Whilst some old-school indie fans might be shocked to see a rap album bearing the 4AD logo, what is surely more surprising is that it’s taken so long for it to happen. When the similarly iconic Sub Pop label finally embraced hip-hop last year, one couldn’t help but feel the alliance they forged with Seattle outfits Shabazz Palaces and Theesatisfaction owed as much to shared geography as musical common ground; on the contrary, whilst 4AD has long been synonymous with a particular strain of hazy alt-rock, its roster has grown recently to include, amongst other things, neo-soul (TV On The Radio), bonkers avant-pop (Tune-Yards), dancefloor-friendly electronica (Zomby) and dubstep (Joker). Miami’s SpaceGhostPurrp, then, becomes the company’s first rap signing, debuting with Mysterious Phonk, a mixture of exclusive new tracks and previously released mixtape cuts fittingly subtitled The SpaceGhostPurrp Chronicles. As is customary within the genre nowadays, SGP has come up through the underground ranks over the past 18 months or so via a deluge of self-shot YouTube videos and free downloads, and despite a slight spit & shine re-master (courtesy of his new paymasters) the low-key, DIY aesthetic remains intact; forging his murky, minimalist soundscapes from the barest of essentials – rarely more than a spectral synth hook underpinned by the bass-heavy whirr and thump of the dirty South’s ubiquitous “trap muzik” beat – SGP’s productions actually have a lot more in common with the queasy (bad-) dream pop upon which 4AD built its reputation than they do with most “traditional” hip hop. It’s certainly more of a musical experience than a lyrical one: whilst he knows how to ride a rhythm, switching seamlessly from a steady, deliberate drawl to menacing whisper and back again, Ghost’s topics for discussion seldom extend far beyond the stereotypical wannabe gangsta cliches – sex, drugs, money, power – and when they do it’s usually to indulge in a spot of introspective misanthropy (“I always try to smile but the world is fake/ The world is a house with a yard full of snakes”). But if he pales in comparison to the likes of Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky in terms of clever wordplay, SGP’s way with a memorable chorus is uncanny, repeating the song titles, mantra-like, until they lodge themselves like fish-hooks into the subconscious. Of course, it’s unlikely many radio stations will be play-listing the likes of “Suck A Dick 2012,” “Get Yah Head Bust” or “Grind On Me” (“I got your bitch on my dick”), but I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear at least one of those refrains booming out of a pimped-out car or being yelled by some drunk hipster before the summer’s out. Musically, the hypnotically repetitive nature of these tracks and the inspired samples buried deep in the mix (RZA-esque piano loops, warped West Coast funk, shimmering 8-bit explosions, er… porn tape sex noises) means that Mysterious Phonk sits comfortably alongside albums from fellow 4AD weirdos like Bradford Cox, Ariel Pink and Grimes, but whether you’re looking for raw, rugged hip hop or skewed outsider art this impressive showing from one of the underground’s most distinctive new talents has plenty to offer.
Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles Of SpaceGhostPurrp is out now on 4AD and is streaming in full over at Rolling Stone. Listen to “Tha Black God” below.