10 19 The Numberman
The Natalie Rose EP (Fam Royal / GMG)
Cassette culture has reemerged in recent years as a kind of niche, cottage industry among independent, DIY artists. A lot of the credit goes to labels like Burger, which has helped reinvigorate cassettes' image through the release of high-profile tapes from King Tuff and The Black Angels, as well as an active noise-music tape culture.
Hip-hop, however, has a long and fabled history with cassettes, reaching mythic proportions in the early '90s when Wu-Tang Clan supposedly sold an impressive number of copies of their first demo tape through word-of-mouth. But after a long period of hip-hop mixtapes being "tapes" in name only, underground hip-hop cassettes are back in distribution, like 10 19 The Numberman's impressive new four-track The Natalie Rose EP.
Half of hip-hop duo Parker and the Numberman, 10 19 carves out an interesting path on this brief but compelling release. Reportedly inspired by Kanye West's experimental production flourishes on last year's Yeezus, The Numberman doesn't so much employ dancehall sirens and Nina Simone samples as pursue a more atmospheric, almost trip-hop-like sound, reinforced with some live-band arrangements.
There's a touch of Portishead in the moody cinematics of "Popular Opposites," as 10 19 gets lost "wading through all the anger that I have." It begins the EP with a touch of darkness and introspection, setting a cool, intriguing tone that's comfortable, if just a little unsettling. With "Farmer's Heart," however, things get a lot weirder, with fuzzy guitars squealing beneath The Numberman's surreal narration, clouded in distortion ("The clouds I'm on—a cumulus, breathing loud I'm new to this"). No disrespect to Chance the Rapper, but this is some serious acid rap.
The best song of the bunch is "H.D.," which finds a powerful middle ground between the styles 10 19 explores on the EP's first two tracks. It's funky, but accessibly off-kilter. And it's eerie, but it bumps. And by the time final track "Untitled" queues up, it becomes clear that the only glaring setback on The Natalie Rose EP is that there's just not enough of it. Of course, the best thing about playing it in your car's tape deck (if you're lucky enough to still have one), is that once it ends, it flips right back over to the beginning.