Review Summary: "Our goal is to blow minds."
In the last 10 years or so, we have seen experimental hip hop start to go through some major changes. Lil Ugly Mane
and his two solid efforts of Mista Thug Isolation
and Oblivion Access
are both must-listens for those who want concise depictions of what "experimental" signifies to many listeners today, with the latter especially so. Death Grips
continue to churn out roller-coaster albums that refuse to sit still for more than one song at a time, barely being reigned in by the hip hop classification. We have even witnessed established rappers welcome the abstract with open arms. Kanye West
released the polarizing Yeezus
, which may have encouraged the young Vince Staples
to hone in on his brand of abstract music with Big Fish Theory
four years later. Unfortunately, Food For Animals has gone largely unnoticed by these more modern artists.
Formed in the early 2000s, Food For Animals was a mystifying batch of two politically-charged rappers and an individual producer who released one EP, one album, and then disappeared. They have been silent on all fronts for the last 10 years, leaving behind a few traces of what could have been if they continued to push themselves. Two shining examples of experimental hip hop at its finest, crafted out of necessity far more than happenstance. Belly
, the lone album from FFA, is a shade under 40 minutes of noisy and frenetic hip hop. As soon as Maryland Slang begins, acting as a brief instrumental opener, it blasts the listener with distorted drums right out of the gate. Unpredictability allows it to accelerate haphazardly without a thought given to any established rhythms. It appears to be formless, which is a theme maintained throughout all of the album. Very rarely does the production of Ricky Rabbit actually set a clear tempo for an entire track. That job is delegated to the two MCs, Vulture Voltaire and his occasional sidekick Hy, whose impeccable flows and deliveries provide the ground on which Belly
At no point does FFA act as if they are somehow more clever than their peers. Despite every single cut from the album being bombastic, itching to make an impression, there is no more of an ego here than is required to sound cool and collected. Every so often, those playful and snide remarks that come mainly from Voltaire are given a chance to make a powerful impact, launched by the catapult that takes the form of Rabbit's turgid creations. Shhhy, the fifth track, is as close to a perfect example of this as we can come. Glittery sample work dances in circles while blown-out kicks are doing their damnedest to obliterate them. The refrain of "don't make a sound...but you don't have to be so shy, shy, shy"
is just one of many memorable excerpts from an incredibly well-written song.
While the production on Shhhy compliments the pop formulae enough to almost be considered radio-friendly, many other lyrical gems have been buried to get a chuckle out of those who discover them. Tween My Lips uses the humorous "whenever I stop it's just [stairs/stares] like an escalator,"
and Grapes (Reprise) comes close to the end of Belly
, and effortlessly works in a direct sample from Above The Law's 1994 single Black Superman for its own hook. Despite a knack for inoffensive puns and references, they are still not afraid of getting political. Tracks like Belly Kids directly reference the Iraq war, as well as its unwarranted bloodshed.
Nothing that Food For Animals did in their short career sounds like it came from the early 2000s. Barring the subtle references to politics (more specifically, the presidency of George W. Bush) included in their music, neither Belly
nor the 2004 EP Scavengers
appear to have actually aged 10-15 years. If anything, they're futuristic. With every year that passes, current experimental hip hop inches closer to this panic-stricken blend of glitched percussion and solid rhyme schemes. Those who are more attracted to this kind of music will listen to it and perceive it as refreshing, maybe even brand new. For this reason, it is a shame Food For Animals did not receive the attention they deserved in their hayday. They were a decade ahead of their time, something that is not at all easy to become. It does, however, make a pleasant surprise for newcomers if they search for more of the "glitch hop" genre. They may come to realize who influenced some of their favorite current artists. FFA likely couldn't anticipate just how far out their ripple would travel.