OC Notes demands our attention at this moment. He is a 25-year-old producer based in Pioneer Square who is on the verge of dropping a significant work of local hiphop—a collaboration with the rapper Rik Rude called Metal Chocolates. Rik Rude, of course, successfully collaborates with P Smoov as Fresh Espresso—the duo's 2009 album Glamour is a local classic, and all signs are pointing to a strong follow-up. Rude and OC Notes have known each other since the middle of the previous decade and started working on the Metal Chocolates project over a year ago. In late September, they had their first show at the Highline, a Capitol Hill vegan bar and restaurant.
Metal Chocolates is not, however, the first Notes/Rude collaboration. That honor belongs to Dap Confuser, an album released at the end of 2009, which is vastly different from the sound and feel of Metal Chocolates. Indeed, it's fair to ask if Dap Confuser is even a hiphop record.
With Metal Chocolates, we can safely say the music is a part of the tradition. Rude is rapping; Notes is producing beats for a rapper—that project is closed enough to be defined, categorized, and associated with other like-minded projects. Dap Confuser, on the other hand, is wide open—there isn't really any rapping (mostly chanting), the beats aren't hiphop-based, the rhythms and textures are drawn from a variety of sources and traditions. And this is really the main theme in Notes' work: openness. Many of his releases (particularly his instrumentals) present the listener with a sense of being open to almost anything that's out there—genres, sounds, ideas, beat innovations, instruments, samples. At the core of Notes' creativity we find a clearing that's open to experimentation and the production of exotic combinations.
Now, being open is not always a good thing. Any artist can be open, and many artists produce works that are vapidly eclectic—you only have to turn to many of the CDs of the illbient genre of the 1990s to find the truth in this claim. Also, openness—in jazz, techno, and hiphop—often means abandoning the pleasures of the beat for the excruciating freedoms of confusion. This was the direction the Jungle Brothers took on 1993's J Beez Wit the Remedy—the liberation of hiphop expressed as radical beat disassembly (the second part of Remedy was unlistenable). The Brooklyn rapper Sensational also took this complicated and often painful path into beat chaos. There's no joy (or jouissance) in Sensational albums such as 1999's Corner the Market and 2001's Get on My Page.
OC Notes is not about noise or beat deconstruction. His openness does not push music to the point of pain. It's an openness that's never far from the dance, from the swing and sway of things. Dap Confuser has a lot of catchy hooks and no defining center, and it freely roams the world—we hear some Nigerian highlife ("Lately Times"), some Brazilian samba ("Buddy Guy House"), some North London broken beat ("Stutter Step"), some Central European new wave ("Danny Glover in the '80s"), and a touch of Philly soul ("Listeners Block"). Each track has no real direction, no narrative structure; the music starts, the music happens (synths shine, drums rumble, galactic sounds fall in and out of the beat, Rik Rude comes in and out of the mist), the music ends.
Metal Chocolates are not nearly as open. The rapper and producer work within a more restricted program that unifies all of the tracks into a distinct feeling. "Afro Egypt," for example, feels very built, though not with ordinary materials. Poetic associations link the rhymes, which suggest a number of wonderful imaginings: global desires ("We love ladies from London, Brazil, to Israel"), the Afrocentric fantasies of Shabazz Palaces ("I see kingdoms"), and b-boy mysticism ("There be breakers in the building/Have you seen 'em?"). The beat thumps, and strange birdcalls fill the oriental air. This is a trip down an electric Nile. A trip that has a beginning, a middle, and, with a majestic flourish, an end.
On October 31, OC Notes and Rik Rude appeared on KEXP's Street Sounds for a live performance. They revealed a batch of new tracks, my favorite of which, "Candy Store Controller," is a haze of strings and opiumlike enchantments. The host of Street Sounds, Stranger columnist Larry Mizell Jr., rated the performance as one of his favorite in-studios "by far." That praise is not surprising. OC Notes is a creative force, and his radical openness—the fact that nothing is alien to his imagination, and that this imagination can synthesize these bits and pieces of music from everywhere into the delicious and often erotic tracks—reflects a hiphop that has less and less to do with place and more and more to do with the placelessness of our global moment. OC Notes is truly a man of our times.