Obese Ghost Children: Spoke (Review)

Ryan Nehring

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Post precociousness, used to braggadocios shit / but sit em down, once given all my recommended dosages / our hopelessness, supposed to keep the prose so lit / but lubricated haters with my loneliness, the dopest shit” – Ceiling Fan

Nothing about the Obese Ghost Children is obvious. In a genre most usually defined by its tangibility and literalness, the duo of MC Friendly and Norty have built a world out of intentional ambiguity populated by melancholy introspective lyrics and charged instrumentation. Their willingness to stack juxtapositions like these atop one another is brave, perplexing, enthralling and incredibly satisfying to the adventurous listener.

“Spöke” is, in a lot of ways, a direct challenge to Hip Hop fans. More than a simple departure from traditional formulas, it’s sonically chaotic and preys upon your expectations by unapologetically not fulfilling them. At times it finds ways to feel like it’s both aggressively “in-your-face” and like it’s simultaneously apologizing for invading your personal space. It’s a remarkably complex and risky approach that they’re able to execute masterfully over the course of the EP’s nineteen minutes.

The record opens with “Ceiling Fan”, the only song on the EP that doesn’t feature another artist, and finds MC Friendly lamenting his inability to kill off the worst parts of his own nature. Written like a how-to guide to a failed suicide attempt, it is a slow paced and deliberate examination of the mechanics of perceived failure; until it’s not. Halfway through the song the listener finds themselves ripped from the comfort of sparse drums and MC Friendly’s dulcet cadence and flung headfirst into a pulsing uptempo house beat layered with Norty’s uniquely piercing, resonant and hypnotic singing. It’s a jarring moment on first listen, but sets the tone for the rest of the record.

Production duties are handled exclusively by Norty, who also sings chorus/bridge on every track. The production is ambitious and at times even a touch audacious in the best way. Norty’s musical history skews toward Indie Rock/EDM/House and he’s not shy about describing himself as having been generally uninterested with most Hip Hop until becoming a part of the Young Heavy Souls roster where he eventually began collaborating with MC Friendly. His non-referential approach to crafting the underlying instrumentation of the album results in an incredibly fresh sounding album that still feels grounded in the genre, if perhaps on its periphery.

That non-referential spirit is infused throughout the album. Nothing about “Spöke” feels like it’s beholden to any particular traditions or conventions of Hip Hop, and yet it never makes the mistake of seeming spiteful of those traditions either. It’s simply different for it’s own sake, not to prove a point or cast a judgment. It’s an exceptionally earnest collection of songs and unashamed of its earnestness. In a world where you trip over three vainglorious rappers on the way to the bathroom every morning, it’s a welcome departure from the norm.

I don’t rep the city, I don’t rep the region / I don’t rep the dim hallway I was conceived in / I don’t give a thought to where my first air was breathed in / how can I blaspheme a thing that I do not believe in?” – Guts

The record features an outstanding cast of guest artists, each contributing incredibly potent and valuable verses to their respective tracks. “Eyelids” sees Mister (of Passalacqua) delivering a blistering verbal clinic on how both form and function can exist in a verse. Deftly switching tempos on a dime without sacrificing an inch of content, he’s a portrait of perfect technique. Blue-Chip all star Red Pill shows up on “Guts” (an ode to performing live) and drops one of the most memorable lines on the whole record: “...and if you ever leave me hangin if I’m trying to high five you? / I’ll understand that I’ve been lied to”. Blaksmith (also of Passalacqua) anchors “Sink” with a verse that’ll have you chanting his last four lines along with him on every subsequent listen. S. Al turns in a remarkably unexpected and endearing appearance on “Seasick” that I found a touch befuddling initially and cannot stop listening to since. It’s infectious in its atypical approach, but it’s a bit of a slow burn as he steps the furthest outside of the box on the entire EP.

Despite the many features, “Spöke” never loses its sense of continuity or identity. The chemistry between not only the artists on each song, but of all the artists on the album is pretty self evident. It’s clear these choices were well thought out by MC Friendly and Norty and the payoff easily exceeds the risks they took. I do find myself wishing for perhaps one more song without a feature where we could hear MC Friendly and Norty’s work extended over more than the single verse of “Ceiling Fan”, but “Spöke” doesn’t suffer for it not being there.

Talking to the MC Friendly and Norty about the record, I came away with a profound respect for how the simplicity of their approach could yield such a complex album. They are not the self indulgent and self-aggrandizing pseudo neo-intellectualists that often plague the progressive edge of underground Hip Hop, but rather a couple of genuine and self aware artists trying to simply make the best music they’re capable of, and hoping it resonates. In that endeavor they are immensely successful.

“Spöke” is somehow both incredibly deep and astonishingly listenable; an indescribably rare accomplishment in Hip Hop. It makes a hundred decisions that, in isolation seem crazy on paper, but in aggregate amount to a kind of brilliance. That’s called vision and the Obese Ghost Children seem to have it in spades. It’s an accessible vision too, as the listener will divine meaning from each song often by what they brought with them when they started listening. The layers of nuance and ambiguity in the writing open it up for interpretation, and that’s not an accident. However “Spöke” speaks to you is valid in their eyes, which is why it’s ultimately able to speak to so many.

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