Space Jams: Hip-hip duo Chiddy Bang release unconventional debut album

Kira Walker/Staff

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You’ve heard it all before. Gangsta, old-school, new-school, indie, alternative and even ambient forms of hip-hop have all passed through your ears at some point in time or another. Well, how about future-space rap? This is exactly the genre under which Chiddy Bang classify their debut studio album Breakfast. After all the free mixtapes and EPs, the East Coast duo have landed their first major label release, and future-space rap couldn’t be a better description of the record’s overall sound. The digitized synths and humanoid background vocals combine with producer Noah Beresin’s — better known as Xaphoon Jones — bombastic beats to lay down the hardware for Chiddy’s high-voltage rhymes.

While the Swelly Express and Peanut Butter and Swelly mixtapes showed off the duo’s use of diverse samples — like Sufjan Stevens — and Chiddy’s commandment of a rhyme scheme, it was easy to hear that they were still searching for a sound of their own. With Breakfast, Chiddy and Jones seem to have capitalized on the best of both mixtapes: the intricate use of samples and the addition to more technological beats. During an interview, Jones expressed the album as having more depth. “There’s more layers to the album. I think a lot of our previous mixtapes were really just a laptop and a microphone,” said Jones. “Now being on this label, we have a chance to explore and learn and use crazy tools. You’re gonna hear a string section, piano since now we have the time and resources to make more detailed tracks.”

The inclusion of various instruments makes for a much richer track-list. No longer are the duo using samples, as their specialty. Jones — known for playing live drums along with his laptop-beats — was excited to announce the addition of a full band for their upcoming tour. “When we start our big tour in May or June, I’ll be playing keys, percussion, drum machines and samples but we’ll also have a proper drummer, bass player and guitar player.”

The multi-instrument vibe comes into full swing with “Handclaps & Guitars,” a track originally done with a sample, but one that could easily be performed with a live band while on the tour. Jones discussed the song’s creation through discovering other bands. “We heard this really dope rock band called Walk the Moon, and I just heard one of their songs called ‘Quesadilla’ where the intro, is just hand-claps and guitars,” said Jones. “So I chopped up the intro and put this big, pop beat on it and it turned into the song.” The track’s 8-bit synth layered under hand-claps and a distorted electric guitar riff proves Jones’ mastery of sample splicing. The digitized chorus contrasts with Chiddy’s raps in an electric-party swirl of hip-hop, rock riffage and electronica.

Diverging from the extraterrestrial extravaganza, the album’s singles each have their own distinct sound. The jazzy piano of “Ray Charles” brings a funky-fresh beat with plenty of blind metaphors and nods to the famed pianist. Add in some gospel background singers, and the track feels like the perfect blend of ’50s soul and modern hip-hop. The album’s other single “Mind Your Manners” soars like an uplifting pop anthem. The backbone of the song is held up with some simple acoustic guitar strums, but when fortified with an upbeat drum loop and star-bright keyboard, the track comes off booming with an infectious mixture of pop and rap.

While the singles have served Chiddy Bang well in terms of gaining popularity, Jones commented on how the heart of the album is in the non-singles. One of his favorites is “Out 2 Space,” which he described as a throwback with a twist. “‘Out 2 Space’ is really crazy,” said Jones. “It has a throwback, breakdancing, early hip-hop kind of vibe but with a future-space beat and crazy background vocals.” The album’s title track also stands out from the singles, with a backing keys riff that sounds like the keyboard on Zion I’s “Coastin’” shot up an octave. The track manages to incorporate a wide variety of sounds from a heavy bass and horns section to fuzzy guitar.

Although the album’s overall sound is diverse, there can be a limit to how futuristic one can get before sounding repetitive. While the duo have solidified their sound on this album, the video-game bleeps and bloops begin to sound a little too similar after multiple listens. Thankfully, this is only a minor concern, as the contents of the record remain varied enough for the tracks to stay fresh. If you can get past the surface of digitized effects, the album is still full of dope interstellar hip-hop jams. “We encourage people to dive into the album,” said Jones. “You can appreciate the singles, but know that deeper tracks and meanings are layered within the album.”

Chiddy Bang have come a long way since the first time you heard Chiddy rap about Ron Burgundy over MGMT in “Opposite of Adults.” While their mixtapes and EPs have all generally been more or less the same, their exploration into the far reaches of hip-hop has put them in a quirky category of their own. If you’ve been following the duo from the beginning, then you’ll appreciate their gradual evolution from pure sample ingenuity into the future-space rap that is Breakfast.

Ian Birnam is the lead music critic.