Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Spray Cans Vol. 001: Darc Mind - "Outside Looking In"

Darc Mind - "Outside Looking In" 12" (Loud Records, 1996)

Darc Mind’s experience in the record industry is one that is all too familiar to hip hop heads. After the Nielsen SoundScan was instituted in 1991, major labels were presented with accurate numbers showing that hip hop was one of the highest selling genres of music. During the resulting scramble to sign as many rappers as possible, quite a few labels took on more artists than they could hope to successfully promote, and many artists languished for years on unresponsive labels. A lot of these artists never had the broad appeal that would allow them to succeed in a major label system, and their careers ended before they had a chance to find an audience, releasing a single or two before getting dropped.

Loud Records never quite fit in with the major labels. Although their records were distributed by major label RCA, and they were beholden to sales requirements that RCA imposed on them, Loud never signed artists based on broad appeal. The label’s first and greatest success was with the Wu-Tang Clan, a relentlessly uncommercial group that became the most popular group in rap. Loud had similar successes with Mobb Deep, Xzibit, Big Pun, and others, but they had trouble hitting the same numbers with most of their artists throughout their original run from 1992-2002.

Darc Mind consists of rapper Kev-Roc and producer X-Ray (known formerly as G.M. Web D), who were both originally members of the Legion of D.U.M.E., a group that put out one 12” in 1994.[1] After splitting from the Legion, the duo signed with Loud in 1995 and immediately began work on their first album Symptomatic of a Greater Ill, which was to be released in 1997. They managed to get two songs from the album released on Loud. “Outside Looking In” (which was slated to be the last track on the album) was released as a radio promo 12” in 1996, and “Visions of Blur” (the first track on their album), made it onto the incredible soundtrack to the 1997 documentary Soul in the Hole.[2] Unfortunately, Loud’s financial problems were already becoming serious as early as 1997, and the label couldn’t afford to release or promote albums by some of the lesser-known artists on their roster. Symptomatic of a Greater Ill was shelved, and Darc Mind was dropped from the label. 

Unlike the rest of the songs on Symptomatic of a Greater Ill, which are produced by X-Ray[3], Darc Mind brought in an outside producer for their debut single. Nick Wiz is one of the great unheralded beatmakers of 90’s New York. While he doesn’t have a style as immediately distinct as contemporaries like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, or RZA, Wiz carved out his own niche with his minimal, menacing beats for artists such as the Cella Dwellas and Rakim. Wiz was incredibly prolific in the 90’s, and his beats were apparently cheap, as he’s been able to release three 60 track Cellar Sounds compilations collecting his work on obscure singles and remixes from that decade. For “Outside Looking In,” as with all of his beats, the focus is on the drums, which are classic boom bap, a simple combination of snare, high hat, and kick drum. Nick Wiz’s beats rarely include much instrumentation outside of drums, and “Outside Looking In” is no exception. Wiz employs samples of bass and vibraphone that stay very low in the mix during the verses, serving as accents for the drums. There’s also a bit of keyboard that’s barely audible outside of the chorus.

Nick Wiz productions are so understated that the songs he produces are generally only as good as the emcee; he can rarely anchor a song with a weak emcee by himself. Kev-Roc, who has an entrancing voice and flow that is capable of holding the listener’s attention even on acappelas, is the perfect kind of rapper for a Nick Wiz beat, and gives perhaps the best performance of his career on “Outside Looking In.” His voice has some resemblance to Rock from Heltah Skeltah, but his percussive flow is much more complex than Rock’s, erratically slipping in and out of double-time for bits and pieces of lines. His subject matter isn’t anything unique, focusing on wack rappers and his own lyrical abilities, but there is nothing in his lyrics that even resembles a cliché. In fact, his abstract phrasings make it difficult to figure out just what he’s talking about at times. For instance, when Kev-Roc raps “impress a punk, aggressive fuselage pressure deficit/ill verse of mine precurse a punk, I’ll push him off a precipice,” you can tell that he’s claiming his skills are greater than other rappers, but it’s hard to discern exactly what he means by “aggressive fuselage pressure deficit.” Kev-Roc makes this mouthful of multisyllabic rhyming sound effortless, further distracting from the occasional questionable or inscrutable lyrical choices. He was able to position himself as one of the most exciting new underground rappers of 1996 with just this one song[4], but getting dropped by Loud killed Darc Mind’s momentum and Kev-Roc retreated from the rap world for nearly a decade.

Anticon Records, best known for releasing experimental hip hop by artists such as Jel, Odd Nosdam, Doseone, and Buck 65, issued Symptomatic of a Greater Ill in 2006. During the nine years between getting dropped by Loud and the release of their album, Darc Mind was not an active concern for either member of the group. Kev-Roc disappeared from hip hop completely, finding work doing voiceovers for videogames and commercials. X-Ray joined MF Doom’s Monsta Island Czars group, taking the name King Caesar and splitting production duties with Doom on the group’s only album Escape from Monsta Island! He also released two compilations of solo tracks by M.I.C. members, and “U Da One” from Symptomatic of a Greater Ill was included on Monsta Mixes Vol. 1. X-Ray quit the Monsta Island Czars in 2004.

Darc Mind reunited for a few shows to promote the release of Symptomatic of a Greater Ill. These shows went well enough that they returned to the studio and recorded an EP, Soulfood, and an album, Bipolar, both of which were mostly ignored upon their release in 2006. Darc Mind has been quiet since.

[1] This 12”, “Son’s of Sam” b/w “Darc Mind Inc.,” came out on Darc Mind Records (clearly X-Ray and Kev-Roc were fans of the name long before they signed with Loud as a duo). It might get its own Spray Cans entry down the line.
[2] There was a weird stretch in the 90’s where hip hop artists seemed to be saving some of their best material for one-off soundtrack appearances. This made for a lot of soundtracks that were more memorable than the movies they were attached to, much like many of the Blaxploitation soundtracks of the 70’s.
[3] Of then ten songs X-Ray produced on Symptomatic of a Greater Ill, half are credited to X-Ray and half are credited to G.M. Web D. In a later interview, X-Ray said that he did this because he felt that some of the songs were produced in the style of his earlier G.M. Web D stuff, while others were in a newer style that he felt was more in line with his new name.
[4] The “Outside Looking In” single doesn’t have a proper b-side, forcing Darc Mind to make a statement with one song. The a-side features the dirty version and instrumental of the song, while the b-side had the clean version and acapella.

No comments:

Post a Comment