One vital aspect of a any youth-driven culture is in its ability to combine various elements of the past with the present in order to create something that is new and exciting. Hip Hop is no stranger to the power of change since it first came on the scene in the ‘70s as a way for kids living in the South Bronx to express themselves creatively in the face of poverty, violence and hopelessness. Fast forward to 2010: it has now succeeded in becoming an integral part of global society and serves as a platform for young people to explore their creativity to the fullest and allow them to put their very own twist on the celebrated art form.
Exile is a sample-friendly producer/deejay from Southern California who takes full advantage of Rap’s youthful brilliance and vibrant plasticity by having his close friends remix the songs off his last full-length release, Radio, considered by some to be a recent staple in the instrumental Hip Hop sub-genre. The result is the aptly titled AM/FM, a collection of abstract beats and left-field rhymes that are heavily inspired by the producer’s stream-of-consciousness approach to weaving sonic tales with just a sampler and drum machine. Whereas the Radio album brings listeners deep into the creative mind of Manfredi and his meticulous obsession with combining found sounds, the latter is more akin to picking up a funky transmission from a crazy alien life form bent on replicating the schizophrenic sights and sounds one might encounter in a large urban metropolis like Los Angeles or New York City.
Fans eager to hear their Manfredi’s originals mixed with dope vocals will be happy with the album’s bevy of guest vocalists and remixers who joyfully bring listeners on a journey back to the earthly plane. For example, fellow producers Alchemist and Evidence (a/k/a Step Brothers) wax poetically about the complexities of life on the Shafiq Husayn remix of “It’s Coming Down,” giving the spacey track a much-needed dose of street knowledge. Blu, the LA-based rhymesayer who has collaborated with Exile on various occasions (most notably as a duo, Blu & Exile) also sprinkles rhyme magic on “Love Line,” bringing life to the jam’s dreamlike qualities with quiet metaphors and seductive imagery. Another dope cut to benefit from vocal assistance is “Your Summer Song” (featuring R&B upstart, J. Mitchell). The wistful nature of the LA-based producer’s ditty is given a sexier and bolder make-over thanks to Ms. Mitchell’s vocal crooning. Last but not least, “Mega Mix” makes mega-sense with the appearance of unique verses by Fashawn, Blame One, Big Tone and ADAD, bringing laser-precise intensity to the song’s scatterbrained instrumentals.
Unfortunately, the ethereal nature of Exile’s latest album can also make it hard for to fully concentrate on the LP as a whole because of this obvious lack of cohesiveness when there is no human narrative outside of the vocal snippets used solely as sonic embellishments. For instance, there are three instrumental remixes for “Population Control” (by Samiyam, Free the Robots and Ruckazoid, respectively) and each of them are good in their own right, but they carry very little essence of the original jam. As compared to the the vocal remix of the aforementioned cut by Grouch & Eligh, this is a much better fit on AM/FM because their musical presence bring Manfredi’s surreal concoction into focus. In addition to the non-vocal reconstructions having no connection to the its source, there is also an issue of whether or not they can stand on their own without lyrical support. In other words, most of the beat-centric selections are quite remarkable and do expand the depth and dimension of the original creations (i.e., Milo1’s remix of “In Love” and Take’s remix of “Your Summer Song”), the LP does suffer from tracks that are nothing more than background noise with repeated listens (e.g., P.U.D.G.E’s remix of “We Can Move” and DJ Day’s “In Love” remix).
AM/FM is a mostly enjoyable affair that shines bright when the abstract sound scape is paired with vocal contributions that reveal the inherent themes hidden beneath the surface, thereby maintaining the thematic integrity of each jam. At the same time, some of the non-vocal remixes on the L.A. beatmaker’s full-length veer too much into the extraterrestrial muddiness of abstractness and they do very little to embellish the songs they are supposed to be inspired by. What is important to keep in mind is the motivation behind the AM/FM album. For that very reason, Exile ought be commended for pushing Hip Hop music beyond its sonic limits so that it may enter an exciting future yet unseen and unheard by the world-at-large. Now that’s something we can all celebrate, young and old alike.