We’re experiencing one of the best years in hip-hop since 2004’s surge of underground artists. We’ve seen masterpieces from El-P, Killer Mike, and Aesop Rock, to name a few, that have all pushed raw and personal hip-hop back to the forefront and past some more highly anticipated (and lauded) mainstream releases. Adding to that list of solid underground releases is Chicago rapper and Anticon labeler Serengeti. His latest effort, C.A.R., doesn’t show him quite as laid bare as some of the aforementioned artists’ work, but it’s just as enjoyable and nearly as clever.
Serengeti’s past works were colored by the Anticon influence of off-the-wall beats and fantastical lyrics, and C.A.R. follows this line with smart production work from labelmates Jel and Odd Nosdam. From the Beck-like wobble and fuzz drums of opener “Greyhound” to the Blackalicious funk of “Amnesia” to the simple guitar bounce of “Geti Life”, Jel and Odd Nosdam lay down fun tracks for Serengeti’s MF Doom low flow. The songs with the quirky beats, while not necessarily poetic genius, are incredibly charming throwback tracks.
“Amnesia” and “Geti Life” are two examples of Serengeti’s clever lyricism. The former is a sort of break up letter to a former mate with all the bitter bites you’d expect: “If I could get amnesia/ see you with fresh brown eyes/ we could finally split up and stop horsin’ around/ If I could get amnesia/ I wouldn’t have to fake my death.” Then on follower “Geti Life”, which features Why? mastermind Yoni, Serengeti tells the story of trying to hook up with a girl by using his friendship with the track’s guest. “I told her I could get her close to Yoni/ I was lying though we’re not really homies/ Yoni’s world laying next to one of Yoni’s girl” with Yoni simply saying “wait what?” in the background adds a playful nature to what could otherwise be depressing in the hands of another artist.
Serengeti also lays down a few more serious tracks that spotlight his thoughtful side. “Peekaboo”, a dark peeping tom narrative about revisiting and confronting past unassuming obsessions, has a hard, bleak beat over which Geti raspily raps: “She wore the same sweats, warm up sweats/ they were turbo green/ I’d often think to myself ‘If only I had a trampoline’/ then she took off her pants/ these photographs were our first found romance.” It’s quite the stark contrast to the light bounce of “Geti Life”, but works well atop the metronomic beats.
Clocking in at 30 minutes over 11 tracks, the album runs at a swift pace that keeps the mood light yet also makes for a rushed listen. There’s a positive, loose, and improvised feeling that runs throughout, but altogether, C.A.R. can feel a little unfinished in parts. Still, it’s not enough to detract from its great vibes, and that’s where Serengeti shines, carving out a solid hip-hop effort that’s both funny and enjoyable without cheapening its authenticity.
Essential Tracks: “Amnesia”, “Geti Life”, and “Peekaboo”