I’ve been listening a lot lately to Prefuse 73, experimental mostly wordless hiphop (if that’s not too much of a contradiction in terms) by Scott Herren. The album is called Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives; there’s also an EP, 92 Vs 02 Collection….
By wordless I don’t mean voiceless; Prefuse 73’s music has vocals. It’s just that the MC’s rapping voice is treated as an instrument, just like the drum machines and synthesizers. “I like to use MCs as another layer of music,” Herren says. Sonic raw material takes precedence over semantics or meaning. This is hiphop deconstructed, you might say, the music cut up, isolated into abstract segments, and then recombined in new and surprising patterns–shaken not stirred. The melodic lines are jagged, the rhythms abrupt and discontinuous, the harmonies dissonant, “noise” side by side with tones.
And yet the effect of Prefuse 73 is very far from, say, the harsh, cerebral atonalities of Autechre. No less beautiful, but in a very different manner. The best way I can figure out to put it, is to say that Prefuse 73’s music is somehow celestial. This is the hiphop of angels, which doesn’t mean that it is all sweetness and light. But the music soars, refuses to remain earthbound. It isn’t spacy or science-fiction-y in the ways Kodwo Eshun talks about, but it isn’t about “realness” or life in the streets either. It just flows.
I know that “flow” is the most overused and underdefined term in all of hiphop, and that it generally refers to the delivery style of MCs (vocalists). But Prefuse 73 makes flow into an instrumental concept. I don’t mean that this music is smooth–it’s not. But its very abruptness, its sharp edges, its cuts and discontinuities, its disjunctions between rhythm and melody–all of this is what flows, as if stuttering were itself a new sort of heavenly groove.