Malcom Kipe: Breakspiracy Theories

Malcom Kipe: Lit

Malcom Kipe (Skyler McGlothlin aka Nautilis) stokes a potent instrumental hip-hop brew on the superb debut Breakspiracy Theories and its fine sequel Lit. Old-school samples, loping beats, scratching, and analogue synth bass lines lend Kipe's material its distinctive fingerprint. He generally keeps songs short (typically less than three minutes) so they rarely overstay their welcome, plus each album is filled with about twenty tracks, making for a more-than-complete listening experience. Featuring an occasional MC turn, the first album is more in-your-face; the second, by design, inhabits a more laid-back zone.

While he regards all vinyl material as potential plunder, McGlothlin professes an especial affection for sounds from the mid-‘60s to early-‘70s, a preference clearly heard throughout Breakspiracy Theories. “Pops Figure” features George Benson-styled guitar licks, “Obscurity of Purity” lifts a MOR piano-and-strings sample from “My Funny Valentine,” and in “Love Story” Francis Lai's soundtrack theme morphs into a venomous carousel ride. While Kipe memorably merges hip-hop with Moroccan elements in “Mans Vents” and jazz in “Exert,” the album's most striking moment drops in the steamroller “Mr. Politician” when a blustery stampede of tenor saxes (at times approximating the cacophonous roar of Ornette's Free Jazz) wails alongside a group's embittered rant (“Mr. Politician, what is your mission? / Will you tell me what's really on your mind?”).

As McGlothlin himself acknowledges, Lit's tracks are tailor-made for MC freestyling. Choice cuts include the opener “Dusted Again” with its beautiful clavinet-piano lope, the funky hip-hop squelch of “Off the Joint,” and “Orange County” where Kipe pairs a booming groove with sparkling piano lines and swooping strings. A buzzing army of snarling sitars courses through the hallucinatory “Quest for the Crown” while the grinding boom-bap of “Clotogapus Calls” turns exotic with jazzy flutes and choir samples. Sweetened by buttery sax playing, “Mystery Child” ends the album with a soulful sparkle that bridges the ‘70s with today. As satisfying a listen as it is, however, some tracks might have been developed into more elaborate compositional structures; Lit would then have felt as substantial as Breakspiracy Theories which possesses a more varied mix of shorter and longer pieces. Still, no matter what unusual trajectories Kipe's tracks follow, deep beats remain the constant core.

Though both albums are sample-based, McGlothlin's source material remains obscure enough to elude identification, though not in every case: keyboard playing borrowed from a certain ‘70s fusion band is heard clearly in “Belowmeal” with the original composition fully audible at song's end. And in tracks on both albums, Kipe's sound recalls the stuttering lurch of another well-known instrumental hip hop artist sometimes a little too vividly (“And Saved Him,” “Grind V1,” “She All Love”) though, more often than not, Kipe generally writes his own script. Regardless, Breakspiracy Theories and Lit ultimately impress as captivating potpourris of downtempo beats, voiceovers, scratching, and samples.

September 2005