From Sugar Hill to the Wild Pitch/4th & Broadway/Rap-A-Lot years to Fondle 'Em and Rawkus, hip-hop was founded on a bedrock of great labels that you could generally trust whatever they released to be quality, save for the the 4th and Broadway-signed Stereo MC's (though we can all admit to liking "Connected.") Yet during the 00s, as major rap labels shelved almost everything that didn't pander, few indies stepped in to bridge the gap, ironic considering during the same period Merge, Sub Pop or Matador became players due to the same Big 4 incompetence. But out of any rap label around, no one filled the void as well as Los Angeles' Stones Throw Records.
Often absurdly maligned as "backpack rap," or worse, ignored, Stones Throw's record over the last decade can match and likely top any competition, with their stacked discography including everything from seminal underground classics (Donuts, Soundpieces: Da Antidote, Madvillainy) to eccentric, off-kilter R&B (Dudley Perkins, Aloe Blacc) to recent expansion into dusty vinyl excavations (pretty much anything on their Now-Again subsidiary). And largely beneath the rader, the label's begun to broaden its boundaries beyond just underground, purist-oriented rap and re-issues, releasing afro-funk records (Karl Hector), electro-groove (James Pants) and now Koushik's Out My Window, an excellent exercise in psychedelia rooted alternately in Dilla-like hip-hop instrumentalism and grainy 60s pop.
Drawing comparisons to 4Tet, Caribou, Dilla and Shadow, the Canadian-born, Vermont-based Koushik crafts something altogether new in his paring of B-Boy breaks to druggy guitar nods. Indeed, Out My Window is a dizzy, ethereal ride, one that suitably simulates what it's like to spend an hour or two hovering over a stove, taking knife hits of lumps of black tar opium (ah, college).
Handling vocals himself rather than sampling or enlisting guests, Koushik's voice floats alone, pale and ghostly, wriggling its way into the heart of each track. It's the album as hazy swirl of dust, full of blissed-out guitars and scuffed-up drums. A very pretty, a very poignant bit of music that hearkens back a time when pop didn't necessarily mean dumb. It'll probably find its way onto my year-end Best Of list and far be it from me to shill for any record label, but it's probably in all our best interest to support outfits like Stones Throw. The digital download is available now, with the actual album seeing release on September 30. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.