With Mad Rad's debut CD, White Gold, something radically new appears on the local hiphop scene. The trio (Terry Radjaw, Buffalo Madonna, P Smoov) have produced a hiphop record that is as good as (but is very different from) the great albums released this year by Common Market, the Gigantics, and Jake One. Mad Rad's hiphop is local in terms of place but national in terms of content; it has more to do with the Cool Kids (Chicago) or Spank Rock (Philadelphia) than with Seattle's Sabzi and Vitamin D. What distinguishes Mad Rad from their 206 contemporaries? Common Market, for example, are hiphop without a second thought; Mad Rad, like the Cool Kids and Spank Rock, are about hiphop with second, third, and fourth thoughts. Their music reflects and reformulates the standards and tropes of this first-thought hiphop. However, Mad Rad do not simply reframe hiphop, the trio also advance the possibilities and range of those standards and tropes. In short, Mad Rad are at once reflexive and innovative.
It's easy to dismiss Mad Rad as "hipster hop," but there are several difficulties with this easy dismissal. For one, the music they make is not bust or weak. The level of imagination that went into White Gold is impressive. The dreamy "Sellabration," the crunking "Donut Truck," the Neptunish/new wavish "Glitzerland," the booty bumping "Superdope"—though each references this or that beat mode or rap style, each is a great tune on its own. One doesn't listen to the simulation of crunk in "Donut Truck," one listens to the track itself, to its accelerations and declarations, its rolling bass-deep beat, and its space-robot effects. To denounce Mad Rad as hipsters, then, is to ignore or duck the fact that they have a lot of talent. Also, one of the members of Mad Rad, P Smoov, has paid his hiphop dues, producing more traditional hiphop for rapper Rik Rude (the two are currently finishing a project called Fresh Espresso).
Another point to make: Even though similarities exist between Mad Rad and, say, Spank Rock, there are also significant differences. For one, Spank Rock's music is a full immersion into ghetto tech or booty hop. Their reference of the real thing is so perfect that there is little or no distinction from the simulation to the real. The only way you can tell Spank Rock (the pure simulation) apart from Khia or 2 Live Crew (the more real) is by name. Indeed, the place 2 Live Crew have in an upcoming show that features Mad Rad could easily have been replaced by Spank Rock. Who would notice the difference in sound and content? The two are the same, with the exception that one is primary and the other is not.
Mad Rad are not merely making crunk or ghetto tech or booty hop or dirty disco or party rap, but instead combining and recombining these subgenres. Mad Rad share this commitment to innovation (instead of pure simulation) with Champagne Champagne, a local crew that also mix and remix all sorts of beats and pieces. For example, on "Tropical Trina," Champagne Champagne transform the lively beats of Paul Simon's "The Obvious Child" into a "dusty but digital" ode to a sad but dreamy girl.
As for their raps, Mad Rad's boasting and dirty rhymes take us back to a time when raps were not about real wealth or real sex. Back in the day, it was understood that the rapper did not have "checkbooks, credit cards/more money than a sucker could ever spend." The rapper was "bragging about the things [he] ain't got" (to use the words of Roxanne Shante). And so if boasting was really about how far the imagination could go, what kind of life could you imagine if you had immense wealth and fame? These days, however, if someone like Jay-Z raps: "I got watches I ain't seen in months/Apartment at the Trump I only slept in it once," we know without a doubt that he does have "more money than a sucker could ever spend." Or if Pharrell (leader of the superpopular production team the Neptunes) raps, "My dick is being sucked by a bitch called what now?" we believe what he is saying—a person as famous and adored as Pharrell might be unable to keep track of exactly who is sucking his dick now. Us ordinary types, on the other hand, we always know who is sucking our dicks; we know their name and very much hope that some day they will be kind enough to do it again.
When P Smoov of Mad Rad raps, with Jay-Z-like cadence and expressions, "Cook it up, package it, put it on the block/They call me poultry 'cause all these chickens on my cock," we know that this is in the realm of creative boasting—boasting that has no consideration or ties to reality, boasting as play. Even underground rap has a strong commitment to speaking the truth. RA Scion's whole album Tobacco Road is practically a historical document. It has real people, real situations, real concerns. The same could be said about Grynch, D.Black, Blak, Eyedea, and many, many others—they rhyme about real situations, places, and people. Mad Rad and Champagne Champagne abandon reality for the pure pleasures of play and self-exaggeration.