Hip-hop's global empire is a juggernaut, racing from braggadocio to backpack-toting purists who shun the materialistic. But the true demographic of the genre is harder to nail down than a Pauly Shore fan. The once strictly urban b-boy ideologies have overtaken the suburbs, grabbing the youth market, which is hastily penning lyrics in its journals instead of doing homework. It's in these quiet surroundings where the music has disregarded race and background, cultivating an underground that infuses indie rock with leftfield electronic music.
Still, it's been rare to find such a unique scene in South Florida, which has usually depended on straight punk rock, metal, or dance to paint its musical landscape. Jasper Delaini is well aware of this scenario, having grown up in the 'burbs of Broward. As CEO of Audio Thrift Shop Records and co-mouthpiece of alt-hop group Secondhand Outfit, the 23-year-old entrepreneur's view of the region's hip-hop is egalitarian. "There's not much of a structure for hip-hop down here, especially for less mainstream stuff," he muses. "So we're trying to push boundaries and play with anybody -- from hardcore punk shows to Sweet 16 parties and bat mitzvahs." Delaini and crew also gather influence and inspiration from disparate acts like Mission of Burma, Ice Cube, Tears for Fears, and Johnny Cash. And Secondhand Outfit pays homage to the Man in Black with lightning-quick references in all eight songs on the group's full-length debut, Clean Gloves Hide Dirty Hands.
With a funky backbone of tight breakbeats, minor-key elegies, and found sounds supplied mostly by producer Palmeto, the two MCs -- Delaini as Dirty Work and partner Keenan Smith -- are provided ample space to spit out their thoughtful, atypical rants on everything from Dumpster-diving to politics and suicidal tendencies. But Delaini is quick to point out that this isn't I-hate-myself-and-want-to-die music. "It's just that everything around seems so surface -- nothing scratches deep," he explains. "The last thing I want to get pigeonholed as is self-loathing. I want to have some driving force behind it. It's not just some negative thing."
The Outfit has a sense of humor though; all pre-orders of Clean Gloves promised a copy of O.J. Simpson's autobiography, I Want to Tell You. The first 1,000 copies sold online through Audio Thrift Shop Records will include a copy of the Secondhand Outfitter's Guide to Anarcho Self-Reform and a piece of stolen mail; and a select few will receive TSO's "Join the Academy" enlistment cards, which instruct you to "fill out the card with the name, address, phone number, and body type of your most hated adversary, and the Secondhand Outfit will find them and destroy them while out on tour this summer." Emo-rap this is not. It's more reminiscent of the pissed-off suburban boredom of early punk rock, as Delaini makes clear on "Book with a Crooked Spine": "Another state of mind, shoo-in for the new decline of Western civilization/But the best of circa '77 records still in the basement/A dayshift in the middle American rockabilly mayhem/All fought for the lost cause on Gotham City pavement."
Cloaked by dusty beats that would make both the RZA and DJ Shadow smile, Clean Gloves turns the angst into hip-pop art, morphing pop-culture geekism and film school dalliances into beat-heavy jams about near-death experiences and childbirth. Tracks like "Love Sick and the Anti-Body" stomp romantic clichés and twist your arm with lines like "If misery loves company, then I'll start one." "No Name on a Bullet" evokes images of the tragic end to an urban spaghetti Western with both vocalists "knocking on heaven's door." Palmeto himself flexes his production muscle on the Four Tet-meets-Mu Ziq instrumental "If I Want Your Opinion, I'll Beat It Out of You."
If mainstream hip-hop is the freewheeling, trust-fund baby of its forefathers, Secondhand Outfit is the well-educated stepchild that believes the pen is mightier than the bling-plated sword. Aided by engineer Deadweight, whom Delaini calls "the glue to the operation," the Outfit's auspicious debut is a fitting result for a trio that's been digging in record crates and formulating its sound since 2000. Though Delaini and Palmeto began collaborating the following year after several run-ins at the now-defunct Shed Records in Fort Lauderdale, it wasn't until slam poet Keenan Smith walked their way that the Outfit came together.
Delaini keeps quite busy as a promoter and label chief. "I wanted to have a label to put out whatever I wanted," he explains. "But it's kind of tough to get a label fan base with so many different styles." Still, he's releasing the noise project Hoor Paar Kraat from Fort Lauderdale visual artist Anthony Mangicapra (who did the cover art for Outfit's LP) and an EP by rapper J Likewise. But it's his group that takes priority. "We're already halfway through the new Secondhand Outfit project," he reports. As for the group's sound, let's just use Delaini's explanation: "Palmeto writes undead, futuristic horror soundtracks for David Lynch-inspired independent films whose visual content has yet to be conceived. Keenan's ambition is simply to inject his messages and ideas free of ego and self-importance into a viable form, and I'm the crowd-proclaimed appendix of the working body hip-hop community. We try to stray from conventional styles, not overly focused on trying to sound different. It's just the way it works out."
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