Normally, I’d say it’s a bit late in the season for new entries in the “ZOMG 2009 album of the year!” category. HOWEVER, last week, Idle Warship released Party Robot – a mixtape that may hit dancefloors and iPods harder than Blueprint 3 and Merriweather Post Pavilion combined – if there’s any justice in this world for independent musicians, that is.
Party Robot is the long anticipated product of a collaboration between the unstoppable emCEO Talib Kweli, rock/soul/dance/don’t-put-a-label-on-it diva songstress Res, and Graph Nobel, a Canadian artist who seamlessly combines hip hop and indie rock into a sound that is anything but the usual commercial fare.
Party Robot was mixed by Mick Boogie – one of the most eclectic and prolific DJ/producers working today. Check out his blog because if some new voice in hip hop is about to hit it big, you know he’s on it, and likely working with them on a mixtape.
While Kweli is already a well-respected master of his craft, Party Robot will introduce a lot of people to the unique vocals of Res and Graph Nobel for the first time – two ladies who have probably suffered in this industry because of their refusal to conform to the pop starlet pigeonhole.
Together, these artists created Idle Warship, a project that is all about rejecting genre stereotypes, having a good time, and creating tracks that will probably never get played on the radio. Party Robot is an online release that can be downloaded for free on Kweli’s Year of the Blacksmith website, along with two unique, awesome album covers to choose from.
Kweli, Res, and Graph Nobel are all artists that have battled throughout their careers with balancing unique styles and commercial success. That being said, their summer tour got serious attention, and got everybody in the scene buzzing about their style and performance dynamic (Like remember cool, alternative Behind The Front-era Black Eyed Peas?).
Party Robot is one of those “finally!” albums, which has been rumored and hotly anticipated in the indie hip hop scene for two years. Combine this with a noteworthy tour season, and you’d think that these artists would turn out a major label release, but instead they decided to make Idle Warship a completely free, independent record.
“We don’t believe in labels for music,” their album covers reads. “Labels may stop you from hearing something before you listen to it.”
Surely it’s no coincidence that this quote can apply to genre labels as easily as it can to record labels.
An album as experimental as Party Robot is not going to appeal to everybody. When you first hear tracks like Metro and Steady, it’s easy to instantly go into 80s power-pop flashback mode. It’s sometimes disconcerting to transition between underground fun-noise like you get on Screamin’ (featuring geek-rapper MC Chris) into the almost heavy-handedly mainstream sound of LA Famous. And let’s face it, many hardcore Kweli fans are going to look right over this release to the new Reflection Eternal album.
Once you’ve listened to this album from start to finish, it’s hard to stay aloof. Res‘ signature tracks are totally addictive, and as a whole, the record boasts a coherent style, and although it travels through many genres, it doesn’t sound like a mess of individual tracks. It sounds like a manifesto for a radical approach to making music. And anyone who loved Brazilian Girls in 2008, M.I.A. in 2007, TV on the Radio in 2006, Blackalicious in 2005, and The Go! Team in 2004, will understand what Idle Warship is attempting with Party Robot, and will have fun with it, too.
Overall, Party Robot brings a fresh, cool sound to the table that goes well beyond the indie hip hop tag. And okay, fine, maybe it won’t make it on to as many playlists as Jay-Z or Animal Collective, but that’s not the fault of the music, just the natural result of an independent release.
That being said, if major labels keep letting artists like these slip through their fingers, the old way of doing music business doesn’t stand a chance. And this time, they won’t be able to blame illegal downloading for their downfall.