Serengeti and Polyphonic’s Terradactyl is an album about place-losing place, mostly, struggling to find it again, and succumbing to the fact that it’s cold, and surprisingly lonely, when you’re dressed in the human condition. Serengeti, heretofore a master of on-record character acting, appears here as his most vulnerable self: someone wedged between a dream and a series of day-jobs, between a failed marriage and raising new life, inside of a large family with fractured ties, and split between two distinct racial/economic paradigms. His cracked abstractions (this is no “poor-me” man’s emo diary) paint him as homeless, at times literally, while weaving their meaning into the much larger loom of universal displacement. And as on this duo’s 2007 debut, Don’t Give Up, worldly beat-maestro Polyphonic is on hand to make beauty out of so much madness.
Ironically, Terradactyl, begins with “Bon Voyage,” digital tones bouncing into the foreground, then expanding into a frantic space-scape beneath Geti’s streaming vitriol toward a drug-abusing friend. “Playing in Subway Stations,” is idyllically calm by comparison: while rich synth-bass burbles alongside acoustic guitar and timpani drums, Geti and New Zealander Renee-Louise Carafice croon a bittersweet rendering of love’s transience. On “Move!,” clacking percussives rearrange themselves to an unknown cue, while the words follow suit by unraveling abstract yarns about motion. The live cello on instant standout “My Negativity” recalls Float-era Aesop Rock (albeit, re-produced by Tony Hoffer), with Geti delivering a pre-apocalyptic warning drenched in strange imagery. “Cleveland” cuts its own path between gorgeous ratcheting sounds, icy chromed vocals and quiet rap.
One of the album’s best follows: “Steroids,” featuring Adam “doseone” Drucker. In a Madvillain moment, Serengeti is run-on gritty in the third person, telling a surreal tale of escapism and mistrust, while Polyphonic’s all harmonica jazz-snap groove. As the music surges into crazy land, the erstwhile voice of Subtle and Themselves executes a decidedly buff verse. Next, “Patiently” finds Geti’s words blown out over big bass and digital bits, while on “Call the Law,” he manically skewers the black rap male stereotype. Geti trades lines about love with another legend, Buck 65, on the dank and dubby “La La Lala,” and “My Patriotism” continues the odd upbeat bent, where atop sampled squeeze-box and a live mandolin mimicking African highlife, Geti lays everyman verse: “Winners win and raise hip kids/ Poor people? Day-gigs for the rest of your life.”
Carafice returns for “Dawn Under The Bridge,” a ghostly duet that expands the theme of homelessness over bossa nova and baroque harp. Eventually, the beat gets wild and sharp, oscillating the song’s specter into indiscernible lines and plucked strings. Terradactyl‘s final moments play out on “Calliope,” wherein Serengeti rewrites his own history through a series of “what ifs.” He collects himself audibly between lines, but as Polyphonic’s score intensifies, the lyrical cynicism becomes shouting, and Serengeti’s voice is eventually consumed. As the song burns out, the outdoors rushes in, and we find ourselves not unlike our narrator: out in some public place, stripped to our skivvies.
BIO: Serengeti & Polyphonic
Rapper Serengeti and producer Polyphonic are Illinois natives with three very distinct upbringings. While Polyphonic, born Will Freyman, was raised amongst corn fields and college kids in bucolic Champaign, David Cohn (Serengeti) experienced two separate childhoods within the city of Chicago: with his mother-a secretary, atheist, and devout communist-on the all-black South Side; and with his father-a stressed, middle-class business-owner-in the all-white suburbs of Olympic Fields. Though David is the great nephew of Sonny Cohn (Count Basie’s trumpeter of thirty years), music wasn’t passed down freely in the family. Instead, while Will (Polyphonic) was taking classical piano lessons at his dad’s behest, David was passing out copies of Socialist Worker at May Day rallies. Young Serengeti kept his musical obsessions in his head, and by the time he was ready to loose them, his skull had accumulated several album’s worth of left-field hip-hop detritus.
Ironically, it was Will who played jazz trombone throughout middle and high school. He’d nurtured a healthy love for Bach, Beethoven and Mahler as a child, composed his first electronic beat at 15 (reflecting a burgeoning taste for Warp Records and contemporary rap), and gone on to start his own 12-piece hip-hop big band. After attending college in his hometown-studying English, computer science and mathematics-he moved from San Francisco to New York City and back to S.F. before settling in Wicker Park, only a handful of blocks away from Serengeti, who he hadn’t yet met. ‘Geti himself had ventured into break-dancing at a young age, and penned a few raps at 16 inspired by De La Soul and KMD, but it wasn’t until he studied abroad in Japan that he returned to Chicago ready to record. He’d also decided that college, where he’d majored in history, was only slowing him down.
Serengeti has since released ten albums in seven years. He made his first two nearly by accident, on the way to completing his “debut,” Gasoline Rainbows. That triptych created a hefty rumble in the underground, showcasing stylish, heady raps intertwined with thick threads of soul, pop, rock and psychedelia. With 2006’s Dennehy-a character-hopping concept album loaded with Chicago signposts and sports references-Geti established himself as some sort of missing link between Kool Keith and Common Sense, minus their respective batshit irreverence and self-seriousness. Since, he’s been following a stream of consciousness through the darker corners of society and his psyche over an increasingly adventurous musical trajectory. Last year, Serengeti debuted two new projects: Yoome, an intimate electronic collaboration with a New Zealand chanteuse, and Friday Night, an exercise in deconstructed party rap with emcee Hi-Fidel.
Meanwhile, after producing for a handful of others, Polyphonic made his solo debut in 2006 with Abstract Data Ark, an exceptional mélange of experimental electronics and tight rhythms procured from unknown sources. A year later, he founded the Juba Dance blues-rap experiment, and by the time he was introduced to Geti at a party, their mutual reputations in genre-crushing preceded them. A fortuitous collaboration ensued, and in 2007, Serengeti and Polyphonic released Don’t Give Up. The lush music-equal turns intricate and glitchy, expansive and dub-wise-was the near-perfect complement to the bleak verbiage, delivered in both rhyme and free-floating sing-song. In 2009, after being signed to anticon. by Adam “doseone” Drucker (Subtle, themselves, 13& God) the duo returns with Terradactyl, an album which finds two high-flying beasts delivering an assured and artful undie-rap classic.
Serengeti & Polyphonic
Street date: June 23, 2009
1. Bon Voyage
2. Playing in Subway Stations
4. My Negativity
8. Call The Law
9. La La Lala
10. My Patriotism
11. Dawn Under The Bridge