Duos have a long history in hip-hop: Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, Eric B. and Rakim, Kid ‘N Play, D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Rodney O. & Joe Cooley, Salt-N-Pepa, Run-D.M.C. And hip-hop duos have had many different flavors, ranging from the pop-rap to the hard rock and heavy metal. On DYAD, the Portland, Oregon-based Noraa Ish & Kid Pistol favor an introspective blend of alternative rap and alternative pop-rock that occasionally moves a bit into electronica territory.
Alternative rap is often thought of as a jazz-tinged, hipster-ish type of sound (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, among others). But on tunes like “Reflections,” “Good Morning, Goodnight,” “Breathe” and “My Friend,” rapper Noraa Ish and his partner Kid Pistol (who does much of the producing on this album and also contributes singing) don’t bring alternative rap into jazz-influenced territory. Instead, those tracks draw heavily on alternative pop-rock. When Pistol sings on “Bullet,” “Breathe” and other selections, he comes across as someone who grew up on a steady diet of alternative pop-rock and hip-hop. Ish’s rapping dominates DYAD, and Pistol’s singing is an appealing dish.
Another thing that separates DYAD from a lot of the commercialized hip-hop one hears on commercial urban contemporary radio stations is a reflective, introspective outlook. Much of the hip-hop that urban stations play these days thrives on decadent hedonism and cartoonish materialism; MCs rap about their fat bank accounts, expensive booze and expensive cars as well as all the supermodels they’ve slept with, and they are offering their listeners a diet of pure fantasy and total escapism. Instead of keeping it real, they are keeping it in the fantasy realm. But the tone on “Starstuck,” “Bullet,” “Darkest Days,” “Hostage” and “Loaded” is one of contemplation and reflection. It is a tone that has a lot more in common with the youthful introspection and angst of alternative rock and post-grunge than it does with all the fantasy-based lyrics coming out of commercial hip-hop in 2013.
On “Loaded” Noraa Ish & Kid Pistol incorporate some dialogue from the 1966 biker film The Wild Angels. On “Loaded” one hears a young Peter Fonda (who played an outlaw biker in that movie) famously saying, “We want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man.” And even though Fonda is now 73 and most of today’s hip-hoppers had yet to be born in 1966, that celebrated dialogue from 47 years ago works well in a modern hip-hop/alt-rock setting.
“Loaded” is one of the songs on this album that successfully incorporates a European electronica influence. European electronica is not a huge influence on DYAD, but it is an influence that Noraa Ish & Kid Pistol do incorporate on occasion. And they do it especially well on “Loaded.”
DYAD is a respectable outing. Noraa Ish & Kid Pistol are clearly going for depth rather than superficiality, and listeners who have grown up on a steady diet of hip-hop and alternative pop-rock will appreciate the sincerity that these Pacific Northwest residents bring to the table.
Noraa Ish & Kid Pistol
Review by Alex Henderson