By Jessica Helen Brant
Edmonton, Canada isn’t exactly a place that pops into mind when as far as the urban underground is concerned, but maybe it’s actually hip hop’s greatest kept secret. HundredMillionThousand (Noel Jon) dropped his massive cyber bomb of chomp-worthy grooves, lp1 this weekend, and it’s lit. The 24 year-old Persian-Filipino producer masterfully pulls in the listener with a topical debut project that ignites conversations surrounding mental health.
This metaphysical mind trek begins at the first track, “Yalda.” The clicking timbre of the Tombak drives the track forward, almost altering our consciousnesses as we listen. The use of traditional Iranian chanting and artistic visuals accompanied in the video for “Yalda” are exquisite touches, and their incorporation show us how important an investigated self is to HMT. The project in its totality sounds like a video/audio assemblage pieced together by the highs and lows of the producer’s life. The choppy parts of “Yalda” are the scribbles of anxiety, or perhaps a manic-depressive state, and the longer emphasized note playing feels like the dawning of a natural disaster, tragic but beautiful, in the early hours when the light touches everything that’s been destroyed. The “calm” after the storm is released in slower patterns, slower breaths.
Track two is a transition into a more aggressive, vengeful high. The clicking timbre follows us here. An electronic wave grows larger, more futuristic. The clacking of a stubborn ego is at war with the ringing of a helpless soul in “Rescue Feeling.” When the drums kick in, the scene is set. I imagine someone being resuscitated back to life. I imagine them lying on the table being operated on, they are lifeless to the outside but the mind is spinning. For me, it’s the feeling of anxiety during a moping episode. A scream clawing the ribcage. People with anxiety try to hide in their thoughts, which is a self-destructive coping mechanism. The thing they need the most is stimulation from the outside–people, noises, activities. The tapping instrumentals represent an unsteady heartbeat, the kind an anxious person gets when they are hyper-aware of themselves.
The proceeding track has a cinematic landscape. HMT describes his inspiration for “Serbians” this way: “I spent a couple months in Serbia with a friend a while ago. I was drawn to the strong, rigid mentality Serbians have.” Deep, steady, and powerful, the drums pump blood into the veins of the ruthless. I believe that we don’t really win against our demons; we learn to live with them. We create a world within a world for them, a space for the dark and the light to cohabitate, to interplay between the frequencies of good and evil. Sometimes we know of the frequencies that are being sent out into the larger society and sometimes we lose control of what is being sent. “Serbians” represents, to me, the emotions that override our decision making during meltdowns and moments of weakness, the sand slipping through our fingers.
Another powerful track, “Tunnelism,” (ft. Kurai) carries us into the experiences of depression. Kurai writes, “Looked in the mirror, worn out, bags under eyes / I’ve been deprived in my life, never seen the light / I always try but I never get what I want wanna stunt wanna cop the unattainable / When intoxication is available, I be downing all kinds of shit until the pain is pulled / Disgusted with myself it’s sickening / Got an anvil on my shoulder and my posture’s slipping.” Like drops of water, we are sucked into a drain of spiraling propensity, a pool of thought too deep to swim for fear of losing ourselves. So, we drink. I feel myself self-medicating with the artist, waiting for this episode to pass. “Conspiring over patterns of the past, bitches I can’t have resort to meds or the suburban class / Suppressing thought of all the could-have-hads, got a lot, paradox, ideological collapse.” HMT makes addiction human and by doing so, he makes us more comfortable with speaking about it in a non-stigmatized, non-incriminating forum.
The beginning of the penultimate track on lp1 begins with a phantomy rattle shake and an explosion of cockiness. It’s one of the more dancier tracks on the album, and appropriately titled, “Flamingo.” The sonic elements set the stage for a mutual mating ritual of some kind. If you’ve ever seen flamingos mate, they shift their heads back and forth and extend their wings. Once they’ve found “the one,” they intertwine their necks. It’s a fairly unusual practice, but I suppose it could get steamy, with all of the neck twisting and what not. Could it be that the object of affection isn’t a person, maybe a drug, or a feeling? Sounds like there’s enough swagger for all three.
The final track, “Cathedral,” is trapped out with all kinds of goodies, including an electronic, sticky bass and wicked fast rhyming. There is nothing holy about “Cathedral.” HMT rides dirty in this track, but it’s the kind of dirty that could very well cleanse the soul. In the beginning of the track, HTM talk about a “third eye,” which is usually in reference to a clairvoyant ability and higher consciousness. In order to be great, you have to think three steps ahead. HMT urges us to “stay woke” in a world of sleep walkers.
lp1 comes fresh off an unbeaten path. The project is audibly courageous and HundredMillionThousand is an artist in every sense of the word. So too is his friend, Kurai, whom he wrote two of the tracks off the album with (his friend’s whereabouts are unknown at this time). Their art is adhesive on the brain, forcing us into awareness, teaching us to search for the beauty in all misgivings.
The lp1 playlist is available for streaming on Spotify.
Photo by Nicholas Yee