Just as America and the Soviet Union divided Europe into the Warsaw Pact and NATO following World War II, hip-hop's forward-looking retro enthusiasts have been divvying up the genre's past among themselves. Feel-good nostalgists Jurassic 5 and Ugly Duckling both rep the old school, Madlib and 9th Wonder resurrected the Native Tongues vibe, and a skinny white rapper, producer, and DJ named Edan pledges allegiance to the golden age when lightning-fast flows were all the rage, and the dopest MCs boasted personalities as big and flashy as their gold chains. Edan could easily have spent the rest of his career mastering his little rap niche, but like a true child of Afrika Bambaataa, he's made a cosmic artistic leap and fused together decades, styles, genres, and races with his remarkable sophomore effort, Beauty And The Beat.
The album cover says it all. A riot of paisley and homemade graphic design, it depicts the faces of some of Edan's heroes (Ice Cube, KRS-One, LL Cool J and the like) crudely outfitted with groovy hairstyles straight out of the age of Aquarius. Yes, with Beauty And The Beat, Edan has tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. On tracks like "I See Colours," "Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme," and "Beauty," Edan combines the elaborate, super-scientific rhyme style of the late '80s with psychedelic rock production and vivid surrealistic imagery. In the process, he's created the grooviest fusion to hit hip-hop since Danger Mouse introduced Jay-Z to the Beatles and Bubba Sparxxx combined bluegrass with Timbaland's future funk on Deliverance.
Beauty And The Beat represents Edan's singular vision, but he also plays well with others. Percee P and Mr. Lif both fit snugly into Edan's sonic universe, and on the aptly named "Funky Voltron" and the even more aptly named "The Science Of The Two," Edan and his partner Insight tag-team tracks with a devastating combination of verbal body slams and linguistic pile drivers. Edan ends the typewritten acknowledgments in his CD booklet by thanking "all artists everywhere," from musicians to painters to cooks, and stating that it's "about aspiration NOT inspiration." This might seem strange coming from an artist as creatively ambitious as Edan, but it cuts to heart of his fan-friendly aesthetic. A lot of rappers put themselves on pedestals above the people who buy their music and populate their shows, but for Edan, making music is an extension of fandom, a way of paying reverent tribute to the artists and music he loves.
With a run time that just barely breezes past the 34-minute mark, Beauty And The Beat is just a few minutes longer than Count Bass D and Aesop Rock's recent super-sized EPs. But the album's brevity is just another old-fashioned value from a rapper-producer-visionary who doesn't need a whole lot of space to make a big statement.