For local rapper Piff PCH, the word "demonstration" has two meanings. On the one hand, it can refer to an exhibition of ability, like when you attend a martial arts event to see dudes karate chopping the crap out of wooden planks. On the other hand, it can refer to a form of protest like when teachers take up picket signs to show their dissatisfaction with budget cuts.
Both meanings apply on Piff's recently released State Quake EP (available for free download here). The EP is extremely short with seven songs and an interlude coming in at a little bit over 13 minutes. While there is really only one hook (maybe two if you make a stretch), Piff repeats the EP's central mantra throughout many songs -- "This is just a demonstration."
And it is just that. Stripped of conventional song structure -- for some, this means it's stripped of BS -- this is an unfiltered display of Piff's rhyming ability. His technical mastery is enough with his commanding voice and complex cadences. But he also weaves vivid imagery and sociopolitical protest into his verses with seeming ease. It's like he karate chops planks right into picket signs. Just check the first verse of "Soul Power" where he rhymes:
Pure stoke for sure, the quotes for my coup de grace
Kick in the door of the Casablanca using conch
To drag the Honcho underground, see what could launch
Forgot bro's been blood since Vietnam gutters, trenches, and whores
Then they hit us with that heroine, boy
S---, that era was experiment that clearly destroyed
Half our parents
Musically, the EP bounces around Dilla-esque territory, which is admittedly a diverse area. "There It Is" and "Earth Quaking" sound like big-band funk with their crashing brass while "Sign Language" and "Soul Power" feature stripped-down, minimalist soul. The remaining songs -- "Big Cat," "Chicken Livers" and "The Lo" -- go heavy on the bass and start bugging out with trippy effects.
The drawback to Piff's dense lyrics and the EP's lack of hooks is that the songs are harder to digest. This isn't really a flaw so much as a warning to listeners that this requires much more attention than usual. If you're working or driving or somehow not actively listening with a finger on your Rewind button, it's gonna be easy to get lost in his maze of rhyme. But if you're into rap for rappers, I recommend this.
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.