Serengeti Family & Friends(Anticon) Buy it from Insound
When throwing references left and right is part of an artist’s shtick, one would think that a musician would eventually hit a creative block. More so in the case of Serengeti, an independent Chicago MC with an extensive, and no less respectable, discography that would bring a slack procrastinator to tears. Over the course of six years, David Cohn functioned as an intermediary between media ridden and factual observation. Even if those qualities are paramount to socially conscious hip-hop artists, the fact that he abhors the culture he represents puts him in an unclassifiable position; while trends arise and descend, his conviction remains as constant as the slow-funk beats he produces.
Above all else, Serengeti could be described as a humorist friend who’s obviously clever, yet impervious to any form of serious-minded conversation. And usually, those are the ones who deliberately cast a clear picture in regards to the mire of daily drudgery. Friends & Family works that way: it’s filled with madcap production techniques that conceal some very disconcerting issues. Tracks is easily his most despondent opening on record – Cohn summarily grieves over a rusted violin string and a steady beat, sharing the words: scary,look at the monster you married, you never really know someone you married until you’re both buried. PMDD follows with a tinny, bittersweet synth line – it features a bed-ridden Cohn who’s imaginarily infatuated with an eye-catching pill popper that gives him hope. And this coming from someone who previously opened a record with an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.
After such an effective string of songs, the content of the songs begin to fluctuate between past traumas and endearing occurrences. At best, they seamlessly link into a well-balanced sequence: Long Ears describes a broken relationship with his dad (which goes as far detailing him sharing drugs with him), and follows it with the playful Ha Ha, in which Cohn describes meeting a Menard’s employee that helps him cope with his father’s strict reign. All through Family & Friends, these themes recur as much as the minimal electronic sound that scores it. The humorless title track questions the imminence of adulthood and the responsibility of maintaining a status quo with slight irony (be in love with your wife), and has him describing different scenarios such as laying pipes and changing oil. As it hits the final stretch, it’s evident how Family & Friends matures as it rolls along; while Cohn (the protagonist) accepts the commonplace without even a smirk, he’s also bound to make the best of it to avoid repeating what was bestowed upon him.
If all this wasn’t meta enough, the portions in Family & Friends that are least focused are the ones in which Cohn goes through the rashness of early adulthood - the chiptune-soaked ARP and Godamit feature feeble rhymes (I’m from Chicago like Mr. T/ I’m a rap artist so I’m in the know) that highlight him holding polygamous relationships and club-hopping adventures. Though both are ingeniously thought out, especially when the synths seem to weaken as they describe a censorious remark, the chipped finger snaps and intertwined voice tracks sound tacked on and needlessly dawdle.
Placing aside what amounts to unfortunate filler (the friends portions aren’t as evocative), Family & Friends portrays the inevitability of growing up and keeping up with outside expectations with a deft touch. Whether its autobiographical or not, Cohn’s inhabits a dodgy, self-referential persona that is both easy to identify and hard to emphasize with. Like a fully rounded protagonist in a stirring film, the main character presented is flawed and, most importantly, real.20 July, 2011 - 09:44 — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez