One of the underground’s biggest challenges is balancing mainstream notions of hip-hop against the originality it needs to continue growing. Far too often underground emcees and producers lean so heavily on originality that the whole system falls out of whack, leading to something so abstract and disparate that nodding to the rhythm becomes harder than passing a kidney stone. Dudley Perkins’s 2003 debut, A Lil’ Light, fell victim to originality overdose. But for his follow-up, Expressions (2012 A.U.), Perkins and A Lil’ Light producer Madlib have found a more fluid symmetry.
In everything from his collaborations with MF Doom and the late Jay Dee to his jazzy explorations with Yesterday’s New Quintet, Madlib is easily one of hip-hop’s golden revolutionaries. At times his production can be so sparse that there’s very little to keep the track moving, but that’s not the case with Expressions. This time around, Madlib’s production is hitting all the funky corners with layered grooves that evoke the attitudes and emotions of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory.
Perkins’s objective to keep the grooves flowing on Expressions is laid down with first lines of opener “Funky Dudley“: “A little bit of funk and a dash of soul/ A little bit of George borrowed from my Ol’ gran’ pappy’s stack of old school/ One nation under a groove.” From there on the funk samples dance famously with Dudley’s vocal style, which cross-pollinates the worlds of D’Angelo and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. From “Get on Up” to the James Brown vocal sample in “Dolla Bill,” Expressions uses Perkins’s voice as if it were a sample itself, incorporating it in the production and the rhythms.
There are very few down moments throughout Expressions‘ thirteen songs, the exception being the unnecessary and aimless “Domestic Interlude” skit. Madlib’s production works flawlessly, his semi-psychedelic influence on R&B, soul and hip-hop keeping Perkins’s style fresh and original. All the parts seem to be in place on Expressions: producer and emcee work side by side to create a cohesive sound that not only represents the creativity of the underground but could also awaken the tired ears of the mainstream.