Review Summary: well, this is quite the mess here
Strange. Experimental. “Jaw-droppingly irresponsible.” These are all adjectives floating around SHADI’s debut album You Can’t Hear Me
, a project that makes some of the most off-the-wall hip-hop music you'll ever hear. Seriously, this album is downright weird
. It can go from thrilling shifts in tempo to repetitive as hell in a matter of seconds, and then sound like an entirely different song a few moments later. The production is at times genius; other times it is willfully terrible and sounds like SHADI recorded this shit on a flip phone. There’s a total disregard for song structure or effort to make things sound cohesive. Is that part of SHADI’s charm, or is he just fucking with all of us？ That’s something that I’m not sure anyone will be able to agree upon – both the curse and the allure of You Can’t Hear Me
You see, Shadi Mohamad comes from Deathbomb Arc, the unconventional label that brought us some of the earliest material from Death Grips. He’s a highly experimental Muslim rapper and producer from Tampa whose debut is self-produced with no guest/feature spots – so in other words, he’s not exactly the rap scene “status quo.” He borrows influence from power electronics and noise rap, while implementing an endless stream of samples that range from MLK speech recordings to a beat sample from the indie-pop band Broken Bells. It’s quite the wild ride purely from a sonic standpoint, because you never know when the album will bestow a track that absolutely rips out of thin air, such as ‘Only Thing Guaranteed Is Death’, or when it will plunge you into a gratingly redundant time-waster like ‘Keys 2 Love.’ There’s something to be said about a record’s quality stemming from who the artist is
– but for SHADI, through all of these aimless/experimental whims (a matter of perspective), he’s pushing the patience and decency of his listeners. Still, it’s up to them to decide whether his rambling and off-kilter approach is the catalyst for an expanding genre, or simply bad form.
Now that you’ve been properly braced, I feel comfortable divulging that I absolutely love this thing. I’m addicted to its unpredictability. The fact that even after 10-15 listens I can’t remember how a song progresses is oddly intoxicating; maybe it’s because the formlessness feeds my ADD, or maybe it’s because it shatters the convention that music has to adhere to any structure at all. I say this knowing full well that at least a quarter of the album doesn’t make sense or even sound pleasant. It’s one of those experiences where it’s worth wading through the failed ideas to get to the ones that are right on the money, and then once those sweet spots are ingrained in your memory, you begin to appreciate even the most horrible attempts at branching out because it’s what makes the whole experience so satisfyingly unique.
I’m also a big fan of the record from a thematic standpoint. You Can’t Hear Me
weaves in and out of introspection and broader societal issues, at times focusing intently on Shadi’s own selfish pursuit of internet fame while at other times waxing poetic about the racial and socioeconomic oppression of minorities in America. Across the board, the same futile sense of frustration surfaces as a motif: “you can’t hear me.” It’s a reference to wanting to be heard as an artist but not having the connections or the reach to do so; it’s also about the voices we shrug off every day of the poor, the religiously different, the racially marginalized. For an uncoached underground writer, the lyrics come across as more raw and in-your-face than what you get from other streamlined, processed commercial artists. Here, SHADI is paying nobody any special favors, as he belts out exactly what’s on his mind across fifty-five minutes of angry, percussion-heavy, autotuned freak outs.
You Can’t Hear Me
might be the most raw, unpolished beta test to crash the hip-hop scene in a while. It’s a total minefield, replete with swaths of nothing
followed by sudden, unexpected creative explosions. SHADI could take his ideas to a more conventional label and would likely do some real damage, especially if they’re able to hone in on his more accessible side (‘Would You Mind’, ‘Only Thing Guaranteed’, ‘iPhone’) while extracting/extrapolating what is so magical about his ability to effortlessly bend the line between infectious bars and total insanity. With that said, there’s a certain charm to how unfinished and chaotic You Can’t Hear Me
is. Would he be the same SHADI if the album was anything other than a wildly erratic amalgamation of whacked out ideas？ That’s what is sure to be the great debate surrounding SHADI – an eccentrically talented artist who’s made quite the mess here.