Free and legal MP3: Dan Black (transmogrified rap, with melody and heart)

“HYPNTZ” – Dan Black

I know next to nothing about rap and hip-hop; I listen to bits and pieces occasionally but I just don’t fathom what’s going on–music without melody rarely resonates with me; when compounded by cockeyed wordplay about personally distasteful things, I pretty much check out. So needless to say I had not known of the song “Hypnotize,” by the Notorious B.I.G., but it’s a rap landmark–a posthumous #1 hit for Biggie, himself an industry legend at this point. He was killed in a drive-by shooting 15 days before the album containing “Hypnotize” (Life After Death) was released. The album is often considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

“HYPNTZ” is a re-conception of Biggie’s “Hypnotize” by a Paris-based Londoner named Dan Black and it mesmerizes me. I have no business liking this–beyond its rap foundation, it steals a relatively bland beat from a top-40 song (Rhianna’s “Umbrella”) and blends in samples from the soundtrack to the movie Starman (quick shout-out to fellow Karen Allen fans). I routinely run the other way from mash-ups and remixes and all that slice-and-dice stuff. And yet to my ears this thing is some weird kind of brilliant. The simple melody Black creates for those harsh, bombastic lyrics, combined with the pathos of the soundtrack sounds and the stark, repetitive beat, generates poignancy and power. A harsh slice of street braggadoccio transmogrifies into a plaintive plea of some kind. Who’d’ve thought.

Not much is out there about Black at this point, but his people are working the PR channels, so he’s not some entirely unaffiliated knob-twiddler. The storyline from the press release–only semi-believable–is that he had not intended for anyone to hear this. He is busy, we are told, putting together an album of original material. Because so much of “HYPNTZ” is in fact original, however much constructed of existing parts, I’m inclined to think he’s got something worth hearing in the works.

(Note that “HYPNTZ” is no longer available, but Black subsequently reworked the song and released it as “Symphonies,” featuring a rapper named Kid Cudi. I liked “HYPNTZ” better but if you’re curious, “Symphonies” is available via Better Propaganda.)