Living in a culture obsessed with nostalgia it comes as no surprise that classic gaming has become a bastion of inspiration for not only contemporary game designers but also for artists of all sorts. Painters, digital artists, performance artists, musicians, you name it there's someone who's crafted a piece of work inspired by those classic titles we all hold dear
and posted it on youtube.
This time around I'll be taking a look at a group that is taking a slightly less literal approach: Junk Science & Scott Thorough.
The Brooklyn based duo known for their unique beats; Junk Science has been making waves in the indie hip-hop world for some years now. Individually known as
sexy nerdMC Baje One and DJ Snafu they got their first bit of notoriety in 2005 after winning Scion's NextUp Song Contest before going on to release their first LP titled Feeding Einstein. They've since released two more albums, Gran'Dad's Nerve Tonic and A Miraculous Kind of Machine. Their newest project sees them teaming up with Scott Thorough, a fellow Brooklyn boy best known for the beats he drops for MC Tone Tank on their album Scott and Tone.
A love of gaming has brought these three together to produce an album that fully embraces their favorite pastime. Titled Phoenix Down, the project sees Scott and Snafu creating all original music on an 8-bit synthesizer while Baje flows.
In their own words,
"Phoenix Down" isn't ABOUT video games per se, it's more like games are the backdrop, the influence behind the music. That being said, all three of these guys are serious video game nerds, and the album is full of references to classic old-school titles. Fans of the original Contra game will definitely recognize the hook from '30 Lives'... and nerdier nerds will catch references throughout the record to games like Chrono Trigger, Mike Tyson's Punch Out, and Street Fighter 2.
photo credit: Nnenna Stella
The eight track album came out just today! You can buy it over at the group's Bandcamp. True audiophiles will want to shell out $17 bucks for the epic limited edition. For Gran'Dad's Nerve Tonic Junk Science created a limited edition brew that one could taste around New York, and for Phoenix Down they'll be sending out the album on customized flash drives molded to look like the titular Final Fantasy item.
How cool is that!? It's a rarity for most to buy physical copies of music these days; there's got to be a good incentive for shelling out the extra cash and taking a tangible object into your possession. While this is still technically a digital copy, the tangible object is one I certainly wouldn't mind possessing. Throw in exclusive bonus material in the form of remixes, instrumentals, and more and you've definitely got at least me sold!
I'm sure you're going,
"baw I don't like hip-hop stop writing about it baw" "that's all well and good...but how do I know what the album will sound like once I get the cool flash drive?"
The beats recall classic gaming while being unique to themselves. The album stays true to what they set out to do: an album inspired by gaming rather than one about gaming. A hip-hop album where the beats are 8-bit. There's nothing niche about what they're rapping about or what they're doing musically beyond their chosen instrument.
But that's not to say the game-fluence ends at the music.
After each song is a quick interlude of sorts, comprised of a quick ditty that recalls a level start or bonus screen. What's more there's no short of gaming-references made in-song, in particular on In The Shadow Of The Collosus, but said references while numerous are not the focus. Rather each reference adds to the theme of the song and what's being discussed. It's not a song about Chrono, but rather refers to Chrono. It's not a song about Contra, but rather cleverly uses the Contra code for the hook. You get the idea.
30 Lives is probably the best example of what they're trying to do with this album. Using gaming standards like extra lives and RPG character classes to talk about how one lives out their life. Again it's not about these tropes but using them to discuss something more universal.
Musically there isn't a single moment that feels out of place. An easy pitfall in hip-hop music is that you don't always get music as interesting as the lyrics, but on Phoenix Down the scales are balanced. The lyrics are complementing the music and the music is complementing the lyrics. Scott and Snafu's 8-bit beats are unexpected and fresh yet still nostalgic. Baje's flow is silky smooth and the lyrics are as layered and thought-provoking. It all comes together to craft a unique musical/gaming world that one can't help but be sucked into.
I only wish it was longer! The way they end the album with shout outs to just about everybody tells you that this is a fun group of guys. They aren't taking themselves too seriously but are making art demands to be taken seriously. And they're trying new things! How refreshing in 2011 to find people that aren't afraid to take big risks and try new sounds.
This is honestly some of the best hip-hop I've heard in quite some time.
If you're diggin' it
and why wouldn't you be? you can go purchase the album here.
And while you're at it, why not check out Junk Science and Scott Thorough's other, and just as great though slightly less game related, work? Like this track, Really Man.
Or this sampler. In particular check out track three: First Snow. Clearly Junk Science has been digging the 8-bit thing for a while now.
Or Scott Thorough's album with Tone, the aptly titled Scott and Tone.
These guys are having fun and making great music, and what more could you ask for? They're incredibly talented and true artists who deserve a place in your iTunes library and your USB port.
So enjoy your weekend and start your summer off right by popping in some Phoenix Down.
Do the drill: Like their facebook, follow both of their twitters here and here , and check out their official website Modern Shark, Junk Science's very own label through which they represent several other equally talented artists.
So go give Junk Science and Scott Thorough some love and I'll catch you audiophiles right here next week.