On 7 February 2019, the emerging enigmatic artist Signor Benedick the Moor dropped SPIRIT REALM.FINAL, a new full length LP through the Deathbomb Arc label. In anticipation for this release, the famed label recently sent us SB’s first album- 2014’s El Negro.
SB is an experimental artist originating from nearby Elk Grove. Not much is available on his background yet, as he is still very much in the underground scene, but his style and originality are already very apparent, even in his currently small collection of work. He has been described by The Guardian as a “black Michelangelo… definitely in the weird rap category, like Danny Brown rapping over super theory-based Renaissance music”. El Negro is a petri dish of samples, instrumentals, interludes, and influences- the musical equivalent to potpourri.
Each track is a an immersive experience of it’s own. The album starts with the ambient 40 second interlude “Zed”, then straight into the ominous pizzicato strings and formidable horns of “The Tragic Tale of Bisen Francisco”, sounding like an excerpt from Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, before making a jarring switch into a distorted, wailing synth beat. “I wanted to hit harder than MJ’s father…” is his first bar on this album- a claim he accomplishes in full as the record progresses. Each sudden beat change and genre switch- from Baroque strings to ska guitar leads, to rap rock and dark, hard hitting boom-bap beats- is as satisfying and exciting as it is surprising. The third track on the album “All Revere (Le Narrateur)”, opens with the epic grandeur of timpanis over the marching rhythm of horns, conjuring images of medieval battlefields or something out of Ben-Hur- even after SB suddenly comes in with tight bars and quick flows, dropping pop culture references and social critiques. Quite literally, this is the start of the inevitable fusion of classical music and hip-hop we’ve been waiting for.
My favorite tracks on this release are “Call of the Wild” and “Belladonna”. The former opens with a ska/reggae guitar lead sample with a head-bobbing groove that persists throughout. Piano riffs and epic string samples progressively layer over SB’s deep lyricism, full of simile, double entendre, and internal rhyme scheme. The following track, “Belladonna”, features a dark beat under spooky pizzicato string samples and moaning string and horn crescendos. The latter half of the song breaks into distorted synth arpeggios and ghostly backing vocals.
The dark, manic, and eclectic design of this album validates Signor Benedick the Moor as a unique upcoming artist that should definitely be checked out by fans of experimental hip-hop. However, this same quality may prove inaccessible for casual listeners of the genre. Some cuts, such as the two listed above, as well as “Whomp! A Tale by Charlse Dodgson”, and the jazzy “.//End”, are more accessible than most other tracks on the album. Both of these facts considered, I highly recommend this album for anyone already at least somewhat familiar with underground hip-hop- there will definitely be some highly enjoyable tracks for you. Although not the most eccentric of experimental music, newcomers to the underground scene may be more comfortable starting with other artists like JPEGMafia, Denzel Curry, Danny Brown, or Isaiah Rashad.
Remember to check out SPIRIT REALM.FINAL, SB’s newest drop, and the rest of the Deathbomb Arc catalogue for more great alternative hip-hop. All these artists and more are featured regularly on KDVS playlists, with more new releases coming to us every week.