Melancholy Hopeful receives 9/10 on KevinNottingham.com
When first seeking money through Kickstarter for his sophomore effort, Marcus D wrote, “While mainstream artists enjoy fleeting fame and set allowances in exchange for finite creativity and a predetermined shelf life, the underground fights for more, maintaining limitless imagination and originality.” His words were a mission statement that informed fans that he had no intention of compromising his sound this time out. It was a lot of pressure to place on oneself, but Marcus did anything but cave under that expectation as Melancholy Hopefuldelivers in just about every way that it could.
D’s latest is a well-crafted collection by a producer wise beyond his years — an astute beatsmith who knows his sound well. If you’re familiar with his “jazz hop” sound, expect the same laid-back piano and brass. However, Marcus builds on his sound through fine tuning what we’ve come to love and expect about his sound. That attention to detail extends past his beats, as almost every verse adds seamlessly to his sound. His guest list is a who’s who of former Nujabes and Hydeout Productions collaborators, including British rhymesayer Funk DL, Portland’s Luck One, Floridian Cise Starr and Japanese artist/producer Shing02.
“Kindred Spirit,” the standout beat in this magnificent collection, is deceptively simple. Every element seems to enter at its own pace. The snare rolls bring in an element of danger and aggression while the flute carries a somber tune to stabilize the mayhem. The piano never settles into a distinct rhythm, coupling sixteenth-note flourishes with patches of emptiness. Each piece serves a narrative purpose and nothing here seems underutilized. “Kindred Spirit” seems to be proving a point, that this instrumental isn’t merely a BPM blueprint waiting to be completed with the proper flow. It’s a visit to a foreign land and a glimpse into another way of life. I would label it zen-hop, a great continuation of the legacy that the late great Nujabes once contributed to.
“Titania,” another instrumental cut, creates its own warped vision of the dusty sampled record. The piano line keeps the track feeling fresh with its accent flourishes while the DJ scratches add a few dents to its overall sheen. Key here is the reverb-drenched female vocal which sits atop the mix. It’s barely there, but it lends a dreary, dreamy overtone. She almost sounds like a siren beckoning the listener to dive further into the questions this track recalls. “Inasense” is the definition of late night contemplation. The echoing piano chords signal the confusion and monotony of the everyday, but the beat’s saving grace is the sax line, always guiding that confusion toward a more contemplative perspective. The interplay among the sax, horns, and piano is phenomenal – all co-exist without making the beat sound convoluted. Even the instrumentals on Melancholy Hopeful carry a complete narrative. They tell their own stories with no words, substituting the abstract emotion of a piano line or saxophone solo to evoke something more than words could capture.
Simply labeling Melancholy Hopeful “jazz hop” may actually be doing Marcus’s sound a disservice because his final product isn’t just a collection of jazz samples coupled with breaks. This is instead jazz synthesized through a Daoist Hip Hop lens, two philosophies living in musical harmony. There’s a keen respect for the music being sampled and a real delicacy in pairing instruments and sound. He’s not hacking at snippets to rock a crowd. He’s using a fine-tooth comb to get the atmosphere just right, and D’s choice to not be brutal leaves a lasting effect.
Marcus’s beats seem to have set just the right tone with his guests, because nearly every verse delivers. “Street’s Lament” finds Luck One making an appeal to “people to speak from that perspective of the marginalized minority with that tone of incrimination in our creative art works, and nothing less.” Though “jazz hop” seems to foretell low-key rhymes over thoughtful beats, Luck brings an effective energy that subverts that notion. His choice to be aggressive, surprisingly enough, pairs well with Marcus’s soundscape, the best example on Melancholy of just how malleable his beats can be. “One People” taps into the Occupy movement as Shing02 reports “live from Zuccotti Park.” It’s an anthem of sorts, ending with the chant “We are the 99 percent.”
Melancholy Hopeful‘s best verse goes to Maryland native Substantial on “Night on the Town,” where he damn near steals the show on an album populated with plenty of lyrical firepower. Following Marcus’s muted horns down a sensitive, sensual road, Substantial drops a fluid enjambed verse that rides the beat to perfection:
When a night on the town /
becomes another day in the life of profound /
unions, the future is right about now, like how that sound /
glad we chose to transform fickle nights into vows /
Sealed with the sweet kiss, chills as we eclipse /
I sun become one with my moon /
Carrying solar systems in thy womb /
Just who you are causes shooting stars /
That’s why outer space has nothing on the inner thighs /
Find inspiration whenever I gaze in her eyes /
So my creativity is never minimized /
Eyes closed, caressing your figure like I memorized /
your every curve and scar /
while I guard any senseless hurt from your heart /
rip apart, never, even when we are /
But we are better, together, my darling, forever.
Melancholy Hopeful is an apt title for this album. Its sound and lyrics capture that dichotomy well. This is mood music that pays particular attention to nuance, whose sound can’t properly be described as anything other than beautiful. Melancholy is a wonderfully realized work that teases out many a mood while keeping its beat compass well intact – the distinct mark of a great producer. If you were wondering why Seattle’s buzz continues to grow despite following trends, you can look no further than this album.
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- adiorga said: Congrats, man!
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