Avant-garde hip-hop is usually something of a mixed bag. There’s some sh*t that points an obvious and welcome finger into the future (Dabrye’s experimental Two/Three is a decent example) and other stuff that is undeniably creative but just too weird to be an effective advancement (some of Busdriver’s songs come to mind). Like most modern art, determining the worth and personal enjoyment of such music is a better experience when allowing yourself to feel your way through the music, personal preferences and expectations aside. It is, after all, meant to be progressive and by common nature therefore not entirely accessible.
The problem with such music is that its typical stylings rarely result in a fun listening experience. Quite often it requires listening at night, in a darkened room, and usually by yourself, otherwise there’s a chance you won’t “get it”. That’s why THEESatisfaction’s Snow Motion is such a welcome addition to the topsy-turvy sine wave that is hip-hop’s avant-garde. Group members Cat and Stasia have made a smart and convivial album that still manages to be decidedly not-of-the-norm. And you can even dance to most of it!
The central reason why THEESatisfaction is so immediately likable is because their funkiness is so familiar. We’re drawn to their recognizable cool. Cat and Stasia are like Missy Elliott’s funkier backstage cousins. The artsy and hip scenesters to Missy’s mainstream gloss ‘n glam who, unbeknownst to those who’ve just spied them, might actually be deeper and headier than their more popular cousin.
And when I say “deeper” I mean smarter, more conscious (damn, there’s that word again). Examinations of sexuality and blackness are the dominant themes here, though the approach to said issues are done serendipitously. It’s not an aggressive Dead Prez militancy, but more of a, “Oh what — you didn’t know this is my life?!”-type proposal. Though that doesn’t mean we’re meant to take it any less seriously. “PTSD (Post-Traumatic Slave Disorder)”, for example, is a heavy-handed meditation on what it means to be black and “written-off”.
Likewise with their sexuality. These girls are not just partners on the mic, they’re partners in life, too. And openly living as strong black women, who also happen to be bisexual, in a society that is loath to comfortably accept either, is a strong-enough statement in itself. The track “Bisexual” is a straightforward come-on. And, in fact so sexy, that any listener — male or female — wouldn’t mind being on the receiving end of Stasia and Cat’s aural explorations.
Production-wise, there’s a lot of intentionally placed dissonance, some harmonious (“Cabin Fever”) and some not so pleasant (“That’d Be Rude”); there’s traditional boom-bap (“Waltz”); and some space-disco (“Bisexual”). And it’s all done in a compact 20 minutes and with an ironic nod to the popular futurism that is so prevalent in a lot of contemporary hip-hop production.
The unfortunate low-point of this record is its audio quality. It’s pretty poor and, dare I say, amateurish. While this can be an endearing aesthetic to certain DIY bedroom-style hip-hop, it definitely detracts here. The futuristic drum ‘n bass would be better-served with higher-quality mastering. (To be fair, maybe my digital version of the album is the reason behind the low-quality. If someone out there knows anything about this, please let me know so I can re-evaluate.)
An interesting thing happened on the way to this review: I actually liked Snow Motion more and more each time I listened to it. There’s a fun yet serious vibe that offers a profoundness beyond just good party music. I’m sure at THEESatisfaction’s live shows, folks “dance, dance, dance” as they’re told to, but the deeper fathoms of the record necessitate a quiet listen-through on your headphones, too. The consciousness and resultant hip-hop sentimentality ultimately define the album, but it’s the progressive sonic leanings that add the vibrant color. The 206 should be proud to have this offbeat canvas hanging on its wall.