In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of prolificness in hip-hop. It’s a new bragging right for many of the current generation of talents: I work harder, and here is the irrefutable proof, my phenomenally huge output. It’s been true of many of the blogger’s favourite MCs, but it’s equally true for producers. Aside from showing off, a lot of beat makers feel more comfortable with a shorter working process. It feels good to finish a beat before you notice you’ve started. It feels good to use a sampler like it’s a typewriter and bash out a few paragraphs. Done repeatedly, it creates another emotional high of sorts, or at the very least a positive reward cycle. To the artist, it’s a contented mode of being, and to the audience, the work appears to blur between recording, performance, and life, with an oeuvre of quantity over quality.
The degradation of quality is obviously key here. Modern technology facilitates the generation of previously unimaginable amounts of work. But if the goal is to make beats in minutes rather than days, high fidelity, density of detail and a certain amount of ambition must be discarded. Beats made by the hyper-prolific are often easily spotted in their carelessness, flatness, bareness, dullness. What they lack is a density of detail. How does one make dense music quickly?
Whether they know it of not, the three producers at the head of this article have a common solution to this problem. Each of them takes cues from the another scene in order to keep their output up, namely free noise. Noise is another scene dominated by its prolifics, where low-quality and high-quantity go hand-in-hand, performance blurs into discography and it is almost impossible to judge an artist by listening to all of their recorded work. Moreover, the music has density, unpredictability, texture. Sometimes that’s all it consists of. Noise can be the byproduct of excess recording. Too much amplitude, yes, but also too much time invested in the act of recording itself. A madness creeps in, one that can be heard everywhere from the numb instrumentals of Clams Casino to Dibia$e, whose early beats are a funk of pure crackle and smoke.
Knxwledge’s latest, ‘kameo.EP’ is closer to the Dibia$e mode. Following on from ‘klarity.EP’, ‘kuntent.EP’ and ‘WrapTaypes.Port2[bootleg]‘ (all of which have been released this May) it is yet another testament to his manic production habit. Doing upwards of forty-five beats a week, his mix of soul-digging and exaggerated MPC shuffle should risk dullness. His chaotic sound palette prevents this though, introducing ultra popular Jay Z and James Brown hooks, basslines that clip out completely and Youtube-distorted vocals. Ultimately, Knxwledge’s recklessness is a tempered one and it’s his ear for sexy frequencies which keeps things flowing.
Meanwhile in London, Hype Williams, the duo who now go by Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (not their real names either) are pulling more mischief and have released an album called ‘The Attitude Era’ exclusively to the readership of The Guardian. If Knxwledge’s beats could be said to be loose, Blunt and Copeland’s have fallen apart all together. They have a load of echo, like dub or shoegaze and the technology used is firmly on the cheap side. Often mixed from cassettes (another noise scene hallmark), their tracks groan with warmth and dustcakes. Some of them are just one chord, no beat. Some are recorded hot enough to be considered musique concrete. Some are musique concrete, full stop. But just when their aimlessness and smudginess threatens to alienate, there is some kind of soulful hook to bring you back.
Hype Williams to not trade purely in sound and there are many ideas loaded in the artwork, track titles and surrounding press scree which add to the flavour of their noise. Just as another burst of static on the noise scene can be presented as feminist, environmentalist, nihilist or misogynist, Blunt and Copeland spin their sound with a rude attitude. In the often well-mannered and gently compatible world of beats, it’s refreshing to find a two-second track called “Rejected Slugabed Remix”, or four minutes of noise called “Sinn Fein”, all within a record themed around late nineties WWF and bearing the infamous pic of Noel Gallagher and Tony Blair on the cover. It is defamiliarising and forces you to listen again with a fresh outlook.
Noisier still is ’34 Fragments’ by Dakim, also known as Dak. A peer of Knxwledge and Dibia$e (whose name is strangely also a WWF reference), Dak has taken to making beats without samples of any kind. Like Pan Sonic, he works with little but the electricity in the air. Only one of the thirty four tracks here resembles a beat. As for the rest, finger clicking into your laptop speaker would approximate something closer to hip hop, but there are moments where what is ostensibly just hiss does form some kind of rhythmic style. Again this one relies on liner notes to warp your listening attitudes.
Hip hop has had any number of dalliances with noise over the years, but right now the styles are firmly rubbing up against one another. Making beats by the boatload has a serious impact on the quality of the work, but for those skilled enough to make a virtue of low quality, this friction is sweet.
Words by Stephen Bleakney