Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on Big Quarters

If you read my writing regularly, you probably know that I don't dish out praise easily. I tend to be more of a critic, partly because that's my personality and partly because I think there's already too much cheerleaderism in indie hip hop, especially locally. But Big Quarters have a new album coming out, and this is one group that I think really deserves all the hype they can get.

I don't know the brothers from Big Quarters (Brandon Allday and Medium Zach) all that well, but I feel like they embody the spirit of indie rap better than just about anyone.  Here's a phenomenally talented hip hop duo from a scene overflowing with talented hip hop artists, a group that's put work into their community as much as their craft, a throwback boom-bap artist that isn't boring, a rap act that has zero interest in jumping on trends, selling out their principles or kissing ass.  Have you heard of them?  If you have, you probably already love them.  If not, here's an introduction.

I feel like Big Quarters sometimes falls victim to the idea that an artist can't be good at two things simultaneously.  We like to box people in-- you're either a producer who raps a little or a rapper who produces a little (or a slam poet who raps some, haha).  And it's true, Brandon and Zach make some of the best beats in the Twin Cities.  But I'd argue that they're also two of the best MCs in the Twin Cities.

Big Quarters' production (whether done in-house or with a collaborator like Benzilla or Mux Mool) is soulful and funky and organic and all the other adjectives that we use when we fail to describe music.  I guess beyond that, there's an unmistakable earthiness to their beats-- partly from their sample sources, but I don't think that that's all of it.  The beats sound like lava bearing down on a forest and the forest fighting back, soil churning up into walls, tree roots slithering through the dirt.  I hate to get overly poetic, but that's really what I think of when I hear this stuff.  It's traditionalist, sample-based hip hop music, but it never sounds like they're just doing the same old thing that the Beatnuts or DJ Muggs have already done-- it pays tributes to the legends without biting them.

And as MCs, Brandon and Zach are special.  They're not flashy, but they're always engaging, which isn't easy to do.  There's a confidence and poise in their deliveries that transcends the need for big punchlines and pop culture references-- it's grown-folks hip hop, but without the elitist baggage so often associated with that label.  Brandon is the more recognizable voice, with a bass-y growl somehow deeper than Crescent Moon and Joe Horton combined.  Zach is maybe a little more agile, but both display an understanding of the poetry of MCing that's rare and refreshing.  And the lyrics don't just sound cool-- Big Quarters is one of the smartest, most political (without ever venturing into platitudes and rhetoric) hip hop duos making music today.  Again, it's not punch-you-in-the-face lyricism-- it's subtle and thought-provoking and down-to-earth and utterly unique.

That combination of brilliant production work, truly smart, meaningful content, quality technical rapping and a cohesive sound/approach is simply not something that many artists can pull off.  For "real hip hop heads" and casual listeners alike, this is a group that needs to be on your radar.  I could talk more about why I like BQ, but it'd probably be better to just post some videos so you can listen for yourself.

Those are just a few, mostly from "Cost of Living," which is my favorite BQ album, even though it's a little older. "Painkillers" is probably my favorite track. What's yours?

Big Quarters' new album, "Party Like a Young Commie," will be released on December 16 at the Triple Rock in MPLS.  You can pre-order it here.

1 comment:

Rube said...

Brandon and Med Zac are hands-down my favorites from Minnesota.
a) Mostly the voice (Brandon)
b) The message
c) Beats
d) All of the above
Peace and love from the Rube!