Alternative hip-hop producer Scott Herrens new album
took shape as a cry for calm amid the chaos of touring
|Scott Herren aka Prefuse
What exactly defines hip-hop? Is it the presence
of a rapper, a certain rhythmic meter, and the use of samples?
If these are the basic ingredients of hip-hop, then the American
producer Prefuse 73, who first got heads bobbing in 2001 with
Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives and then followed it up
with the monumental 2003 opus One Word Extinguisher, is without
doubt a hip-hop artist.
But in an interview during a recent promotional tour to Japan
at club Unit in trendy Daikanyama, an exasperated Scott Herren,
the 29-year-old wunderkind behind Prefuse 73, says some journalists
just dont seem to get it. As many times as Ive
given an explanation of what I doPrefuse 73 is hip-hop,
it might sound different to you but its hip-hopits
still a mystery to them.
The mystery of Prefuse 73s music lies in
the fact that Herrens productions are so abstract, so
full of glitch-hop production wizardry, that theyve
got many people lumping them into the electronica category.
The hungover Herren, who cites influences like Public Enemy
and De La Soul, sounds offended. I havent had
anything to do with electronica, and I dont really care
Nonetheless, Herren is signed to English electronica imprint
Warp, where his music sounds comfortable alongside UK avant-techno
pioneers such as Autechre and Two Lone Swordsmen. And in a
sign of the importance of the large Japanese electronica audience,
the label on March 2 is to pre-release here Surrounded By
Silence, the highly anticipated follow-up to One Word Extinguisher.
Herren will debut the album for Japanese audiences in a concert
at Shibuyas O-East on March 27.
Created through close collaborations between producer Herren
and a slew of MCs, Surrounded By Silence perhaps meets more
expectations of what a hip-hop album should sound like than
did One Word Extinguisher. But its still jam-packed
with the cut-and-paste samples and gelatinous instrumental
loops that made Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives the next
great alternative hip-hop album, following DJ Shadows
Hip-hop has gone through a lot of phases, says
Herren, putting things in perspective. I feel like Im
contributing to a different form that may not be straight
hip-hop but its hip-hop for sure. You can argue to the
grave, but its hip-hop.
While the broad strokes of Surrounded By Silence are similar
to what Herren painted on his prior albums, in its conception
and execution the new disc took a different course. This
could have been a continuation of the last Prefuse album.
I could have FedExed MCs a beat, they could have sent me something
backI had nothing to do with what they saidI just
put it out and everybody thought it was a great fucking album.
Herren chose to work closely with a stable of MCs on themes
that were important to him. Everybody on the record
is someone Ive previously respected before I worked
with them. Theres really only a couple of names on the
record that would sell the record other than me, but I didnt
use their names to sell it to a certain audience. This isnt
a rent-a-rapper album. MCs include some of the key voices
in alternative hip-hopa few of whom have also worked
with Japans DJ Krushlike El-P and Aesop Rock.
But it also stretches to take in singers Alejandra and Claudia
Deheza of New York experimental band On!Air!Library!, and
Mexican alt-rock act Cafe Tacuba.
After years of a Gypsy-like existence on the road, recording
in the US, or spending what little downtime he has in his
adopted home of Barcelona, Herren says that seeking a less
hectic existence has become paramount. For me, I need
to slow down, have a calmer environment. That was an undertone
to the whole thing, and thats what I strive forfor
having relationships that last longer than as long as Im
in town. Something thats more substantial and not as
temporary is what Im trying to convey.
The album was created in New York, a city where Herren spent
some of his formative years, so that he could work directly
with the MCs. I get so frustrated living in New York
sometimes, coming from a peaceful place where its much
calmer, where its OK to take a nap, to chill. But I
couldnt make a record like this in Barcelona, because
everything shuts down. FedEx is a joke. Theyre like,
Well be there sometime between 9pm and 7am, hope
youre around. If you gotta get some shit out,
if somebodys sweating you, youre fucked.
Aside from the practicalities of space and time, another big
obstacle for hip-hop producers like Herren is the issue of
sample clearance. An avid sampler who composes most of his
music on the industry standard Akai MPC, Herren says his payment
for the album is still being held up while three samples are
If youre sampling something, youre validating
that it sounds dope. Youre not stealing, he insists.
Im not gonna stop at anything because of some
stupid law that a judge passed to hinder creativity.
Theres an economic situation behind it. People
in the ghetto who want a string sound, that dont have
the means to put together an orchestra, but have saved up
for a sampler, they gotta put a record on and find it. Its
just another form of oppression. It shouldnt even be
up to the judges. Music is music.
O-East, March 27. See concert listings
for details. M
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