Hip-hop is currently blowing up all over the world. Spotify ranks it as the most listened to genre on the streaming service. For whatever inexplicable reason, the youth are flocking to hip-hop music but this ascension to mainstream success is causing much of modern hip-hop to become diluted and superficial. Only artists with entrenched fan bases are giving the platform to write meaningful lyrics, but even that is rare when songs like “Panda” receive more hits than Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. This superficial focus on hip-hop music is especially true across South Africa’s hip-hop scene where many of the rappers at the top of the scene deliver songs with about as much substance as a traditional pop song.
However, like all major genres – there is always an underground. The underground is usually where all the great artists lurk but have yet to be discovered. These are the artists whose music is drenched in substance as they will invest their heart and soul into their music even if it yields absolutely no reward. It’s the kind of music made by people that are passionate about what they do but have yet to lose the ambition that maybe, just maybe, they will one day make it. That is the world that hip-hop duo Gavin and Krehan inhabit with their debut EP A New Dope.
The first thing strikes me about their EP is the sheer quality of the production work. You rarely expect great production quality from DIY artists. Their creations are usually haphazard and murky affairs where much of their talent is lost to fuzzy mixing. This is not the case with Gavin and Krehan which is remarkable as the entire EP was created with a USB microphone, Audacity and FL Studios – all things mocked in the music world for being subpar programmes. Despite this, Krehan Pillay’s production work is a flawless mass of synths. The basic beat draws heavily on traditional hip-hop beats in terms of progression and rhythm.
However, the production work is much more complex than that as there are layers of urban grittiness that is attached to the production fuelling A New Dope. This results in a dark and brooding sound that seems partially influenced by emo-tinged hardcore punk and drives the anxiety-ridden lyrics that dominate the EP. Snarling bass lines lash out at the listener throughout each song while bouncy synths draw the listener in at the same time to experience the audio bliss that is the EP. One of the stand-out songs in terms of production is that of “Evolve” which begins with a synthetic orchestra that then gives way to a pounding techno beat accompanied by futuristic synth tones that attach themselves to the voice sample that speaks about aliens.
The core of hip-hop is lyrics. It would be futile to have great production work if the lyrics were subpar, but luckily the lyrics on A New Dope are just as great as its production work. Gavin David Pierce, the rapper in this duo, spits rhymes that are drenched in emotion and substance. His lyrics do not stem from any kind of lofty or pretentious place, but rather from his own personal space as he delivers songs that cycle through a variety of themes such as ambition, anxiety, discrimination, drug addiction, love and paranoia. At the heart of the entire EP is a heart-pounding sense of anxiety and fear. It gives the lyrics a chaotic nature as themes collide with each other on the same songs, yet each song still flows in an amazing way to create layers of emotional themes indicating how a variety of emotions shape the human experience. “Dragon Depression” is a slow and gentle song that focus on how depression and relationships can often intersect in a multitude of ways – usually for the worst. Tied up into the song is also a strong desire to succeed with rap music which is a consistent theme throughout each song.
There is a strong sense of ambition in Gavin and Krehan’s music, and with such a strong debut release – there is no doubt that they will go far and I really hope they do. If I could make any kind of comparison – I would say that, musically, Gavin and Krehan are at the same place PHFAT was at when they released Happiness Machines.
Listen to the EP below.