Kurt Hustle and Benjo Beats,“Bottle Behavior”, the six track EP and first offering from the newly formed duo out of Sacramento California, can be defined, paradoxically, as both a direct product of the traditional hip-hop of the past, as well as a violent rejection of the watered-down constructs and formulas that have come to represent that genre today. The album, at face value, contains many of the elements, musically and lyrically, that one would expect in a classic rap album: the samples are catchy and melodic, the writing is smooth, and the recording is clear and precise. But there the comparisons come to an abrupt end, as the listener is pushed and prodded, with no quarter asked and none given, into a new sound, devoid of frills and filler, that synthesizes ingredients foreign to most contemporary hip-hop music recipes.
The group, composed of Benjamin Heegard, aka Benjo Beats, on production and Zack Read, aka Kurt Hustle on vocals, formed in the fall of 2013 and immediately began writing the songs that would make up “Bottle Behavior”.
The group’s music is produced entirely by Benjo Beats, and has its roots firmly in time-honored hip-hop tradition. Hailing originally from Ithaca, New York before coming to California in 1998, the east coast influences are undeniable in Benjo’s work, particularly evident in the percussion’s use of heavy snare and busy, syncopated bass drum hits (he began making beats on an MPC2000 and has since moved on to prefer a Maschine by Native Instruments). Growing up a “hip-hop purist” of sorts has given Benjo a natural ear for the stripped-down, sample-rich sound made famous by producers like Premier and RZA in New York and Madlib in L.A, and also sparked his relentless habit of searching out the perfect loop, often by sifting through hours of records spanning genres from 60s soul music to 90s hard rock like Metallica and Slayer. In addition to this constant musical foraging, Benjo also developed a love for conventional instruments, picking up the drums, bass, guitar, and most frequently, keys, to add accompaniments that required a personal touch. The amalgamation of musical influences and tools has led to a unique mix of grime and sheen, with smooth synthesizers, key riffs, and vocal samples often working in tandem with distorted guitar chords or lo-fi drum kits. This mix of dirty and clean sounds, coupled with a wide range of driving percussion and danceable bass lines gives the music a simultaneously raw hip-hop feel layered with a catchy pop sound, often times combining the two within the same track.
Kurt Hustle, originally from the Chicago area before migrating west in 2000, brings his own blend of musical styles to the vocals on “Bottle Behavior”. While the choruses on many of the duo’s tracks achieve an easily accessible pop sound that even the most uninitiated hip-hop fans will find themselves humming for weeks after listening, make no mistake about it: this emcee is about RAPPING. The verses are long and varied, and they drive the lyrics of the song home with very little room to breathe. The lyrical tone of the group’s first album reminds one of what Hunter S. Thompson described as “the tension between two poles—a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other”. The lyrics fulminate against the rigged game of the American Dream, wallowing in the fear and disillusionment and frustration that have come to define the current “boomerang generation”, yet they also actively search for a way to cope with these realities, whether through pushing the limits of consciousness and self-discovery with drugs and alcohol, or by the search for the pure, elusive concepts still worth pursuing; concepts such as love and art.
This group has something to say, and they are hardly shy about expressing themselves. “Bottle Behavior”, while brief in length, manages to both pay homage to and thumb its nose at hip-hop tradition, to scream drunken insanity from the balcony while whispering uncomfortable truths in your ear, and perhaps, above all, is a damn fun album to listen to. Stay tuned for more.