Rocket '88

Top-Billin' Not Half-Steppin'

In '88 I was not pushing weight. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, was I getting chased to my building. Nor, in case you were wondering, was I a ballerina. Oh no. What I do remember about those good ol' days are snippets of sound and vision. Raiders Starter jackets, bootleg rap tapes with the songs on the wrong side and bad color-copy inserts, Cross Colours T-shirts, and taping late-night mix shows off Power 99 as I tried to sleep while voices crept into my head: "I got a letter from the government the other day," "Fuck the police," "Put a quarter in your ass cuz you played yourself." In '88 I was just 11 years old, and all I really remember is that rap was a secret that I shared with a small nation of millions.

Edan's music is about memory, and his project is basically about reimagining his youth, sewing together scraps of songs. He was, in all likelihood, hit by the same lightning bolt that struck hundreds of other white kids like me that year. It could've been "You Gots to Chill," or "The Symphony," or "Microphone Fiend," but one day learning French and algebra or listening to U2 seemed a distant second to trying to figure out what "half-steppin' " was, and why Big Daddy Kane was so against it.

Last year Edan dropped two blasts from the past. His full-length, Primitive Plus, and his newish EP, Sprain Your Tape Deck,are collages of attitudes, sounds, and slang that form a rough approximation of what life must have been like for him, white kid on the beat street in the late '80s. Rather than make songs that simply recall hip-hop's golden era, like the way Jurassic 5 keep it real (sleepy), Edan makes songs that sound like what hip-hop's golden era sounded like to him back then.

He's from Boston, in his early twenties, and sports a variety of hats: MC, DJ, producer, and mesh. And his records are largely bedroom productions. In interviews he's talked about Syd Barret and certain tropicalia artists as non-hip-hop influences, and you can see the sense of wonder he shares with them. There's palpable affection for the snap, crackle, and pop of low-tech drum machines and scratchy vocals. A thrift-store hand-clap simulator is the highest-mixed track on Sprain's first song, "Let's Be Friends."

That's another thing Edan remembers: Hip-hop can be funny. Not funny like "Nelly has a Band-Aid on his face" funny. But Grand Puba funny. Milk D funny. "Let's Be Friends" finds Edan going vegetarian, kicking the beef to the curb, and wishing out loud that he could take his favorite MCs out for ice cream and a movie. On "Run That Shit," he kicks an anthem about the five-finger discount, running down a shopping list of shit he plans to steal: "I ain't working at McDonald's/You can suck my dick/Matter fact give me a burger and the keys to the whip."

Therein lies the only problem with Edan. Listening to his records gives you a really good idea about what he likes: rhyme structures pulled straight from the vocal cords of Rakim and G. Rap, slap-boxing beats that have the same tripping-over-themselves quality as Audio Two's "Top Billin'." The problem is you don't know what he's like. Dropping introspection in favor of tributes to Gucci-time God Schooly D and other ultramagnetic heroes of his youth, it's hard to decipher who this masked man is. Obviously a student of the game, a scholar of the invisible arts behind rap's magic, his albums can be heard as exhibits, textbooks, or stand-up routines. But when you grasp for something more, he goes skipping down memory lane, rocking red-and-black hi-top Jordans, and pumping Superlover Cee out of a boombox.

 
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