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Album Review: Bigg Jus – ‘Machines That Make Civilization Fun’

Album Review: Bigg Jus – ‘Machines That Make Civilization Fun’

This review has been a long time coming. Since I heard this album back in June I’ve been meaning to do a write-up on it, but just haven’t had the time. So I’m forcing myself to sit down and do it today. So here we go.

I won’t waste your time or disrespect Jus by blabbering on about how much I love his work in Company Flow. Seems like that would, in a way, devalue what he’s done on his own since their split in 2001. I’ll just say that he was part of one of the most seminal indie hip hop groups of all time so, that alone, demands respect. Outside of that, Bigg Jus has put out some of the most thought-provoking and challenging hip hop albums the indie community has seen. When he burst on the scene (solo) in 2001 with the Plantation Rhymes EP, dudes didn’t know what to make of it. “Gaffling Whips” put me on my ass. He was spittin’ some of the craziest rhymes over some of the most incoherent beats I’d ever heard and I absolutely loved it! From then on I had a serious ear on Jus. From Black Mamba Serums to his work with Orko Eloheim (as NMS) I became a huge fan.

Fast forward to 2012. Jus hasn’t dropped an album in seven years. I was beginning to think he had given up on music, which was going to be heartbreaking. Then, thanks to a tweet from El-P saying how crazy Jus’ new album was, I was put on alert that Machines That Make Civilization Fun was on its way. I’m not gonna lie. I was so anxious to hear it that I downloaded it the moment it leaked. (Don’t worry, guys. The second the physical became available, I purchased one and actually tweeted out a pic of me holding it.) I listened to it all the way though once and had to sit for a minute. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d just got done listening to. This wasn’t really the Bigg Jus I knew and was, certainly, not the one I expected. This may be the weirdest album he’s released yet. The beats are all pretty experimental leaning on the sparse and glitchy side, which is much different than what we heard on Poor People’s Day. Actually, the beats are more akin to what he was doing with the NMS project. Just, maybe, a little less breakbeat-ish. And it’s actually interesting to know that Jus produced this beast of an album on his own.

The album starts off with a super glitchy instrumental track (“Crossing The Line”) that kind of gives you an idea of what to expect from the rest of the album. Track 2 (“Game Boy Predator”) has a similarly choppy beat that has Jus rhyming in a way I don’t think we’ve heard from him before. He alternates from his normal rap style to a weird slurry thing with this voice to an odd yelling voice.  It sounds weird, but oddly, it works. The album really gets dope when “Black Roses” comes in with, by far, the best beat on the album. It’s a total head banger and Jus is riding the beat flawlessly.  From there the album goes up and down for me. And not in a way of good = up and bad = down. It’s more with the sound and progression of the album. It’s a rollercoaster of sounds and styles. Granted, absolutely none of the beats are even remotely accessible, but some of them are slightly weirder than others and Jus doesn’t stick with the same flow on every track. You get the Jus you already know through his previous work (“Black Roses”), you get a newer Jus that is almost sing-yell-rapping on tracks (“Machines That Make Civilization Fun”) and you get a Jus that talk-raps his way through tracks (“Food For Thought”). All of these styles are perfectly cool with me because, each time, they go very well with the track, but, honestly, it also serves to make the album sound a bit disjointed. What I mean by that is sometimes it doesn’t sound like a full and finished project because the songs themselves don’t feel finished. Some songs only have two verses from Jus while others feel like one long run-on verse. Even outside of that, when listening to some of the tracks, I can’t help but get a feeling that they’re incomplete. Being that he had a seven-year hiatus I didn’t expect to get this feeling from anything on this album. Now, that’s not to say that there were any tracks that I didn’t like. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite, as I liked all of them. I just don’t think there was a natural track-to-track flow progression on the album due to some of the tracks feeling like they were missing parts.

What we get is a revitalized Jus that is, maybe, abandoning the idea of making a standard hip hop album. And by standard, I mean maybe he’s breaking the mold of what is classified as experimental hip hop. Maybe he’s also abandoning the idea of how a rapper is supposed to sound on, even, an experimental beat. Instead of just being a rapper rhyming over beats, he’s taking his voice and making it an instrument that actually blends in with the music rather than standing separate from it.  And while I wouldn’t dare call this a “concept album”, most of the lyrics seem to be on some conspiracy theorist “fear your government” stream-of-consciousness shit, which does add a small semblance of cohesiveness to this record. This all makes for an extremely interesting ride with the album.

As a full project, I really enjoyed it despite its odd feeling of incompleteness. It’s definitely his most uncompromising album to date. Clearly, Jus is not concerned with making music that everyone will enjoy, but I also don’t think he purposely sets out to make music that’s jarring or unlistenable to the average person. Instead, I think he sets out to make music that he, himself, finds purpose in. And you have to respect that quality in an artist. Hopefully some of you guys are up to the challenge of trying something truly different. It seems like this is an album that could appeal to a wide range of people (as long as they’re into experimental music). With some of the rhyming, I think it’ll still appeal to fans of his older stuff (especially the NMS material) as well as to fans of stuff like Shabazz Palaces, Dalek or Death Grips. But with the oddness of his many vocal styles on this album, as well as the variety of experimental beats, it could also appeal to people who may not be avid hip hop fans. Fans of stuff like Autechre and Matmos or even Psychic TV may get into an album like this. All that to say, regardless of what type of experimental music you’re into, this deserves a listen. Jus has succeeded in making an experimental hip hop album that transcends the (now) simple and played out title of “experimental hip hop.” Kudos, Jus!

“Time for some soul searching, but first you fucking need a soul.”

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