In a world in which increasingly unusual hip-hop acts garner greater amounts of attention, the unpredictable, unusual founding Anti-Pop Consortium rapper Beans is kind of a forefather. While he may not have been dropping rhymes about silent letters in pasta varieties, he certainly wasn’t talking about getting shot nine times either. His drive for minimalist style was complemented by rapid-fire rapping as well as collaborations with everyone from eclectic electronic producer Ghislain Poirier and No Wave honcho Arto Lindsay to Chicago jazz living legends Hamid Drake and William Parker and influential instrumental hip-hop producer DJ Shadow. Now upon releasing End It All, his fifth studio album, Beans has returned to that teamwork, scouring up some exciting new names to attach to his singular style.
While his style may be dissimilar to the mainstream, Beans’ rhymes usually have pretty standard outlooks. The Ade Firth-produced “Superstar Destroyer” opens things on a predictable note, the thudding bass drum sample and twinkling synth flashes underpinning his boasts of “wreaking havoc” on the mic and how he’s “still the champion.” There are long stretches of repeated “like a” similes as well, keeping the boasts fresh enough. The super-sub-bass and off-kilter polyrhythms of “Deathsweater” keep thematic sense moving musically, this time calling attention to his stylish clothes as much as his rapping: “Deathsweater looks good on me,” a weirdo-falsetto version of Beans croons before going into how he’s got the “virtuoso flow that makes Jack jealous and Jill drop.”
Weirder contributions include Four Tet’s turn on “Gluetraps”, a far-away piano-like instrument and plenty of non-traditional percussive sounds mixing into a strangely elegiac production. Beans’ obscure rhymes on his “dark motives” and his movements like “ninjas with squeaky toes” are slightly less than lucid, resulting in some of the biggest head-scratching moments, as well as a few chuckles. But if you thought that was weird, take a look at one line on “Electric Eliminator”, the whole of it delivered in about 10 total seconds: “Hyper-drive imperial, Sir Lance-a-lot lyrical, my style kills, spiral rhymes can torture architecture like the Guggenheim.” Later references shout out the Powerpuff Girls villain Mojo Jojo and “blood in your urethra.” Seriously.
Black Moth Super Rainbow member and solo standout Tobacco contributes to “Glass Coffins”, a heavily psychedelic swirl of empty, eight-bit electronics, and stuttered percussion, the grimy, grinding synths perfectly sleazy under the semi-chorus of “Beans, you brilliant with the vocal, got the world by the throat and the crowd goes loco.” While the twinkling parts of the track are a bit brow-wrinkling, those guitar-rock synths provide some of the best moments on the record. The Lynch soundtrack intro to “Blue Movie” (washes of piano arpeggios; scattered, off-tuned drums; repeated, looped vocals; and an unexpected stab of strings) is another highlight, one that unfortunately fades in favor of more sub-bass and synth drums (though the strings do reappear from time to time).
Soulful wailing and shouting vocals courtesy of TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe bear heavily on the swaying, glitchy “Mellow You Out”, which, at its Beans-less moments, could be a TVOTR track just as easily. The recession-centric “Air Is Free” collapses years of sad politics into a messy little rapid-spit track before a later return to Four Tet on “Anvil Falling”, this time with chimes and squealing, burping synths bursting straight ahead. The incredibly dis-heavy “Hardliner” includes a self-censorship of who exactly he’s dissing (though it’s pretty obviously Cadence Weapon, the Ca- and -on falling outside the bleep). The stuttering, off-center electronics of album closer “Hunter” sound like Sonic’s own gas lawnmower not quite kicking into gear.
Throughout, Beans defies expectations while also simultaneously fitting everything together into a singular sound. Dissimilar producers are smashed together into a very Beans record, his vocal delivery overpowering nearly everything, for better and for worse. At their most disjointed, his lyrics can be equally frustratingly obtuse and wryly clever. But as you might expect, it’s impossible to pick out which one’s going to come next, as his tone never hints at that kind of change.