2011’s most un-hyped rap release has arrived. It’s by a group so under-the-radar that even its record label, All City, or the photographer who shot the mysterious image on its album’s cover, Sue Kwon, have no idea who the two people in it are–other than that the duo once went by the name The Midnight Eez and claimed a home base somewhere deep in the Bronx.
The music on the self-titled project dates from a fleeting interaction outside of Manhattan’s Fat Beats record store between the budding producers and an overseas DJ, Slyce, back in 1995–or maybe 1996; even those present can’t seem to remember too much–when they passed him an instrumental demo tape with nothing more than song titles and a pager number scribbled on it. The pager number (unsurprisingly) doesn’t work now, no one involved in the project can recall anyone’s individual names, and there are no clues to their ties to the wider hip-hop community.
When asked whether The Midnight Eez claimed an association with any other artists of the day, the Dublin-based label’s rep says, “I don’t think they did–they were pretty young.” In an era where Twitter and reality TV act as a window into the daily lives of so many artists–both up-and-coming and established–the album’s cloudy heritage makes it sound like a tangible lost gem (it’s being released on vinyl only) as opposed to just another “rare” release uploaded to Rapidshare.
Instrumental hip-hop as a conceit and an experience too often fails to keep the listener’s attention, but Midnight Eez unfolds less like a producer’s showcase-beat CD and more like an album waiting to be fleshed out. Its 14 tracks create a journey with peaks and troughs, nuances and emotions. The song titles give clues to the direction: “Childhood Memories” takes a pitched-down breakbeat and adds a wistful riff and a sampled vocal: “The Bronx represents whatever I do.” It’s missing only the right rapper and the right back-in-the-day rhyme. “How It Started,” which uses Raekwon’s voice as a hook, offers a brooding backdrop begging for an MC to outline a statement of intent; the lolling piano loop on “Everyday Chase” inspires the feeling of ceaseless motion its title suggests; and there’s even a skit based on a rant against the devilish machinations of the record industry. The project sounds like the two producers were serving up an album-to-go for some lucky rapper–they just never managed to stumble across a suitable one.
This beautiful sense of untapped potential is appropriate for Midnight Eez‘s original conception date. 1995 was a time when New York hip-hop was still clinging to the embers of making rugged, loop-based songs–just before Puffy would help to add a layer of poppy gloss to the music, Nas would realize he preferred sipping champagne to conjuring up images of Queensbridge, and OutKast would blaze trails for the coast-to-coast acceptance of Southern rap. There’s nothing game-changing about Midnight Eez‘s grooves; its lack of innovation and reliance on well-worn breaks like “Impeach The President” position it less as a missing piece of hip-hop’s grand puzzle and more as a time capsule. But this old-fashionedness is a virtue. The album Is charmingly redolent of a different time when a demo cassette, a contact number, and being in the right spot at the right time could score someone a career. It never panned out that way for the Midnight Eez, and the Fat Beats store itself is now a memory. But Midnight Eez is a fond reminder of the wholesome joy of putting faith in the music.