Vaudeville. The word alone doesn’t have much of a hip hop connotation (even less-so if you factor in Vaudeville’s association with Minstrelery), but if you consider that Vaudeville, based on my lightweight understanding of it, was essentially a number of different types of acts tied together on one bill, the name suits the latest album from Derek Christoff perfectly.
Since his re-emergence on the scene with much-lauded projects like The Book, Let The Children Die, and Jonestown, D-Sisive has been gradually been revealing his many disparate (and not necessarily hip hop-based) influences through samples (Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Coconut Records, Dead Man’s Bones) and collabos (Slim Twig) that stray far from your average rap fan’s wheelhouse, but still make for great songs. Until now, D has kept these forays to a minimum, mixing his experimentation in with more standard, take-no-prisoners, boom bap-inspired hip hop.
So, after mining the depths of his depression and expunging his gut-rotting anger through the rapid-fire release of the aforementioned three records (not to mention a number of digital singles), it’s clear from the very first song of Vaudeville that D set out to make a very different record this time around – different both in style and subject matter. And, although I must admit to being a bit biased, as an un-abashed admirer of the work D has done over the last few years, I think he succeeds wildly.
As I said, the self-titled intro signals the different territory we’re in with D – the beat is nothing but an old organ riff, a music box, and an accordion. D does a sung intro, before breaking into a verse that welcomes us to his new incarnation as a hip hop-ical song and dance man. It is such an unlikely combo of elements, group sung vocals and a Buble reference, but I love the song despite myself. It’s really quiet a sweet intro to the album, and sweet is a departure for D-Sisive, but things get back to normal with the speed and impact of a police baton crushing the balaclava-ed skull of a G8 protester when The Riot Song arrives sounding like a marriage of bomb squad sound-collagery and cynical 2010, pop-culture reference-laden bravado.
D continues this mixing of sunnier, more upbeat feeling tracks in with his more more trademark moroseness throughout Vaudeville, which not only underlines the progression he’s made on this album, but also makes for an engaging listen. The breakneck pace of the rock and electro influenced Shotgun Wedding is followed up by the serene (by D-Sisive standards) Just An Ostrich, an homage to the healing powers and its value as a tool to escape your everyday – both as a kid and now, something I can certainly relate to.
That said, the middle portion of the album finds D on the darker side of things, as Muneshine joins D for the stark and chilling The Night My Baby Died, while he serves up a tale about the perils of putting on persona’s to make records (the story of someone we know perhaps? Hard to say for sure). Canadian songsmith extraordinaire Ron Sexsmith joins D on the poignant Liberace, which tells the tale of feeling forced to hide your true self, and I have to say, I’d never have know it was Mr. Sexsmith on the hook if I wasn’t told. Two work well together though, so chalk up another successful experiment. There are other light moments though, as the lilting, almost reggae-ish beat on Scaredy Cat keeps spirits up, even if the subject matter won’t, and I Love A Girl has to mark the occasion of the first un-abashedly happy D-Sisive song, unless of course it is a tongue in cheek attempt at a love song, but it feels sincere to me. D says it all himself: “you make me write love songs, in love songs, and my songs are always sad”. Good enough for me.
I originally planned to have this review done weeks ago, but my trademark delaying has resulted in spending more time with the album, and has only increased my affinity for it. It manages to showcase D-Sisive’s lyrical skill, while experimenting with various sounds and influences and coming out with an end product that it very hip hop in essence, but has elements than almost anyone could gravitate too. Hopefully everyone who has jumped on the Shad-wagon of late, has already hopped on the Vaudeville train as well, but if you aren’t, it’s not too late to get on.
VIDEO:: D-Sisive – West Coast