Darc Mind

Let me flash my premise outright: Darc Mind’s Symptomatic of a Greater Ill is almost without comparison in the history of NY rap. That’s not to say it’s a perfect artist, beyond criticism, that it holds in it the songs of songs--fuck all that. I mean only to suggest that there are songs on this album, "Visions a Blur" chief among them, that sound as if they arrived whole cloth from another world altogether.

I could, at too great a length, detail Kevroc’s powerfully unique sense of timing, his nearly instrumental phrasing, and the density of his lyrics, the strange words he cobbles together and lets off in bursts in a voice that’s the lowest, Moses-fresh-from-the-mountaintop rumble. But if these qualities aren’t left to the listener to discover, then what’s the point of sharing it with the world? The issue I’m more interested is how this rare album, artisted from the tail end of ’95 to the end of ’97, given its time and place, came to be at all.

One need merely skim the surface of the artist to see the scars of cynicism about the sea change just then occurring in hip-hop: the transition from "Illmatic" to "It Was Written," the ascendancy of Biggie and Jigga, a newly surfaced affection for making couplets from the raw material of brand names, and the R&B hooks that swaggered out from Mary J.’s shadow into pop-rap ubiquity. Asked to describe this period in retrospect, Kevroc quotes the Wilford Brimley character from the film "The Firm," finding in the era’s developments "the death of love and trust."

In "Visions a Blur," his transcendent addition to the critical tradition of O.C.’s "Time’s Up" and Jeru’s "Come Clean," he evokes the absurd spectacle of pharaohs buried with their jewels, as if to buy off the underworld gods: "You brag of Maximas and Accuras to carry you to heaven." Or the bacterial effect of the fashions of the time: "Suckers are suffering from drinking off the same 40 bottle." Elsewhere, he states his role plainly: "I do work on the circuit, preach in the city / rap like I’m standing before the Senate Ethics Committee."

I can’t help thinking of an epochal moment in Pharaoh Monche’s "Simon Says" video. Pharaoh--all praises due--after just shuttering the Organized Konfusion storefront and opening up a solo career with that energetic, clubby single, is wandering through the desert in the early part of the video, alone and thirsting, when he comes to a sleekly futuristic construct, which turns out to house a packed, sweaty party. Before entering, Pharaoh, symbolically and none-too-subtley, lightens his load and sheds his backpack. And this leads to another thought: maybe Pharaoh was giving too much credence to the suffocating categories of the day, which all at once began to mark rappers as either boom bap-throwback backpackers or dionysian thugs.

Likewise, it would be a mistake to see Darc Mind as something other than, as an exception in rap’s evolution; that would be to accept the convenient divisions of the music industry as god-gifted fate. And as Kevroc, with a classically craftsman perspective, puts it:

I was disenchanted with the industry long before the Loud deal. [Darc Mind was signed to Loud/RCA before Loud folded.] At the time, signing and executing the deal was almost like closure to many past mighty and vain efforts to buss-off...There was never a time when I thought the industry was too corrupt to fuck with. As corrupted as I am, who am I to judge? I have my opinions, I put ‘em in verse. I put ‘em on tracks. If you feel me, I got others for you. If not, I can eat. I’m no crusader. Unless it pushes the agenda of hyped verse on dope tracks.

After all, Darc Mind has breathed rap since its inception, since its waking cries, and is bluntly committed to straight-up hip-hop. Kevroc cites early 80’s neighborhood emcee KK Rockwell of the Funky 4 Plus One More as "the first MC whose lyrical fund and ‘novelty’ stood out to me" and adds that, "speaking metaphorically, I was basically a shorty sitting on the front stoop of my house, on my block, as Hip-Hop happened right in front of me." Asked whether repping Long Island gave Darc Mind a creative distance from the trends circulating through the rest of the city--a distance that seems to have promoted innovation, from Rakim, P.E., and JVC Force to De La--Kevroc replies, "Nah, I wouldn’t call it a ‘distance,’ but rather a ‘hunger’ from a peripheral vantage point." He continues, Living on the outskirts of the NYC, in a way, for me was better. At that time hip-hop emanated from a nucleus of Manhattan (Harlem and the Lower East Side block parties primarily), the Bronx (battles, blockparties and park shows) and then Queens and Brooklyn (battles, block parties and showcases) with Staten and Strong Island (battles, block parties and showcases) rounding everything off. Being ‘outside lookin’ in’, so to speak, made me privy to more than just what was happening on the ‘fertile crescent’. He concludes with a suspicious nod to the seeming authenticity-by-proximity for which so many NYC rappers have strove: "Lastly, the borough niggas claim is not always the borough from where nigga’s hale." And the beats--oh, the beats--ground this insider/outsider sense of the tradition. Like a shadowy take on DITC at its prime, a treasure chest of horns, vibes, and pianos are taken in, ruggedly reworked, and laid in with full-bodied basslines and chopped drum breaks. Darc Mind’s DJ/Producer GM Webb D (aka X-Ray) released his first rap artist in ’89, and in the span from the fractured, unsettling "I’m Ill" to the horn stab and drum machine-driven "Fever Pitch," which could almost be lifted from P.E.’s cacophonous first album, one can almost hear rap’s history and its future being willfully crosscut and interlaced. One last thought, clearly removed from Darc Mind’s own take on their work... And in fact, I asked Kevroc if he considered Symptomatic as a part of the distinguished tradition of Saafir’s "Boxcar Sessions," Organized’s "Extinction Agenda," and Ultra’s "Four Horseman," and he replied, with all due humility, "In truth... it would take those brothers you mentioned to confirm or deny, at least for me, whether or not I belong in that pantheon of reference." My thought, in the form of an unanswerable question, is this: if Loud had released Darc Mind’s album as planned, and if it had found its audience, could it have given heart to those who were convinced that rap had aesthetic depths untouched by the currents of the era, to those innovators who essentially gave up in the mid-90’s, skeptical and exhausted? Is this a artist that, given rap’s shifting grounds of the mid-to-late ’90’s, should have but could not have been released? -pedestrian, 4/06