To hear my jazz history instructor tell it, a lot of people were just baffled by Thelonious Monk. At first glance, his piano playing sounded amateur, as if he were fumbling the notes, accidentally hitting adjacent keys. It wasn't until later that people realized he was actually on some next-level theory, trying to get at an elusive note in between two keys by hitting them both. What sounded amateur was actually genius.
I feel the same ambivalence when listening to rappers MacPhly, Sauvi and Dre Trav. While I genuinely enjoy MacPhly -- dude is just a funny, clever writer -- the flows they use are just so weird. It's got me asking: Is this amateur or is this genius, next-level stuff?
Check out their latest song together, "First Light." At a glance, they barely seem to use rhyming words. But if you listen more carefully, you'll see that Sauvi's claim to "abstract flows" may apply. The rhymes are there but they're kept to a minimum. On top of that, the rhymes are buried inside the bars in the most unlikely of places. It's like they're slowly trying to remove rhyme from the rap-writing equation.
This isn't an entirely new concept. Local rapper Piff PCH once told me about his experiments in trying to "rhyme without rhyming." But even when someone like Piff plays with meter, his lines are still densely packed with rhymes. MacPhly, Sauvi and Dre Trav sound much looser, like one of Lil B's #Based freestyles or something. It still sounds awkward at times, especially during Dre Trav's verse, which seems to have the least rhymes. But I gotta give it up to them for at least trying to level up the flow.
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.