We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Every time a new generation of MCs rediscovers Biz Markie’s caterwauling classic “Just a Friend,” off-key vocals become hiphop’s gimmick du jour. When Biz did his stoopid crooning, though, it was more than just a rubber-chicken gagit was the sound of a man in the middle of an identity crisis. In that sense, elastic-voiced MC Beans, formerly of New York’s Antipop Consortium, is following in the footsteps of the master. But plenty of Beans’ new Tomorrow Right Now boldly goes where no rapper has bothered to go before, floating on the outer fringes of hiphop psychosis like a space probe investigating a black hole. The opening track, “Roar,” offers Antipop-like choppy synths and minimalist percussion, and it ends with the best line on the disc: “Most are into the music to get laid/So if this is eroticism for DJs/Then let my vinyl lick your fingers.” The very next cut, “Phreek the Beet,” sets an entirely different agenda: Disembodied b-girl voices chirp the song’s title, the beat comes in ’80s-cute, and Beans singsongily explains how he’s a “New Wave vandal/Retell your thrill, hold some testicles, sing soprano.” The off-key adventure continues on “Mearle” and “Raping Silence,” for which Beans borrows a page from the street-wacko stylings of Wesley Willis, hollering in a baritone that clashes with the futuristic bass lines throbbing in the background. Our man does a considerable amount of singin’, yellin’, and bellowin’ on Tomorrow, so the off-the-wall stuff tends to overpower the more predictable sections of the album. Those include the spoken-word druggie tale “Booga Sugar,” which treads the familiar lyrical turf of establishing personal responsibility in an age of designer temptations, and the downcast, slightly triphoppy “Toast,” which treads the even more familiar lyrical turf of overambitious and undertalented MCs. It’s easy to imagine Beans simply deciding that even die-hard fans weren’t ready for an entire disc of twisted vocals. If so, his own identity crisis is a lot bigger than one song or album, and that’s more than most rappers are willing to confront. Joe Warminsky