Observe Since ‘98, “Muerte de un Salvaje”
By J. Edward Keyes · January 11, 2022 Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Cassette, Sweater/Hoodie

When it kicked off back in 2018, Observe Since ‘98‘s Savage series could be read as a rebirth. The Madison, Wisconsin producer had recently revived his label Loretta, which had sputtered to a halt in the late ‘90s, and as the series progressed, it allowed him to carve out a niche in the underground rap scene by topping his inventive beats—usually sourced from international pop records from the ‘50s and ‘60s—with cult favorite MCs like Planet Asia, Knowledge the Pirate, Napoleon Da Legend, and others. “The Savage” was the character who presided over the affairs, a mysterious, red-hooded figure who served as a kind of throughline for the series.

Now, just four years after he first appeared, Muerte de un Salvaje marks the character’s death. The album cover depicts the Savage being killed by Observe’s newest alias, King Clout, a likes-chasing narcissist more interested in retweets than real rap. (A live-action version of the same scene appeared briefly on Observe’s Instagram account, though it has now, curiously, been deleted.) The concept suggests a cynical answer to the question of art vs. commercialism and the valorization of personality cults in music.

On the other hand, that might be overthinking things. The Savage series has always worked best as a kind of gritty pulp anthology, introducing you to a new misanthrope in each song, all of it overseen by a single master curator. That’s the case here, too; despite the grim subject matter, Observe’s beats feel sunnier than they have on his last two full-lengths. He conjures the breathless sweep of action movie soundtracks on “The Moment,” where Michigan rapper Substance 810 delivers a string of cutting bars over the exuberant brass-and-strings backdrop. Vincent, the Owl’s crackling, motormouthed flow cuts a jagged line across the center of “The Prognosis,” a steely complement to Observe’s laid-back, smooth-jazz production. And the trio of All Hail Y.T., Ifé Neuro, and Vandal Savage land some of the project’s best bars on the breezy “Calm Before the Storm,” reeling off punchlines like, “For God so loved the world that he gave birth to me” over Observe’s sunny exotica loop.

A series of interstitials help to tie the album’s loose narrative together—most notably on the MF Doom-y “Showdown in San Juan,” where Clout and the Savage meet face-to-face. But as with every Savage record, the biggest charge comes from hearing how the bits Observe has pulled from old Italian opera records and yé-yé singles complement the crime narratives his MCs provide. It’s hard to know if Clout’s triumph over Savage means Observe plans to junk his current musical milieu in favor of more mainstream, commercially appealing beats, or if it just signals the start of a new chapter in the producer’s career. Whatever the case, Muerte de un Salvaje provides one last, satisfying ride through Observe’s low-lit world.

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