Something intriguing happens near the end of “Cat Fight,” a woozy standout from Jeremiah Jae’s debut album, Raw Money Raps. After the Pam Grier vocal clips are exhausted, and the distorted psychedelics begin to evaporate, the Chicago-born rapper/producer mumbles two simple words.
It could be a simple shoutout to the song’s producer, or a salute to the iconoclastic beatmaker. Lotus signed Jae to his boutique Brainfeeder imprint after fellow composer Samiyam alerted him to Jae’s Lunch Special Part I mixtape in 2007. Soon after, Jae and Lotus would collaborate in Los Angeles, which led to Jae signing with the label. So it’s no surprise for Jae to acknowledge his boss; every Brainfeeder release reflects Lotus and his esoteric style in some way. From Ryat to Teebs, Martyn to Thundercat, each artist on the Brainfeeder roster seems united by eccentricity, their quirky art fidgety and oceanic. When listening to a Brainfeeder project, distorted drums and twitchy electronics are almost certain. It’s not always the easiest listen, but it’s mostly rewarding.
The same goes for Jeremiah Jae, even if Raw Money Raps isn’t quite as atmospheric as his colleagues’ work. This is art-rap made in Stones Throw’s image, a brooding concoction of hazy delirium reminiscent of underground classic Madvilliany or Blu’s recent work (if Blu bothered to mix his tracks). Much like Madvilliany, Jae approaches these instrumentals with a DOOM-like nonchalance, methodically engaging the space with peculiar detachment while dumping his brain. But unlike Madvilliany the beats take full precedence here, so much so that Jae hides behind them with low-lying grumbles that serve as ambience amongst the chaos. As it unfolds, Raw Money Raps feels like an intimate counseling session between the maker and his muse, except its unclear if he’s merely talking to himself or to the listening public. Jae doesn’t rap as much as he ruminates on record.
Take “Money and Food,” for instance: its methodical pace, bouncy synthesizers and faint handclaps evoke “Top 40” hip-hop. Drill into the Diddy-esque lyrics and it feels like a sarcastic jab at mainstream excess: “What y’all wanna do? Wanna be rappers?/ Put ‘em in that mag, ‘cause the only way to do it is to turn up the swagger, then you get some haters and you ask ‘em why they mad for.” By the next song, “Wires,” he unravels to the point of primitiveness. Incoherent vocals are mixed amongst warped samples for a nightmarish mixture. It isn’t music; rather, these sounds resemble something we might experience during our deepest levels of unrest. There’s even some paranoia on this set: “False eyes, they’re looking at me,” Jae moans repeatedly on “False Eyes.”
Yet while Raw Money Raps is cryptic, it doesn’t drift too far afield. “Greetings” is lo-fi boom bap carried by dusty percussion and a restless bass line. Arguably the album’s most straightforward song, Jae and guest MC Tre riff on everything from overzealous police officers, societal conformity, and young preachers. Keep peeling the onion, and Raw Money Raps feels like the inner musings of a young man on the cusp of notoriety, even if he’s unsure how to handle it. The album dissolves as it progresses, transitioning from upbeat fare to a visceral dream sequence of disoriented meditation set atop a versatile soundtrack. “I guess this is like, the beginning of it all,” Jae mutters on “Guerilla,” “like the rebirth.” By album’s end, you’re not sure how you arrived at its core. But the view is good, even if you don’t know what to make of it. Typical Brainfeeder.