"When I was a kid, I wanted to be Paul Stanley," says New York City
beatmaker/rapper/poet Beans, casting his mind back to his musical
childhood. "I have pictures of me as a kid with tennis racquets and
makeup, wearing my mother's rain shoes for high-heeled boots. Kiss and
Rick James I used to imitate a lot, plus I grew up listening to Two
Doors Down, by Dolly Parton, and the 'Grease' soundtrack. The first
record I bought with my own money was 'Planet Rock' [by Afrika Bambaataa
and the Soul Sonic Force], so that gives you an indicator of what that can
lead to. I think you can derive, from the music that I make now, how
much of an impact that had on me."
The 33-year-old Robert Stewart grew up in suburban White Plains, New York.
Whilst hip-hop was a continuous influence through his adolescence,
Stewart himself felt no connection to any greater culture. He only
started rhyming when he was 17, just before he went to art school in New
York to study graphic and visual design. Whilst he had thought that
such visual artistry would be his calling, pretty soon Stewart now
trading under the name Beans found himself cutting class to go into
the studio with his friend Priest. Whilst the tracks they were working
on were, ostensibly, "hip-hop," the duo's performances were inspired by
the jazz records they listened to, and the downtown poetry scene they
were involved in.
"I met a girl." This is Beans' answer as to how he was first involved
in the Nuyorican Theatre's Rap meets Poetry evenings. "It was
definitely an extension of hip-hop," he recalls, "but at that time it
allowed you to say things, in that medium, that you couldn't say in
hip-hop, and it allowed for a stronger emphasis in what you said.
Because, in those performances, there were no beats. That was the rule,
you couldn't perform to a beat at all. So it put more emphasis on what
you were writing, and it made me a better writer, I believe. I think
that that was the fertile ground that allowed me to become who I am.
So, I'm highly appreciative of that time."
That time, he furthers, was one where he had stopped listening to
hip-hop, and through his indoctrination into other sounds, he feels like
he found his own voice. When he and Priest got serious, in 1994, about
making their own music, they had to "rediscover" the genre they'd
ignored in its ignoble "gangsta" years. And they were inspired to do
this by Common Sense's Resurrection, whose release that year reignited
their love. Yet, the two didn't just want to make hip-hop, they wanted
to reinvent rap's wheel, having grand ideas for the music they wanted to
make. "We wanted to be the reaction [to hip-hop] how punk was to disco;
how punk was this new infesting movement that was in total contrast to
disco. When we started, we wanted to be the antithesis of what was
happening in hip-hop at that time."
In 1997, Priest founded his own label, Anti-Pop records, as an
independent means for releasing their material. Issuing cassettes
featuring tracks by the three artists at the core of Anti-Pop Priest,
Beans, and Sayyid they called these five volumes "Consortiums"; and, thus,
the trio became known as the Anti-Pop Consortium. Working with producer
Earl Blaize, as well as with beats made by Beans and Priest, the outfit
took their vision for rebellious hip-hop to extremes, their music like
free-jazz riffs on the rhymes-over-beats tenets of the genre.
They gathered together the best tracks of these early years, in 2000,
for the debut APC album, The Tragic Epilogue, a culmination of their
"slow growth" that helped the crew cross over to an experimental audience
well outside hip-hop's figurative and literal ghettoes. The crew
themselves had had this idea in mind at the time, sending a demo of
Tragic Epilogue to English electro icons Warp Records (because they were
fans of Autechre, no less). The label didn't get on board until after
that album, releasing APC's follow-up stopgap EP, The Ends Against the
Middle, in 2001, and a fully-fledged album, Arrhythmia, in 2002. On
that album, their concept of "futurist hip-hop" was brought to bear with
all sorts of wild electro-zap production and manic-mouthed syllable-spitting.
Yet, throughout all this time, the members of Anti-Pop had all been
working on their own solo material. Anti-Pop were, at essence, a
collective of solo artists, and not long after Arrhythmia came out, the
crew split. The turnaround to Beans' solo debut, Tomorrow Right Now,
issued early in 2003, seemed swift. But Beans had sown the seeds of
this as soon as the group inked their deal. "Warp had first refusals on
all our individual releases, and a week after we had signed to Warp, as
Anti-Pop, I had already presented them with a demo for Tomorrow Right
A collection of tracks he'd been working on over the years, the release
found Beans forging further into his own artistic deep-space, yet it
seemed strangely like a regular hip-hop record in the way it punctuated
an occasionally patchy set with a couple killer singles, "Phreek the Beat"
and "Mutescreamer." After issuing a remix/odds/sods set, Now Soon
Someday, early in 2004, Beans has returned with Shock City Maverick,
which, without losing any of the lurid hooks of the best Beans/APC
moments from past discs, sounds much more the cohesive artistic work.
"I wanted to make an album that was a lot more immediate, in terms of
people's responses to it," Beans offers, of his goals for the disc. "I
wanted the music to match the flow of the words, so that it was altogether a more cohesive thing, but still uptempo and groovy, without
making concessions with the things that I wanted to do, in terms of
experimenting and things like that."
The culmination of the album's intent and Beans' own aesthetic comes
on a cut called "I'll Melt You," where he boasts of being "the Ornette
Coleman of this rap shit/ the link between Suicide, Sun Ra and
Bambaataa," and crows of making an album with "no sample clearances and
no guest appearances." True to his word, there's not a single sample on
Shock City Maverick, nor a single guest. "I make albums, not
compilations," Beans says, when speaking of such a stated approach. "I
was in a group for eight years, so I don't necessarily feel that I have to
have a whole album of guest appearances in order to supplement making a
record. And, in terms of samples, I do want to speak within my own
voice, so I don't rely on other people's music to do so." Anthony Carew [Friday, December 17, 2004]