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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

All Issues
JUNE 2021 Issue

Beans and the Avant-Garde in Hip Hop

Beans. Photo courtesy of Anticon.
Beans. Photo courtesy of Anticon.

Largely due to the endless marketplace of the internet, music is now at the highest rate of concentration it’s ever achieved. Log on to your favorite streaming service and chances are you’ll have to wade through talentless garbage and unoriginal ripoffs to find something fresh. This experience is a big reason why an artist still needs to set themselves apart when it comes to honing their craft. Coming from White Plains, Beans has been doing things his own way since the mid-’90s. His unique style is multi-dimensional and it’s not the typical boom bap hip hop, it’s an approach that’s his own artistic identity.

To understand Beans’s adoption of the avant-garde means to first understand the era he came up in; golden-age New York City hip hop where each act brought something different to the table while moving the art form forward. “I came into the game sort of traditionally but I knew that I wanted to do things a little differently,” Beans says. “I’ve always thought that the whole premise of when I came up listening to and being a fan of hip hop was to be distinct.”

“I grew up in the era of ’88 when I was still a teenager and hip hop was an outlaw form of music that you could only hear from 9–12 a.m. on Red Alert. Most of it was all about being as original and stylistically distinct from every other emcee that’s actually doing it. I came up in the era when there was De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and many others.”

“This was all under the umbrella of hip hop but they were still distinct from each other and everyone had their own styles and they spoke by using their unique voices.”

Beans adds that, “I think that distinction is what should be celebrated when you’re creating this music. I came up through the poetry scene and a lot of my first rap performances were in those particular settings. In the poetry scene and in spoken word, there’s a lot more emphasis on the vocabulary so I got to develop my style based on what I was trying to say based on being in that setting. Being influenced in that way allowed me to express myself differently in how I wasn’t dependent on the beat, which allowed me to create in my own way when it came to writing.”

By the time he started forging his own music, Beans was alienated by the post-gangsta, neo-mafioso tightrope hip hop was walking on. He then gravitated to spoken word poetry and jazz, which provided the catalyst for him to make the music that he felt akin to his voice.

“Within two or three years when I was coming up,” he explains, “I stopped listening to rap altogether when it became competitive during what I’d like to call the ‘shiny suit era.’” He describes the experiences that made his style what it is today. “I really got into jazz during that time along with reading books including As Serious As Your Life by Val Wilmer. I got exposed to avant-garde jazz music and got really into Sun Ra, John Coltrane, and artists of that ilk. I started to be really influenced by it and I wanted to take what they were doing and apply it while using my background of performing in spoken word and my love for hip hop to create this voice that’s something I can call my own, that’s really where it comes from. I like to refer to myself as ‘the Ornette Coleman of Hip Hop.’”

On April 16, Beans released the single “Bermuda Serpent Saliva Man.” The nearly eight-minute-long track is influenced by the classical composer György Ligeti, with David Russell Stempowski handling the production and Christopher Auerbach-Brown doing all of the string arrangements. The hard-hitting B-side, “Viragor,” is produced by Asethic—the single is abstract and complex while the B-side is rhythmically tightly-knit. One element that’s rare in the single and B-side is the lack of samples with both tracks being completely organic.

“It’s drum programming and strings, with the strings being all live,” Beans says about the single. “I avoid being dependent on samples because once you have a sample it can be traced back to a source and in order to develop my own voice I want to go back to my early influences of sound programming and synths. That’s kind of what I was doing when I was with Antipop Consortium, and I continue to do it as a solo artist. I haven’t used samples in a really long time, I’m not opposed to it but I just haven’t done it in a while. ‘Bermuda Serpent Saliva Man’ is a previously unreleased track from an album I did called HAAST that I put out in 2017. I just didn’t have a way to work myself around it so I ended up deciding to straight rhyme to it and I found that it worked.”

Beans also runs the label Tygr Rawwk Rcrds; “I’m not sure how it really coincided but over the past three years I released eight different albums so I decided this year to focus on singles and maybe an EP in the fall,” he says about his plans for the label. “I’ve taken a lot of time during the pandemic to recharge, relax, and ease back a little bit. I do plan on releasing some stuff from two other artists but I’ve really used the time to take a break and recharge the battery. I feel like COVID-19 has revealed a lot of things we were actually doing wrong as a society. I think it’s better to stay home and work from home to avoid the hustle and bustle.”

“Plus,” he continues, “with all the pollution and everything else, I think the planet needed a reset and I think the pandemic actually allowed that. It also helped us get out of the toxic presidency that we were in so we can move forward. I think the planet has gone along in that direction to be honest with you.”


Rob Duguay

Rob Duguay is an arts and entertainment journalist based in Providence. He writes for DigBoston, the Providence Journal, the Newport Daily News, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine, and numerous others. He has written about music, film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports, and cannabis.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2021

All Issues