Album of the Month: Jimmy Edgar ‘Cheetah Bend’
Detroit-born, LA-based Jimmy Edgar takes hip-hop to a new dimension on his new album for Innovative Leisure
“What do they want us to know about space and spaceships?” pondered Jimmy Edgar on Twitter just as 2020 was drawing to what was for some a very welcome close. “That there is no time. It’s all NOW. Yesterday is a NOW and tomorrow is a NOW. Knowing the NOW is knowing how to navigate.”
During a year that many struggled to navigate, the Detroit-born, LA-based artist certainly had his compass out, plotting a bold course with New Reality Now, his latest label venture. Dropping metallic trap productions swaggering with sub, he produced for a succession of MCs — B La B, Adam Killa, Bloody Jay, Rizzoo Rizzoo, OG Maco, Nia Kay — and signed off the label’s first year with ‘Feng Shui For Minds’, a various artists comp that delved into neo-ambient, sitting somewhere between new age and club. All this music, however, was just paving the way for ‘Cheetah Bend’, Edgar’s first artist album since 2012’s ‘Majenta’, and a full-dive into his hybridised vision of modern hip-hop — a world where shape-shifting, liquid-metal Cyberdyne Systems beats are clothed in the fur coat of virtuoso West Coast funk.
You may already have heard of the album’s better-known guests. Having co-produced Kidd Kenn’s ‘Shake Sum’ at the start of the year, Edgar returns to the studio with SOPHIE for ‘Metal’, g-funk for machine elves. ‘Bent’, featuring Hudson Mohawke, staggers woozily through unknown realms until discovering nirvana. And the freaked-out staccato of ‘Get Up’ perfectly compliments Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s calls to battle inertia.
Yet these aren’t necessarily the star turns. Edgar may see echoes of his own precociousness in 16-year-old star-on-the-make Matt Ox, who declares “If you wanna be the boss, then you better know the cost” on ’Pause’, its lean bounce punctuated by beautiful, wistful moments suspended in time. This emo-spirit pervades ‘Ready2Die’ too, Messer’s grand vocal, somewhere between modern pop and noughties nu-metal, meshing perfectly with the light and shade of Edgar’s soaring high-end production — to sound every bit a chart hit.
There’s not a duff appearance. ‘Crank’ starts with a hint of Edgar’s electro past, before Rochelle Jordan — who has previously worked with J-E-T-S, Edgar’s project with Machinedrum — hypnotises over glacially cool chords. Semma nails a club hook on the tectonic ‘Cheetah’ and Millie Go Lightly steps out of the shadow of guest features to showcase the mighty presence of her own voice on ‘Be With You’.
The funk, meanwhile, is heavy for diamond- toothed rapper 24hrs on ‘Notice’, spaced-out synths hazing out into squelchy Moog bass, and Edgar reprises his partnership with B La B on ‘Turn’, tiny vocals edits punctuating the bounce, the wrought low-end vibing itself into your emotional centre.
Having so often placed himself at the fore, this time Edgar has sunk deep into the producer chair. Maybe those are snatched echoes of his voice in ‘Have A Great Now!’, a sonic vision of the part of heaven Roger Troutman occupies. Being left with just the music to express himself, however, seems to have distilled his essence more deeply than ever. Edgar has done sexy many times, but has he ever done it as tinglingly as the breakdown of ‘Zigzag’, glitch and whoops melting into a rush of complex feelings, his synth solo speaking a language your body understands even if your mind doesn’t?
Listen back to 2002’s ‘Optimo & Mod Conformance For Men’ under his Morris Nightingale moniker — released two years before his debut album on Warp — and you suspect that this is the “NOW” Edgar has always wanted to manifest. Hip-hop is in his heart. And after hearing ‘Cheetah Bend’, he’ll no doubt be in hip-hop’s heart too.