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Mike Ladd: Negrophilia: The Album

With perhaps more concern for aesthetics than sales, Thirsty Ear continues to place rappers into jazz-band contexts. Following full-lengths by Antipop Consortium and El-P, Massachusetts mensch Mike Ladd hooks up with pianist Vijay Iyer, drummer Guillermo E. Brown, trumpeter Roy Campbell and others on Negrophilia: The Album. And an odd beast it is, too.

Known in underground-hip-hop circles for his sotto-voce and laid-back delivery, Ladd combines the world-weary pathos and caustic wisdom of Gil Scott-Heron, Tricky and Tom Waits, relating tragic-mulatto tales and leftist social commentary in a memorable manner.

But on Negrophilia, which is inspired by Petrine Archer-Straw’s book of that title, Ladd attempts to give listeners a taste of Paris during the Jazz Age ’20s. The theme of being an outsider in foreign territory applies to Ladd’s own position as a mixed-race artist whose vocal approach straddles both rap and spoken word and whose music lacks commercial dazzle yet isn’t trendy with backpacker hip-hop heads, either.

Musically, Negrophilia opts for a more impressionistic evocation of Jazz Age Paris than a literal one. Instead of aping sepia-toned recordings of Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker, Ladd & Co. move with agility through the ’60s out-jazz of Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry as well as through sparse, early-’70s funk and ’70s European prog rock a la Caravan and Robert Wyatt. Ladd also slides in some acidic synth squelches that recall Aphex Twin. None of which has much to do with the Jazz Age, but it sounds bizarrely compelling nonetheless. Along with Ladd’s 2003 collaboration with Iyer, In What Language?, Negrophilia furthers Ladd’s reputation as an iconoclastic misfit.

Originally Published