Hip-hop as a genre still flies in the face of convention decades into its existence because it generally favors the unpolished. Historically, the music is the result of a bunch of broke kids lacking equipment and having to turn things that play music (e.g., records & turntables, tapes & stereos) into things that make music. Who has room for polish when your entire studio is a boombox?
Rapper Vernon Bridges may not be selling tapes dubbed from his boombox. But his album, B.U.M. (Bastards Unmastered Masterpieces), is a prime example of music that benefits from being unpolished. He's practically flaunting it in the title: This is an unmastered album made by lowly bastards that turns out to be a masterpiece -- or at least something extra dope.
Bridges has been rapping for several years, but he only just made a splash on the local scene last year when he dropped a video for the incredible "The Sixth World," in which he sports what could be dyed eggshells on his nose while exploring ancient Atlantis, his possible extraterrestrial origins and Mayanism. Months later, he released the superb Wrought of Chaos, an album full of psychedelic rhymes and lush with atmospheric instrumentals from producer Infinity Gauntlet.
B.U.M. retains the psychedelic rhymes, but this time, production duties are split among several beatsmiths, with the bulk coming from Alberto Padilla. This creates a wholly different experience: Where Wrought grabs you by the neck and yanks you back and forth between horror and beauty, B.U.M. meanders around in peace. The album is jazzy, relaxed, light.
This suits Bridges' rapping style well. The dude is just so off-the-wall with his rhymes. On the hook for "Storm Riders," he says that he's "in these streets eating all night like Ramadan," which is a bizarre turn-of-phrase. You'd never think to compare the sacred, Islamic tradition of fasting with your ability to get money, but he went ahead and did it and it's amazing.
But it's not just his phrasing. Bridges' delivery is so loose, going on- and off-beat with little care, and the album's laid-back vibe matches it extremely well. Halfway through each verse in the opener, "Raw Meat," the drums drop out, leaving only a humming bass and some sparse noises imitating a UFO transmission. Bridges takes full advantage of the open space, rapping:
Sun from the light shine through
But those below us still doing what they're designed to do
The sewers right behind you
With a virus like the swine flu
The pork enzymes, too
On the chorus, Bridges sings dreamily, asking you to, "step into/Green slimy goo/Find me by the grimy mildew climbing through." It's what hip-hop has been doing forever -- elevating what's considered lowly. But it's not often done with such rich imagery, nor with such lightness.
The only misstep on the album is "Musica," which is yet another one of those songs where a rapper personifies music as a wonderful lady to whom he proclaims his love. And generally speaking, you're not gonna see a ton of rappers jacking these beats because they're just so ridiculously hot. But they work by accenting Bridges' loose, exploratory style. Polish be damned -- this is one bastard you'll want to check out.
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.