On his latest anticon. release, Family & Friends, Serengeti (Chicago’s David Cohn) presents a collection of world-weary tales about life’s disappointments and the complexity of interpersonal relationships. Low-key and laid-back, Serengeti’s narratives move at an easy pace with a mix of direct and abstracted imagery; imagery that gives the listener a distinct sense of the songs‘ emotional intent. His relaxed cadence can feel a bit detached from the narrative at times, as if he were telling someone else’s stories, but the detail in the imagery manages to establish a personal connection to the characters. This juxtaposition creates an interesting ambiguity about whether these are Serengeti’s stories or if he is just the narrator. Stories of prodigal fathers, juggling multiple romantic relationships, and washed up fighters all have a sense of realism about them. This realism provides a refreshing counterpoint to the overwrought fantasies found in much of hip-hop.
Production duties on Family & Friends are shared by Why? frontman Yoni Wolf and Advance Base. Both producers explore a lot of musical ideas but manage to maintain a minimalist approach that perfectly suits Serengeti’s style. The best hip-hop production is that which complements the songs and helps the listener connect emotionally with the MC’s poetry. Wolf and Advance Base do Serengeti a great service by concerning themselves with building up his songs instead of trying to show off all of their production tricks. Both producers approach their work on Family & Friends in a similar fashion. Relaxed, tasteful beats provide just the right amount of movement, while melancholy melodies played on vintage keyboards and synths provide an air of nostalgia that perfectly complements the characters and stories.
Serengeti’s realist, personable narrative, bolstered by interesting, melodic production make Family & Friends a solid, engaging release. Vocals and production are distinctly hip-hop, but with a relatable, personal songwriting approach and production with a strong indie/synth pop feel to it, Family & Friends should have a lot appeal for a broad range of music fans.
Purchase Family & Friends at your local record store or if you must, on iTunes.