Back in the summer of 2011 at the San Diego Music Awards ceremony, this gangly white guy with long, unkempt, blonde hair rushed the stage, clearly drunk. The presenters had just called out the winner for Best Hip Hop Album but the winner was nowhere to be found (apparently, the winner, Blame One, actually had missed the memo -- an incorrect e-mail address had prevented him from even knowing about the ceremony). That's when rapper Change (or Ch@ng3, if you wanna be real cute) took it upon himself to accept the award for the absent Blame. He ran up, grabbed the nondescript award and expressed his gratitude that "real hip-hop" had won, as opposed to MC Flow, the female rapper who had won multiple SDMA's in a row at that point, much to the dismay of the hip-hop community.
As far as first impressions go, it's hard to make a better one. Not that I hate MC Flow with all my balls, but I'm a fan of rappers storming stages (R.I.P., Ol' Dirty Bastard). After that incident, while I didn't actively hunt his music down, I had to give him that respect and make a point of checking out whatever he sent my way.
While the first video I saw was a kind of a hilariously explicit joke that makes me reminisce on the golden days of BET Uncut, Change's latest song/video, "Lion Face" (watch it here), is surprisingly deep and very good. In "Lion Face," Change plays the role of jerk, druggie boyfriend. In the hook, he asserts himself as a "lion," only to be cut down by his girlfriend, who, tired of his drug-addled antics, corrects lion to liar. The relationship angle is nothing new, but the hook makes this other interesting comment, too, intentionally or not.
The hook uses this chopped-and-screwed technique that slows down and deepens vocals. This technique was popularized back in the '90s by the eponymous DJ Screw and the Houston rappers surrounding him. But the Houston scene also popularized drinking "lean," which is a pretty messed-up drink that involves lots of cough syrup. It's not much of a surprise that a lot of those pioneering Houston artists died young (R.I.P., DJ Screw). Now that the Houston subculture is being exploited by artists like A$AP Rocky in both music and choice of drugs, I wonder if Change isn't trying to bring some sense of sobriety to the recreational drug fantasy.
But maybe I'm reading too much into it. On its own merits, I like the song. The instrumental, composed by Swedish producer Joel Simeus, effectively conveys this sense of innocence lost, with serene strings being bombarded by a cacophony of drums. It's like something from a mystical forest in Final Fantasy mashed up with the chaotic futurism of avant garde rapper-producer El-P. In the video, Change sells his creepy "lion face" act, resting somewhere between arty ballet performer and horror-movie clown. It's uncomfortable in a good way.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.