to the Industrial, sonic anarchism of Power Electronics, the listener is greeted with music’s third-dimension via sonic punches, stall-outs, spatial playing, and a plethora of other electro-acoustical subversions. This sonically-degenerative track [a good thing!] is the 11th song of the L.A. based Rap/Producer Trio Clipping’s newest Album entitled, “Visions of Bodies Being Burned,” released in October, and which garnished a 7.8/10, and 78/100 for its perfectly disturbing sonic acidity. It depicts the speaker's metaphorical consumption of his adversaries, and features multiple warnings by two distinct voices to back your bags and move!


Pictured [In order of appearance]: Kno, The Herbalizer, DJ Shadow

Writer: John David Vandevert []


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