Sounds Like:

Dan Willis

I once saw a show where an emcee wore a shirt that said, “Sorry, underground hip-hop happened ten years ago.” With his most recent effort, the Mush label’s Thavius Beck would have to disagree about such a claim. The recently released “Thru” occupies a unique and exciting space within the world of underground hip-hop; that is, it’s a lot more.
Equally at home as a drum programmer and engineer as he is at delivering his edgily bookish rhymes full of three- and four-syllable adjectives, Beck sits comfortably but refreshingly restless at the emerging intersection of progressive electronic music and underground hip-hop.
His sophomore effort following up 2004’s “Decomposition,” L.A.-based Thavius Beck presents an ambitious album with a clear emotional target and a chin-held-high sense of overcoming adversity.
The album maintains a consistently intense, melancholy, late-winter mood. It sounds like the manifesto of an emotionally embattled underdog. His thick textures, angular beats, growling bass sounds and penchant for the dramatic help accomplish this mood.
It is tracks such as “Under Pressure” where Beck hits his mark. It twists and wrenches, sears and stings. It’s that fierce, heavy breathing sort of pain-rage. You can feel the brutish and cruel weight of his pain as much as you can feel its acute immediate impact. This is also his most dynamic track – it never sits still, handclaps and a tortured vocal sample fold in as a delicate piano melody sings above ruthless post-apocolyptic synth lines and rabid, jittery snares.
The album misses its mark particularly with guest emcee Nocando’s contribution.While lyrically honest, courageous and possessing an apparent emotional rawness, Nocando falters in his rhythmic continuity. He ends phrases awkwardly and betrays his poetic goals by committing the literary sin of “telling” and not “showing” his meaning. Lines like “And I’m sad as hell / I wish I heard the stories he never had a chance to tell,” make his sincere diary entry about his father’s cancer comes off as uninsightful and undigested, a shame.
As a guest on this album, Nocando is not alone in his incongruity in relation to the rest of the album. W.2Mex has a difficult time adapting to Thavius’ nontraditional hip-hop beats. He delivers rhythms and hooks meant for ’80s boom-boom-chick beats over sophisticated, eye-opening drum ‘n’ bass infusions.
Beck is back at his best in another instrumental track, “The Storm Before the Calm.” He samples a square horn track which ebbs and flows in a way so rigidly unsyncopated but elegantly and effortlessly emotional that it could have been sampled from a Philip Glass recording. It has an epic feeling to it, with a marathon’s scope and an arms-raised-to-the-heavens exaltation about it.
Somewhat ironically, the most lyrical and interesting elements of this album might be the drum ‘n’ bass-influenced programming which serves primarily as a background texture. He rarely puts it in the forefront, shying away at times where he might descend into pure electronica.
An interesting, engaging, but difficult album, “Thru” is something genuinely new in hip-hop. Underground hip-hop and electronic music should check this guy out.