Whether you love his whole thing or whether you’re hopelessly, painfully confused by it, Lil B is, in 2013, a tremendously important rapper, a transformative figure in the internet-rap underground. The rap music that exists on the genre’s Tumblr fringes would sound very, very different if he hadn’t free-associated his way into internet infamy four or five years ago. Before that, though, Lil B was just one of four teenagers in the Bay Area rap group the Pack, and he wasn’t the most important of those four teenagers, not by a longshot. Young L was the group’s producer and mastermind, as well as being arguably the most capable of the rappers, and the sound he made with that group has been an oddly influential one. On the flukey 2006 hit “Vans” and on the rest of the not-bad album Based Boys, you can hear the sound that Young L brought: A minimal and spacey and stripped-back take on the then-in-vogue hyphy sound, Young L’s sound was all spacious clicks and hums and whirrs, and you could hear echoes of in in the jerk music that replaced hyphy and the ratchet music that replaced jerk. And as Lil B rose to the bizarre and unprecedented place he now occupies, Young L stayed busy too, releasing a steady stream of underrated solo music and producing for other people. His style got busier and weirder, developing into the angry-robot bass-bombs of “Young L-E-N” and “Loud Pockets.” On “Young L-E-N,” he called his style “alien slap,” and that was about right.
Lately, Young L’s been playing around even more with his sound, or maybe playing around with the audience he wants to attract with that sound. On last year’s Enigma Theory mixtape, he was sampling Wye Oak and Yeasayer. And now we get the instrumental Convulsion EP, which sounds like Young L’s attempt to make a Clams Casino record. Some of the hallmarks are there: Ambient glitched-out opera-singer float on “God Father,” drifting emotive lost-in-themselves vocals on “Insomnia,” tempos lurching in every direction on “Better That Way.” There are other nods to dorm-room electronic downtempo, too, like the James Blake sample on “Nocturnal” and the dessicated post-rave keyboards on “Can I Just Laugh.” And yet it all sounds very much like Young L: The huge irregular bass-globs, the crush-your-ribcage drums, the general tough, concrete irregular-heartbeat weirdness of it all. This isn’t music that you put on to color your dreams. It’s music that won’t let your neck stop moving even as it lets your brain wander.
Convulsion isn’t a game-changer or anything. It’s a decidely minor work, almost by design. Its five tracks are over in less than 20 minutes, and none of the songs are seismic bangers like “Loud Pockets.” (Seriously, “Loud Pockets,” oh my god.) Still, it represents something potentially important: Young L planting a flag in auteur territory, like Pete Rock did when he made Petestrumentals more than a decade ago. The whole instrumental format doesn’t fit Young L as naturally as it did Pete Rock or Dilla or someone like that. And Young L doesn’t need to attain that auteur status by making stuff like this, but he does deserve it. It’s exciting to hear such a smart and weird producer pushing his voice into these different directions, and maybe it’s an early prototype for something more. In any case, I’d like to hear more stuff like this from visionary producers who aren’t currently in high major-label demand. I’d love to hear a moody instrumental EP from Polow Da Don or Mannie Fresh or Ant Banks or Just Blaze. I don’t know if DJ Premier has an Endtroducing in him, but I’d love to hear him try something like that. We’re already seeing established guys like the Alchemist finding their inner weirdo and established weirdos like Young L finding different things to do with that weirdness, but there’s a whole universe of great rap producers out there who just haven’t been doing much lately. I don’t know if moody instrumental EPs like this are the answer, but they’re an answer.
Download Convulsion here.