I grew up in a poor neighborhood, and by "poor" I mean blue collar and wholly unglamorous. Those of us who still had dads around noted early on that there was a definite pattern to their vocations. Most were mechanics or truckers or welders – they did dirty work, and that was reflected in our surroundings.
It was a neighborhood positively littered with scrapped cars, discarded tires and, most importantly to this tale, rusty, bone dry 55 gallon drums. I don't remember who the first kid was to decide to climb inside such a drum and roll it down the severe and muddy hill that separated the trailer parks, but it quickly became our preferred pastime.
The problem with kids, however, is that they are easily bored, and at some point this game became too simple on its own. At that time some industrious ragamuffin took it upon himself to add another wrinkle. You see, every once in a while, as you were building up speed and banging around inside that great metal cylinder, some asshole would toss a little surprise into the rolling drum. Sometimes it was a half-empty Coke can. Other times it was a rock. Hell, one poor fucker ended up making the trip down with a claw hammer riding shotgun. I think you get the idea.
I share with you this oddly protracted story from my white trash youth because I recently felt that same sense of exhilaration, adventure and dread for the first time in twenty-some-odd years. Thankfully, it wasn't because I was riding a rock-filled tetanus trap down a steep incline!
Instead I was listening to Lo Fi Muey Thai by DC rapper/producer Navi. He's a cat that I always make it a point to keep up with. Firstly, he's an old friend – we go all the way back to the early days of the online nerdcore community (when he was known as Myf). But most importantly it's because his work always manages to make me feel… well, cultured. I'm used to music that appeals to intelligence or humor, but his shit always feels wild, exotic and adventurous.
I've heard a lot of stuff from Navi – from OverClocked ReMixes to the heavily aggro nerdcore from his Metamystiks days – and I've always come away from his work feeling as though I'd experienced something just outside the bounds of accepted hip-hop. Fusing jazz, funk, punk, electro and the irregularly recurring motif of the distinctly Asian melody, Navi always manages to insulate his rhymes within this densely packed musical bubble.
On the subject of his rhymes, I must note that over the years I've come to think of him as less a rapper in the traditional sense and more a very distinct poet, albeit one with a distinctly urban feel. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his new release. Navi calls it a mixtape, but Lo Fi Muey Thai is as much an album as any other I've been asked to review in recent memory.
As he spits about everything from mad chefs ("Cookin' with Fire") to complicated women ("Bad Juju," "Bass Girl") to weed ("Lemme Know"), he sounds like equal parts Kurt Vonnegut, ee cummings, Method Man and Kool Keith.
Confused? You should be. From the eerie street grime of "Fess Up, Shooter" to the chippy DnB of "Right Back Up," Lo Fi Muey Thai is an almost overwhelming musical experience. Twenty tracks deep, it tackles brand new joints, Navi classics (yet another mix of "Snakecharmers") and it even tosses in some bootlegged beats (most obviously in his own take on Cee Lo's "Fuck You") for that proper mixtape aesthetic.
All kudos aside, this isn't an album for everybody. Some heads will surely complain that Navi's flow is too rooted in free verse and that his overall delivery is breathless and wheezy. Meanwhile, those who only dig distinctly nerdcore jams will likely be disappointed by a lack of easily relatable material. To the former I'd explain that Navi's wordy, gaspy flow is part of the package – it serves to heighten the very vivid, undeniably relentless attack that Lo Fi Muey Thai truly is. And to the latter I simply say buck the fuck up and try something different. While Navi may dig a little deeper these days than the arcade game beats of old, he still roots his storytelling heavily in the outsider's perspective. In short, he'll always be one of us.
Since I've already rattled on for nearly 800 words here, let me just conclude by saying please give Lo Fi Muey Thai a try. It's a free download, and I guarantee that it will provide you a listening experience like no other. Surely not all the songs will satisfy you, but the exhilarating, challenging, almost disorienting nature of this aural assault will certainly keep you in rapt anticipation.
Come along on Navi's wild ride, a journey that'll take you from the back alleys of the nation's capital to the littered streets of South Asia. It will boggle your mind, disorient your earholes and otherwise assail your senses. And you'll be all the better for it.
"Lemme beat 'til the cough drops / Lemme cough 'til the beat drops."