Album of the Day: Hype Williams, “Rainbow Edition”

Being a fan of the art-pop group Hype Williams has always meant just rolling with whatever absurdity—musical or otherwise—they saw fit to deliver. The elusive duo has always been allegedly made up of provocative singer-songwriter Dean Blunt and enigmatic Russian artist Inga Copeland. Their myth goes like this: they’ve been working together since 2005 and began releasing projects in 2009 including the 2011-released compilation One Nation. Two years later, the duo split.

New music released under the Hype Williams moniker began to surface again in the middle of 2016, but everything since One Nation has now been dubbed as frauds by Ninja Tune imprint Big Dada, who will release Rainbow Edition, the supposedly first true Hype Williams album since One Nation. Blunt and Copeland are, according to the label, still out, but the new forward-facing members Slaughter and Silvermane have brought the same brand of ecstatic lo-fi concoctions any original fan will recognize as true to Hype Williams form.

Self-described as “strictly for the whip,” Rainbow Edition is brimming with blissed-out, weedy beats. Many of them, like standouts “Puredamage” and “Smokebox,” clock in at less than a minute, but still make an impression; the former is 30 seconds of glassy electronics and tripping, detuned guitar; the latter features a rubbery bassline bouncing beneath mirage-like synths. The album’s brevity—maintained almost throughout except for the six-minute ethereal meditation “Spinderella’s Dream”—makes way for its mysteries. You can spelunk for the origins its samples (like the relationship advice call-in show clip on “Ask Yee”) and other references, ad nauseam. With so many tracks packed into 37 minutes, there is a lot to discover under the static.

The best and most meta moment on the album comes is a crackling track called “This is Mister Bigg. How You Doing Mister Bigg,” which is full of ominous synths, creeping, doomy percussion and a keyboard line that sounds like it was plucked from a John Carpenter score. Its title is a reference to the cinematic remix of R&B singer Kelly Price’s 1998 breakout single “Friend of Mine.” That song featured vocals from R. Kelly and the icon Ronald Isley, who duet in proto-“Trapped in the Closet” fashion. Its video was created by acclaimed music video director and group namesake, Hype Williams. The group could have referenced Williams in a host of more obvious ways, tipping their hat to, say, Missy Elliott’s breakthrough video for “The Rain,” or the sensual cyberpunk world of Busta Rhymes’s “What’s It Gonna Be.” Instead, they went with an odd lyric, cherry-picked from a song that was never a crossover hit. It’s just the kind of maverick ornament that’s become expected of Hype Williams—whoever they may be.

Claire Lobenfeld

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