Hip-hop has been poorly treated this last decade. Yes, there have been sporadic bursts of genius, but all in all hip-hop has become an embarrassing relic…too bloated and self-serving to live but too stupid to die. Social Studies may well have provided the cure (or lethal injection) that is so long overdue.
On “Proxemics” all the classic ingredients of hip-hop are on display. Ingenious sampling, tight beats and intelligent stream of consciousness raps are all in perfect proportion, coming together to create a rare breed of album. The seven “assignments” that constitute the album are made up of more than one track, with all sorts of obscure (and not so obscure) samples from old vinyl to film interspersing the songs themselves…think skits but from the point of view of a hallucinating spaceman. The beats range from old school and electro to modern, glitchy and fucked up. Synths and vocal production have the same range, but Chris Devoe (music production) isn’t just ranging round looking for shiny baubles to catch your eye momentarily. No, rather he seems to have tapped into some pure vein of hip hop culture that, while partially explored by the likes of DJ Shadow, Kool Keith, Antipop Consortium and a few others, lies basically undisturbed…but without the acerbic wisdom, surreal humour and psychedelic free association of Zano Bathroom (MC), the album would only be half as great as it is. Half of his vocal contribution on any one “Assignment” was written and the other half was improvised. This gives you moments of both intentional and spontaneous wonder which combine to create that most precious commodity on an album…atmosphere.
The fact that the duo have been performing live and receiving high praise is excellent, but both Zano Bathroom and Chris Devoe have extensive alter egos, so it seems likely that there will only ever be one Social Studies album. But that’s ok. I have mine.