Always somewhat apart and distinct from the hip-hop mainstream, the Anti-Pop Collective were originally formed in the late ’90s. With a manifesto promising to “disturb the equilibrium”. Their three vocalists (Priest, Beans and M Sayyid) are equally at ease with poetry as rap, and Priest and Sayyid also have a shared background in film as well as music. The collective disbanded in 2002, but announced their reformation, backed by a series of live dates, in 2007. This is the first album released since that reformation.
The intervening time certainly doesn’t seem to have affected their ability to throw a whole pile of different musical and lyrical styles into the mix. The musical setting, or backdrop is drawn from a wide and varied pool: from opening track Lay Me Down’s huge extended rock riffs, to the rhythmic, hypnotic drums and curious disembodied inhuman sounding howls of Timpani, the bubbling liquid synth sounds conjured up for Volcano (molten lava, perhaps?), the near-disco of NY To Tokyo, and so on.
The flow, and rhyming is as consistent and sharp as one would expect. High points include Lay Me Down and End Game, and NY To Tokyo is successfully augmented by the guest appearance of Roots Manuva (heralded with the lines “in order to grow you need roots”), adding the “London” to the triumvirate “New York, London and Tokyo”. When the rapping steps up, for part of a track, into double time (New Jack Exterminator, Reflections, C Thru U, The Solution, Apparently), there is a real sense of gears being stepped up as well, with concomitant excitement levels. Vocoders, speeding-up, slowing-down and general electronic messing with the voices is also much in evidence.
The more predictable hip-hop we-are-the-greatest confidence/arrogance can still be found in the lyrics, of the: “I walk on water / It’s official” (C Thru U), “Masterminds / In this thing called rhyme (…) The name on everyone’s lips / Is APC” (Get Lite) ilk, but even this is done with a pleasing, sometimes poetic lyricism, as in End Game, when they describe themselves as “the rose in the garbage pail of rap”.
Otherwise, many of the words appear to be dealing with themes of the interplay between humans and technology. The brilliant The Solution describes a dystopian future where babies at birth are implanted with chips, with a robotic voice proclaiming “We will not harm you / We only wish to modify your circuitry to enhance your structural integrity”, “Robots and computers are your friends”; managing to be both supremely creepy and yet lively and enjoyable all at once.
There is scarcely a track here that doesn’t make mention of technology in some way – from Reflections’ warning that “you’re fucking with HD Digital now, it’s critical”, to the Outkast-ish Volcano’s assertion that “I come back with computers for the hood”, to Superunfrontable’s recurring theme “Oh so pitiful / Want to be digital”.
They also throw in a very mixed bag of cultural references, from the contemporary pop-cultural (Rosie O’Donnell, Sideshow Bob) to the political (Al-Qaeda) to the suprising (Guns ‘n’ Roses, Sid Vicious). Here too, it is clear how they set themselves apart from the mainstream.
The overall atmosphere, purely in musical terms, is probably best described as “dark”. The deep, heavy synth bass that features widely contributes to a sense of lurking menace and heaviness that is further supported by the content. Album highlights include Shine: a tale of murky goings on and murder in the art world involving wealthy Russians and a rising young artist, the aforementioned The Solution, the energetic and danceable NY To Tokyo and End Game: probably the most adventurous track from this undoubtedly still-adventurous band.
So then, the Collective may have broken up, reformed and been on the comeback trail for the last 18 months or so, but it is heartening to see that they are still putting out material as strong as this, and are still capable of being an off-centre, welcome and relevant voice in 21st century hip-hop