Good For What Ails You

Originally published in the Stool Pigeon

Ah, hip hop: scourge of conformity; destroyer of all things four-sided and dull; voice of a jilted generation. At least, that was the idea. Somewhere along the way, the guys with ponytails and briefcases put their oar in and the whole thing veered so wildly off course that we’re now at the mercy of vacuous cock jockeys like Nelly and P Diddy; men who think nothing of wearing women’s furs or writing entire songs about the quality of their new spinner rims.

All is not lost, however – as the buzz surrounding Stateside duo Panacea goes to prove. Between them, beat master K-Murdock and lyricist Raw Poetic have produced the ph?m most original and inventive hip hop album of the year with Ink Is My Drink, a record that lurches effortlessly between star systems while remaining all the while rooted in the real world.

“We’re both big fans of anime and comic books,” says Raw Poetic over the phone from his Bay Area crash pad, “and I think that comes across in the more fantasy-orientated elements of what we do. A lot of people seem to have forgotten the importance of the imagination in music making, and that’s something we really want to get back to.”

The result is an album that lodges itself firmly in the right side of the brain. Raw Poetic notes that the title itself is a nod to the nourishing power of the creative process, but it also hints at the animated nature of wholesale mlb jerseys the musical sketches within – from colour-running psychedelic soundscapes like Steel Kites to the hazy summer vibes of PULSE and Work Of Art – all of them pressed with the and freshness of a more cheap nfl jerseys innocent age.

“When I think about it,” says Raw Poetic, “all I really want is to be as free as the rock groups are. You listen to old Led Zeppelin tunes and they’re up there singing about Medieval legends, or Radiohead – well, who knows what they’re singing about? The point is, no one in hip hop is willing to try that shit because they’re scared of alienating audiences, when the fact is that those artists prepared to experiment the most are often the ones who stay around the longest. One of the things we keep hearing after people catch the live show is: ‘Man, now that I’ve seen you guys I don’t know if I can even call you hip hop.’ And that’s the ultimate compliment to me.”

Those are fighting words in an industry founded on pigeonholes – but then Panacea aren’t your average birds of a feather. For starters, there’s a notable absence of gun-talk, nose candy and fine cognac; no songs about their cars or the size of their cocks. Both are articulate and well-educated (Raw Poetic even put in a stint as a first grade teacher), and as a result seem more concerned with tearing up the script at a time when the majority of talk about taking hip hop to the ‘next level’ is little more than that.

Raw Poetic and K-Murdock: alternative medicine men

“First and foremost,” says K-Murdock, “a lot of those guys rapping about growing up on the streets really do live those lives, and that’s what hip hop is to me – a vehicle for telling your own story. But I’m from the suburbs of Maryland; I had a happy childhood in a blue collar, middle class neighbourhood, so there’s no need for me to front and act like something I’m not. Sure, I once wanted to be the next DJ Premier, same as every kid who’s just bought his first sampler, wholesale nfl jerseys but I’ve learned that when it comes to making beats, the best stuff happens when I choose to embrace the more introspective, eccentric side of my personality.”

Nor is it a choice that’s hindered Panacea’s rise up the industry’s notoriously slippery ladder. After making a name for themselves on MySpace and signing to the LA-based independent Glow-in-the Dark, the boys ended up on the radar of the mighty Rawkus Records, erstwhile home of leftfield artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common. Rawkus had recently disentangled itself from a messy merger with Geffen – the suits and ties at which turned out to be less than open-minded about Rawkus’ attitude towards less commercial hip hop – and was looking to put together a roster of blistering new acts, which Panacea slotted into nicely. Not that they’re letting nerves get the better of them.

“It is kind of cool to be on a label that helped build the careers of so many incredible hip hop artists,” says K-Murdock, “and we do get asked about how we’re coping with the pressure of filling such formidable shoes, but I can’t honestly say I’ve given it much thought. We’re looking to kick-start a new era of hip hop right here – it’s not about riding or recycling the output of the late 90s, but creating a legacy of Feng-Shui our own, and to that extent I think Rawkus is relying on us as much as we are on them.”

That legacy could well be written sooner than they think. Ink Is My Drink may only just have hit the shelves, but Panacea are Sample already set to go to master with a follow-up album so forward-thinking that K-Murdock claims it makes their debut sound mainstream by comparison; on top of that, they’re blowing up spots with their live band and their debut single, Starlite, is waking commercial radio up to the fact that hip hop can be musically progressive, poetic and politically conscious, and still rock a party with the best of them.

The only downside is the double-edged nature of the inevitable comparisons, born of a combination of lazy journalism and a need to quantify the unknown. Sure, there are non-threatening good time vibes reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest at their finest; kaleidoscopic 60s colours that recall a flowered-up De La Soul; plus a touch X9 of surreal comedy in the style of The Pharcyde and unhinged flamboyance that verges on the Outkast-esque. But Shadow: to call Panacea the ‘next’ anything, while flattering, is to do them a potential injustice, as K-Murdock explains.

“Being a new group, people are always going to grope around for the first thing they can relate to – whatever makes it more digestible for them. And of course it’s an honour to be compared to those guys, but I think that people who appreciate hip hop in all its diversity realise that we’re only similar in so far Iran as we all set out to shake things up a little. The word Panacea has a lot of meanings, but one of its main meanings is ‘cure’. Not that I’m suggesting we’re going to be the ones to save hip hop, but we can at least provide an alternative – a musical Save medicine to make you feel better, if you like, not just about hip hop but about life and the world in general.”