Being a part of a music collective comes with its fair share of benefits – exposure alongside the most established members, a melting pot of creativity, membership in a cool club (PLEASE TAKE ME A$AP MOB/Are there ways to actually apply?), and overall a flexibility of sound and talent. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA or just Odd Future), formed in 2007 is part of the new wave of alternative hip-hop collectives. Far more outlandish, flavoured with a Bart Simpson-like youthful yet clever hooliganism, Odd Future projects itself as a club of smart, stylish and unfiltered artists who have tapped into the next big shift in rap music. Within the wildly contemporary genre of hip hop that Odd Future encompasses though there sits Hodgy Beats, or Damien Gerard Long. Hailing from Pasadena, California at only 22, Long is, though a prominent member of OFWGKTA, essentially an old school kid, anchoring the collective to a more grounded form of rap.
I mention the collective Hodgy Beats is a part of specifically because the EP’s which I will be speaking about today seem to try to make a mark separate from the sound of the group. Untitled and Untitled 2, the latter of which just dropped 2 days ago presents itself, while still under the Odd Future label as an independent project thematically. Untitled 2 is a fundamentally melancholy album – easily meant to double as both a stoner house party comedown soundtrack and just music you can phase out to, Long’s second EP unravels like a manifesto of a frustrated rapper who wants to do more but consistently identifies the limitations of real life, the industry and himself. For his age, Hodgy speaks in rhymes that hint at a palette of responsibilities greater than the rest of his collective, but also showcase his proficiency as a poet. Untitled 2 goes back and forth between the confessions of a young man aware of his own foray in alcoholism and drugs and the shadow of loneliness that looms over his days – “Plug me in like i’m the new kinect, 360 XBO/Annotate X Yeah, plug me in like i’m the new connect, slanging crack rock”. But Untitled 2 seems to be always about catching oneself, littered with Long’s realizations and immediately followed with a sense of not being able to fully delve into the subject matter. It’s as though Long needs to lay out his vulnerabilities and then pull back, cut his thoughts short before they become too heavy or reach a conclusion. ‘Bullshittin’, ‘Alone’ and ‘Karateman’ – the three strongest tracks on the short EP all play with this idea of exposing some great tragedy in Long’s life but steps back before something can be established. Perhaps this says something about Long himself, consistently hinting at something grander while also more comfortable to just smoke up and forget his prior promise – “I tell these cute bitches, get right/Light a blunt for everybody, get high/Everything is gonna be alright”. Pretttty much Hodgy, count me in, good stuff all around. The track below, as of now my favourite from Untitled 2, with its rainy day 90’s rap noise vibe is just so smooth, how can you not be down?
His first EP though, Untitled, which I’d like to present as the first half of the darker and more confused Untitled 2, is far funner and exposes Hodgy as a lyrically savvy 20-something who intends to make his mark. I mean, its a familiar hiphop debut without a doubt, but Long pulls it off through a smartly chosen list of samples, crisp lyrics and personally what I think is his strongest asset, his voice. Hodgy Beats sounds young, confident and raps in a pointed staccato rhythm – there’s a quality to the way he raps over his samples, and it essentially is that he makes the sample fit his own beat. Moving into a fast verse and then slowing it down for a more drawn out melodically driven line, and then back again to spitting something quick and rough (seen evidently in ‘Higashi Loves You’), Hodgy Beats is a talented rapper, able to bend a tune to match his vision. Untitled, is quite simply a fantastic first EP. Each song feels like a different candy from a perfectly sized bag. Short, fun, able to catch your interest on the first listen for a repeat but not as heavy or depressive as Untitled 2 to bring your mood down. Don’t get me wrong, Untitled also dabbles with themes of stoner comfortability and depression, but it establishes itself as more of an ‘opener’ for who Hodgy intends to be. ‘Cookie Coma’ and ‘Samurai’, both beautiful tracks, bring Hodgy Beats into the rap scene as a young man ready to bring to you something familiar as his style is essentially an old-fashioned one, but also someone talented enough to pull it off and keep you interested. Again, I’m also just a huge sucker for his voice. Please rap me to sleep Damien (I’m sorry/i’m not sorry).
In the expansive and tumultuous world of hiphop, we’ve seen a lot of really talented young rappers step up in just the past two years. Hodgy Beats is definitely one of them, and at such a young age already sounding as dope as he does will only continue to improve. I look forward to the ways in which Damien Long will gain a steadier footing in both the large themes he is trying to make his own and how he will further establish the dual identity he carries as a member of the Odd Future collective and a singular voice. LET ME LEAVE YOU WITH THIS FRESH ASS TRACK. No seriously, like listen to this. And then mail me a fat ‘Thank You for the Beatz’ cheque of appreciation.