The LA hip-hop scene has matured from its gangster rap phase into an age of improved artistic solidarity and camaraderie. Largely due to the beat masters from the Brainfeeder label and the rich, dark lyricism from MCs such as Blu and the collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Los Angeles has re-established itself as a hotbed for forward thinking avant-garde & experimental hip-hop. The rhythms recall acclaimed beat makers such as J Dilla and Just Blaze with continuing trends set by local pioneers including Daedelus and Madlib, who were prominent workhorses that were able to twist mid-to-late 90’s beat ideals into a more contemporary character of LA’s beat scene. Generally soulful and jazzy in the deep end rhythms, the beats often take on a cinematic and cartoonish feel with the inclusion of obscure audio samples and vocals from distant and not-so-distant past media – that often function as the beat maker’s lyrical sensibilities and give the songs their unifying story lines. Meanwhile, the contemporary lyrical delivery in LA’s scene, though vast, has a generally consistent theme of using relatively ugly sentiments turned beautiful; either by schizophrenic delivery, internal reflection, inner phrase rhyming, psychedelic portmanteau, or some mix thereof. What often seems like plain and disreputable vulgarities can, on second listen, start to come together as having greater purpose. The lyricism commonly functions as hyperbole to point out the absurdities of ugly real-life conditions. Captain Murphy, whoever the mystery rapper(s) may be, has debuted his first mix-tape with these beats and lyrical sensibilities in mind.
Before getting into the music, it must be communicated, the mixtape should be experienced as a whole. The record was released with an accompanying video that should carry a disclaimer with it, so here goes. The video is NSFW (not suitable for work), but not egregiously so. It has an ugly and disturbing side, but it’s also entrancing. No one who is happily a member of a cult should watch it. That said, the spectacularly psychedelic video can be found on Captain Murphy’s website: www.captainmurphy.xxx. It is 35 minutes of shameless avant-garde imagery that could be likened to something you’d find at 4am on Adult Swim… plus some naked chicks, disemboweling, and one extremely freaky cult leader who sounds like everyone’s neighbor. This is a fitting motif for beat heavy music given that some of the record’s producers got their start contributing to Adult Swim bumper music.
Captain Murphy’s mixtape “Duality” [in it’s entirety]
Captain Murphy is your leader. He loves you and will enlighten you, ensuring your path is straight and that you’ll find happiness. And in case you had any doubts, you should leave your family if they’re nonbelievers. All these sentiments find their place in this video as the cult mentality is dismantled and shown for its ability to disfigure a person’s sense of identity. Separating the songs into segmental educational “lessons,” the video serves the purpose of explaining how Captain Murphy intends to dubiously ensnare people into his web while paradoxically revealing the vulgarities of falling into such disillusioned dogma. Utilizing a vintage color scheme and phrenetic visuals ranging from 80’s movies (one can find Voltron, Repo Man, Robocop, Kickboxer, and Karate Kid, to name a few) to overt pornography with superfluous psychedelic imagery, the video carries a feeling that a madman is subverting your sense of security as you watch. The video definitely serves as the other half of this record’s coin which is most assuredly the intention of the artists seeing as how the record hit the internet in form of this video.
The video notwithstanding, the music will stand on its own and is an excellent debut effort from a rapper we are sure to hear more of if he keeps hanging out with the DJs throwing beats his way. Captain Murphy’s identity may be a mystery, but his beatsmiths are all contemporary heavyweights including the likes of Flying Lotus, Just Blaze, Clams Casino, and Madlib. As expected from this list of visionary producers, the beats maintain a constant intrigue; never settling but always finding a pocket you’d think could last for days. The beats are groovy, lo-fi, and jump around from 70’s psychedelica to contemporary minimalism. Flutes and organ drizzle the sound with soothing honey to make the ugliness of the lyrical content go down easy while way heavy guitars bring a late-night seduction to the table. Repeating transitional motifs in both organ and bass drum kicks noted throughout the album serve to root the record, make it catchy, and drive home the feeling that for a mix tape this sounds remarkable like a self-contained body of art, a concept album. Audio samples layered throughout increase the intensity of the general narrative and is arguably the strongest quality of this record. From simple lewd moans to lines from Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred, the record has a solidarity to its samples which unfortunately requires the video to understand that the samples aren’t simply a series of non sequiturs. And thus is one of the few drawbacks to the record.
Despite the audio samples tending to point the listener to the concept of the album, Captain Murphy’s lyrics do not carry with them enough scenery and substance to make the connection that the record is entertaining a seduction by the occult. Captain Murphy, whoever he is, has solid flow and at the best moments can deliver his lines as a well trained instrumentalist would. There are moments of strong phrasing. But there are equally many moments of monotonous delivery without strong enough wording to keep the listener intent on hearing where Murphy goes with the narrative. When he loses the interest of the listener, the beats and audio samples more than keep the listener engaged. For such an ambitious project as this, one would hope that the dark humor and straight-ahead repulsive lyricism stands to reveal deeper purpose with focused listening. The record lacks enough moments that would indicate the vulgar lyrics hide something much deeper and contemplative. Captain Murphy gets his point across globally over the whole record, but without the video it’s questionable that the full effect would have hit. One thing is for sure, he’s unapologetic in his content. If Death Grips’ success teaches anything, it’s that heavy hip-hop listeners respect the gritty content. Captain Murphy would do well to extend his comfort zone with how to phrase his more direct lines and step outside the box a bit.
Overall the mixtape/record is a killer debut, and the mystery surrounding its creator serves as intoxicating intrigue for hip-hop listeners. Captain Murphy has a solid crew representing some of the best of the contemporary LA hip-hop scene. His dark lyricism can work with many different styles of beats and he definitely isn’t novice in his rhyming. If the delivery becomes more consistently at the level of his better moments on this record, he has then opportunity to be a breakthrough artist in the underground as MCs like DOOM and Odd Future have done before him. One thing is for sure, he’s a showman as a musician and will have many people watching out of the corner of their eye for this mysterious MC’s tunes to hit the scene.
Written by Case Newsome
OurVinyl | Contributor