Cecil Otter – Rebel Yellow – 3.5/5
Since my first forays into the work of the Minnesotan underground hip-hop scene – in particular the members of Doomtree – this was one I intended to get written, because he certainly knows how to make an entrance. Fedora-sporting white guy Cecil Otter doesn't look like your average rapper, and yet that feels fitting to this release; beginning this album is a spoken word poem where he calmly explains what the album is intended to be and what he hopes it will accomplish, using the ever so colourful metaphor of raping you, “fucking you in the ass with words” as he so eloquently puts it. It's part of what draws me in so heavily to the work coming from this region, they have no desire to sugar coat their words or hide their emotions, they'll let it all flow from them in a cathartic release of energy for the listener to hear and absorb. There's more purpose to it than a basic beat could hope to accentuate, and everything from flamenco-esque guitar work, country, folk, and blues overtones to music boxes are utilised in composing the backing tracks; no childhood musical memory feels safe and no instrument or style off limits, and this experimentation is done in such a way as to never feel out of place in the context of the track.
In fact, it almost sounds strange to say it but his attention to detail is probably his greatest strength. How many other hip-hop artists can be said to excel in creating instrumental tracks, “Down, Beast” effectively breaking up this album into two sections with it's machine gun drumming and disquieted melancholy. You could remove his vocals from half the album and still end up with a half decent ambient release, and I don't know a single other artist in the genre for whom that could be said of. It seems such a shame then that the factor that initially caught my attention seems so underdeveloped by comparison; the gloriously unique accent in that opening track disappears for a (slightly) more conventional tone, and despite an excellent flow to his whimsical lyrical rhymes, both in the use of more staccato and abrupt passages and the gentler lines, seems all too void of emotion and contrast to work from. Being emotionally dead inside has it's place, no question (hell, wasn't that what the grunge movement was based on?), but such a heavy reliance on it makes for an ultimately uninteresting counter-balance to the spectacular backing, which all too often seems to carry the atmosphere on its shoulders alone.
Lyrically speaking, he sometimes feels a little too intelligent for his own good; the “Little Red Riding Hood” parallel drawn throughout the album – particularly in “Rebel Yellow” - comparing loves to the gaping jaws of the hungry wolf he gets into bed with is a fairly powerful idea in its own right, but these elaborate metaphors never quite seem to be as fully developed as they could be. They're always too shrouded in mystery and left too vague, and it's only when he takes a step back and speaks in a more poignant manner that his best work comes to fruition. I'm not the greatest follower of hip-hop, and so it should come as no major surprise that it takes something special for me to prick my ears up. I arrived upon Cecil Otter for his willing to speak his mind, bringing the poetry back into hip-hop, but I stayed for the experimental back beats. There are a few bad tracks amidst this, but his willing to do what most seem afraid to makes this a certifiable diamond in the rough.
Highlights: Rebel Yellow, Sufficiently Breathless, Down,Beast!, Match Book Diaries, Demon Girl