Weather or Not
When I saw the Descendents in Blackpool 18 months ago, Dilated Peoples became one of the last heavy hitters on my liveage bucket list. I remember back in 2002 making the 45 minute tram and foot journey to Manchester University, only for it to have sold out on my lazy, gleaming three-stripe wearing self off the surprise success of Worst Comes to Worst. Since moving to the U.S. the Evidence 20/20 line “I toured the whole world but never been to Florida” has haunted me, and so far as I can tell has remained true aside from a few solo performances in 2011. Until it happens I’ll have to make do with the fact that Evidence comes to me thematically with his English-friendly Weatherman moniker, the only rapper I can imagine my dad having a comfortable conversation with.
Weather or Not -- the third and final album in this series after The Weatherman and Cats & Dogs -- is like such a conversation with one of my people, in that the focus generally turns towards the damp. It’s not exactly grand depictions of unstoppable hurricanes, hailstorms of frogs and sweltering summertimes. Many of the beats sound like rain patterns, from the soft drips at dawn of lead track Throw It All Away, to the water-torture agony of Moving Too Fast, the ethereal Rain Drops, and the symphony of shower on Love is a Funny Thing, among others. It’s the kind of production that makes you want to go on late night melancholy walks, protected in plastic perhaps, but physically there, feeling a breeze instead of a phone. The panoramic artwork (reminiscent of Paul's Boutique, minimalism and all) is grey with turquoise tears.
It’s not just the Poms that The Weatherman is reaching out to. DP’s current Wikipedia photo shows them holding their passports; of course the mixed-media celebrating, philosophical and racially Diverse Peoples appeal to the hip young folk of the world. And Weather or Not is littered with a world beyond America that the artiste feels a connection with. “I'm celebrating globally, you celebrating locally” (The Factory), “My fam rock the planet” (Throw It All Away), “Got the fuck outta dodge and saw the world unfold” (To Make A Long Story Longer). An irritable Englishman considers the album title in a few skits, while in another Perretta talks about whether his stage name is French (by way of old Latin, apparently -- a happy accident for his Italian heritage). Comments on every platform (hah) are flooded in non-Anglosphere love; maybe there’s also something in the comprehensible slow flow that attracts ESL speakers? If hip hop was ever about saying “fuck America if it doesn’t fuck with us,” Evidence and co. have casually accepted it.
Take another promo cut, Jim Dean. Evidence is a bit like the opposite of the immortalised American boy Dean, having had a respectable and long career without massive success (chorus: “We're staying out the way, we get away with a lot”). He’s not exactly making it rain. Here Ev is glad not to have burned out in the spotlight, considering that a lot of extremely famous rappers have also died young (“Gangsters got this thing about flowers”). Elsewhere he indulges in gangsterism, the third release 10,000 Hours almost inserting him into Dre and Snoop’s Nuthin’ But a G Thang as it samples it so much. The producer on this one being DJ Premier only serves to highlight how Mr Slow Flow’s delivery resembles the calm demeanour of both Snoop and Guru (Gangstarrism?), and maybe it’s not so strange to be noticing this now. Opening lines: “I was guarded as an artist from the first day I started/I lowered my voice deep and tried to rap hardest.” Go back and listen to The Platform and Expansion Team and his tone is indeed noticeably higher here that it was then. Keeping it real eventually and shit.
Speaking of which, we gatekeepers all know that real hip hop has a particularly narrow sound. Weather or Not is mostly boom bap bumps with select sampling, so if you use hip hop to exercise the back of your neck by bouncing it at a couple of uniform speeds for extended periods, you’ll be happy. Opener The Factory is a confident proclamation with a beat of gold and concrete, of life as a gutterstar in a steamy industrial centre. While not Tony Wilson related, I can see myself rocking this walking among the winter weak and weak-legged residents of Florida as easily as in Manchester. Vaguely borrowing the tune of the distinctly uncool Never My Love by The Association, Powder Cocaine uses a male “ahhhh” harmony to incredible dreamstate effect, complimented by Catero’s hook and a standout verse by Slug (of Atmosphere, and Rhymesayers co-founder). The underbelly of Sell Me This Pen sends the listener down a paranoid film noir Orson Welles wormhole, while What I Need rockets them into a delicate future with Metroid Prime style funk synths. There’s a grow-slow burner in the granular guitar of Runners, with fellow go-slow rapper Defari heavily featured.
Evidence’s Step Brother collaborator The Alchemist produces four tracks here, and I’ve noted them all, the fourth being a major highlight, the aforementioned Love Is A Funny Thing. It covers well worn territory (people who show a shallow love when they think someone is earning money), but the vulnerability of everyone on it is impressive, from the beautiful Khrysis hook to the guest verse from Rhapsody. Nothing quite reaches the naked emotion of record closer By My Side Too however, an ode to sincere love about Evidence’s girlfriend Wendy struggling through cancer. The child-looped beat gets to Michael Jackson levels of pop, and it sounds great, but with only a few bars on such a rough subject matter I wish it had been treated more like a full song, difficult as it may have been.
All the collaborations add welcome variety to the album (with the possible exception of Jonwayne, whose spot on To Make A Long Story Longer won’t be impressing most of the world’s hip young folk). It was wise to include DJ Babu and Rakaa sparingly, because the latter’s lone verse simply made me want to listen to the group’s collective work. Perhaps I am just showing my Peoples Preferences, but look at this on Wonderful World: “Street on tour is a trust fund traffic/They love to feel the edge they heard the history's graphic/All of a sudden it's gentrifying beards, ironic tattoos/Classic architecture, iconic statues.” In fairness Evidence does talk about gentrification on What I Need, albeit briefly. That’s the problem though: there is a lot to admire here, and he produces plenty of clever wordplay to be sure, but I struggle to identify spots where what the artist is saying captures my attention for a long period. He doesn’t do long-form or even medium-length narratives, starting every bar at zero and matching his relatively monotone delivery. And to release your third weather-themed, pro-globe record in 2018 and still not make any mention of global climate change -- what is this, the state of the fucking union?
Still, Weather or Not you’re in your carbon-belching car, or dry at home or hitting the cement, this album does the business, as you can see from the fact that I’ve praised almost every single one of its sixteen cuts. The sunshine never so much bursts through as casts the occasional euphoric glow over proceedings. It’ll make you appreciate the rain, an element both cleansing and grimy, as beautiful as it is ruinous to socks and picnics, as essential to life as it is deadly. Traditional as his backing sounds might be here, Evidence is settling into middle age as an example of what the genres growing number of older emcee’s have to offer: using his natural voice, tempering narcissism with humility, facing a disease that can’t be beaten with bravado and talking of his love for his two-year old son Enzo. It will be interesting to see where he goes now that he’s closing this climatological chapter of his career. From now on he’ll just have to enjoy discussing the topic with the other dads.
You can buy and stream Weather or Not here: https://misterevidence.bandcamp.com/album/weather-or-not