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Czardust - The Ra(w) Material Music Album Reviews

Two figures of underground rap—Philly’s Sadhugold and Virginia’s Ohbliv—team up for a politically blunted, cult rap record in the making.

The Ra(w) Material opens with a hazy, slightly off-kilter double-tracked voice chanting, “Caveman, caveman make me a wheel.” Undulating keys and slurry drums kick in next, sounding for a second like they’re two loops running deliberately out of sync. The vocals brag about copping fire from Prometheus and stacking cash like the alchemist St. Germain, before the track is overtaken by the manic sampled dialogue of a religious zealot—at which point the beat dissolves into a misty soul loop. It’s like some fantastically blunted cacophony whose closest antecedent is the Jungle Brothers’ Crazy Wisdom Masters, a record Warner Bros. deemed too experimental to release back in the ’90s.


It turns out, the alien rapping voice belongs to Sadhugold, a Philadelphia producer who wears a stocking mask in photos and is best known for crafting beats for the underground cognoscenti that include Mach-Hommy, Your Old Droog, and the Griselda camp. It also turns out that Sadhugold rhymes very well indeed, much in the same sort of syncopated style as Madlib’s rapping persona Quasimoto. Forming as Czardust alongside Virginia’s Ohbliv—a producer whose work is similarly revered in the same circles—the duo have elevated the usual vanity hip-hop collaboration into a maelstrom of head-spinning loop science intertwined with philosophical commentary.

The Czardust world is like a puzzle box. Focus on one of Sadhugold’s raps—which are filled with brags like, “Fuck this rap shit, my nig’, let’s wrangle these chickens/It’s time to cash in with self-help books and religion, ya dig?”—and you might find the vocals fading out mid-line to be replaced by one of many cut-and-paste-style speeches. On “Murder He Wrote,” which starts out dominated by a simmering bass line and Gothic choral refrain, a female voice asks if God will heal the Earth from disease. This prompts a frantic response from a Public Access preacher who rattles off a crazed mix of Biblical references and hip-hop patter: “I’m the Lord, motherfucker, not who you thought I was supposed to be… Like my nigga Mystikal say gon’ be that way long after they release Mandela because you nincom-fuckin’-poops don’t know Jesus.” While this unfurls, a snippet of The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Hypnotize” seeps through in the background, tempting the listener to wander into another new pocket of sound.

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Backed by pained guitar and monstrous bass, “Phantom of the Options” opens as a moralistic rap that includes the question, “Who can turn a terrorist into a sob story?” As you anticipate the second verse bringing forth answers, the lyrics are totally swamped by news reportage documenting the limits and justifications for violence in the name of self-defense. “What are we supposed to do if we can't protect ourselves?” laments a scared voice as the heady track ends.

All these overlapping loops and voices could sound haphazard, but Ohbliv and Sadhugold bring things full circle towards the project’s end. On “Serpent Power,” the same verse that opened the album is layered back into the song, linking the myriad sampled speeches about Christianity, the Ku Klux Klan, and Five Percenter rhetoric to the beginnings of mankind. Then on closing cut “Whattup,” Sadhugold zones out and perfectly encapsulates the cosmic Czardust ethos: “I close my eyes and embrace the blackness of space/’Til the colors and the spirit gods is back in my face like, ‘What up?’”


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