To start from the top: the Wave Crusher mixtape (or album, or "mini-album"--does it even MATTER anymore?) is available for free download on Spoek’s website, and you should go and download it. Now. Wave Crusher is a product of the friendship and musical alliance that has developed between between Spoek (formerly Spoek Mathambo) and Shamon Cassette. The two met through a mutual appreciation for each other’s music back in 2007, and after a few one-off collaborations, they decided to get serious and create a full project together. They centered their activity in Spoek’s apartment in Malmo, Sweden. The experience seems to have been intense--in an an interview with Dazed Digital, Spoek described it as the “maddest music bootcamp.” The results take inspiration from across the spectrum, mixing the avant-collage aesthetic of golden era hip-hop groups like Public Enemy with indy rock classic and modern and the kind of mind-expanding alt-rap that includes everything from Shabazz's Palaces' cold-eyed odes to space to the genre- and gender-bending style of rappers like Mykki Blanco. Taken as a whole, Spoek describes the mix as “a love letter to the adventurous spirit” of hip-hop, a spirit that includes both the electronics of the cutting edge and the wild style of the distant past.
The collaboration also serves as a bridge between the alternate cosmopolitan cultures of South Africa and Brooklyn. Spoek, born Nthato Mokgata, grew up in Johannesburg and began rapping at the tender age of ten. However, he is probably best known for the futuristic fusion of rock and electronica he displayed on albums such as Father Creeper and this year's Escape from 85. Shamon Cassette brings his own very distinctive perspective to the project. He served in the military during the Iraq War, and now splits his time as both a rapper and designer based in Brooklyn. Far from clashing, these two perspectives seem to fit naturally together. As reflected by the cartoonish cover art, which features Spoek and Shamon surfing on pizzas while wielding lightsabers, the music on Wave Crusher is the work of two friends having a whole lot of fun together.
Yet despite this seemingly carefree aesthetic, Wave Crusher contains more depth than might be apparent on first listen. Take the immediate standout, “My Mind Is In The Clouds.” The song is a remix of the classic Pixies’ song, “Where Is My Mind,” edited by the popular electronic DJ, Bassnectar. While immediate attention goes to Spoek’s excellent and surprising choice for a song to rap over, the lyrics deserve notice as well. Beginning with Spoek's line, “Losing my faith while melting my face,” the song goes on to reflect on Shamon's experience as a veteran, tackling the issues of PTSD, alcoholism and drug addiction.
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While musically the album sounds closest to Spoek’s Sup Pop labelmate and fellow avant-hip-hop act Shabazz Palaces (who remixed his track “Put Some Red On It” last year), the old school hip-hop influence shines through lyrically on “Go On Dance,” which quotes from Native Tongues affiliate Black Sheep: “Similak child, driving me wild.”
The album functions as a sort of pastiche or collage of the duo’s eclectic music taste. Next, they turn to the New Zealand psych-rock group Unknown Mortal Orchestra, using two tracks off their last album for the very literally trippy track, “Bicycle.” The song concludes with a spoken word section including the line, “I was tripping, man.”
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Furthering their political focus, “Cardboard Castle” features a laid-back electro-funk groove laced with fiery politcal lyrics, as Shamon raps about jails as "the new slave systems.” Spoek also expresses his cultural roots on the track, rapping in the South African language, Ndebele.
Another highlight, “The Atom Strikes,” begins with a sample from reggae icon Peter Tosh’s “No Nuclear War.” It leads into a commentary on our culture of dependence on drugs: both for children, who are over-prescribed psychiatric pills, and adults, who develop addictions to the party drugs that give them superficial release from the emptiness of their lives. While that might sound like a downer, the song’s backing track is the sugarcoated electropop anthem, “Nuclear Season” by Charli XCX.
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Taken as a whole, the album sounds powerfully like the future, reflecting both the consistent dread and terror that have defined our time, and the Internet age's still up-for-grabs utopian promise. South Africa meets Brooklyn, surviving the pain and getting some Jedi pizza? What could be better than that?