I never thought I’d say it, but I am unofficially a hipster.
It wasn’t a planned thing. I didn’t get tattoo sleeves of every cartoon character from my childhood, pierce the skin between my fingers, grow a Renaissance moustache, purchase a bicycle, or join an electronica jam band as the wine glass piper. I don’t even dress the part. At the time of this review, I’m wearing a Long Island Lizards lacrosse hoodie with gym shorts, and was listening to sports talk radio before I put on this album I’m going to talk about.
No, I decided I was a hipster after listening to indie rapper Atheist’s album, “Topanga.” It’s not just because Atheist pushes rap and hip-hop into new territory. It’s because the album resurrected my love for rap “back when it was cool.” This, of course, is a stereotypical mantra for the hipster community, but I realized it’s more than that. It is the mantra of generations before.
“Bah, music ain’t what it used to be.”
“I remember when you could fix a car yourself with a wrench and some elbow grease.”
“Ty Cobb. Now THAT was a baseball player.”
It’s strange, but this love of nostalgia is so ingrained in the hipster ideology of today that our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were true hipsters without even knowing it, mocking today’s hipsters for their fashion which happens to be their own. Today’s hipsters mock their predecessors, for the exact same thing.
My hipster roots show particularly when it comes to rap and hip-hop. I grew up on the Golden Age of rap between the 80s and 90s. I was able to jump from the politically sharp rhymes of Public Enemy, KRS-One to the jump anthems of Nas and Jay-Z to the overall ridiculousness of NWA, Onyx, and the Beastie Boys. Yeah, yeah, I know, “You’re so cool with your name drops, but you forgot…” Whatever.
Then, rap started to tank. I cared less and less about rap the more it turned from meticulous rhymes into party anthems with artists yelling into a microphone at the turn of the millennium. It was just as well because I’m not much of a dancer, but it made me move on to new music, thinking the new wave of rap was just speeding up the decline of the genre.
Then I received a gift in the mail from an indie rapper from Salt Lake City. It was the audio version of what rap, and culture, could be in the future, the perfect blend of nostalgic evolution. It was the latest album by Atheist, “Topanga.” The press photo featured a chunky white guy with a fro that looks too ridiculous to not be a wig, wearing gradient sunglasses and an old sports-jacket over a T-shirt. Right off the bat, I thought “Oh great, more nerd-core. How much like MC Chris is this guy going to sound like?”
The answer was, “not at all.” Atheist is not nerd-core in the strictest sense. This album, his 3rd so far, is like a homage to the glory days of rap, one man’s musical poetry that both captures the groove of those days while being self-aware that he is doing so. That’s what’s most important about Atheist: self-awareness. Anyone could drop a concept album of their renditions of the Golden Age of Rap, but usually it comes off as the rap version of a cover band or, in rap, a remix. This posturing isn’t what Atheist is about. He’s not looking to sound like anyone except himself. He uses those inspirations from the past to give us a road map into what he has become. “What is that” you ask? The most enjoyable rap artist I have heard in quite a while.
Whether he’s laying rhymes over loops of the movie The Warriors in the aptly named track “The Warriors,” making fun of himself in “No One’s Safe,” or dizzying my brain with the style in “My Life,” Atheist shows us where he comes from and where he plans to go, taking us along for the ride, and it’s a fun, hilarious, and inspiring ride.
Track on Replay: Almost all of them, but I found myself going back to “My Life” and “The Warriors” the most.
I gives this album 4 out of 5 headphone cats.
Check out Atheist for yourself! You’ll be glad you did. Trust me. I’m a doctor.