Edan’s 2005 masterwork Beauty and the Beat begins with a simple, effect-laden scratch of a record and ends with faint Minimoog whooshing fading into oblivion. In between, the multi-talented MC/DJ/producer uses a backdrop built of psychedelic rock samples to teach listeners the fundamentals of hip-hop chronology, explore color theory, and mourn a lost friend.
The success of the record begins with its artwork, a collage that literally cuts and pastes classic hip-hop into a psychedelic pastiche. If Beauty and the Beat were a book, it would be a William S. Burroughs–style cut-up of pages from The Acid Archives and Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists, chopped up and rearranged to create something wholly new.
I was working as a hip-hop buyer in an independent record store when this album was released, and I found its gloriously odd vibe to be curative. I was deeply jaded by the sameness I was hearing in hip-hop at the time and became a huge proponent of this peculiar album. I wrote a short paragraph extolling its virtues on the back of a flyer and taped one under the CD and one under the LP on the shelf, and hand-sold many copies to customers eager for something different.
Edan points to the dusty, reverb-laden early recordings of Schoolly D as a precursor of psychedelic exploration in hip-hop. Schoolly’s unreliable narration and “beats like an 808 in the Grand Canyon,” as he describes them, helped him learn to love the art form. The fashions, freewheeling approach to sampling, and general vibe of the Native Tongues collective, especially the Jungle Brothers, brought psychedelic flourish to hip-hop’s golden age. These days, the productions of DJ Muggs and others in the close-knit Soul Assassins–influenced underground bring a tinge of lysergic shimmer to otherwise punishing street rap. But Edan tapped a vein of particularly sunny pop-psych reminiscent of when Madlib had all of the break diggers searching out Free Design and Enoch Light records years ago. His approach has thus far gone unreplicated, perhaps because he simply has records that no one else thought to use.
The song “Rock and Roll” featuring Dagha in particular nods to the depth of Edan’s crates. When he performs the track live, he has the covers for each of the bands that he name-drops in the song, which mostly celebrates classic rock’s heavier side, with nods to Jimi Hendrix, Pearls Before Swine, Black Sabbath, and a hilarious dig at Lenny Kravitz for balance.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this record is that it’s never received a proper follow-up. Humble Pi (2018), a collaboration with Homeboy Sandman, hints that Edan is still dabbling in psychedelic sounds. He is rumored to have a new rap album and a rock album (described as more acoustic-guitar-over-drum-machine-based than a full-band project) completed and ready to drop for some time now. Please, Edan, bless us. We’re ready for the next vision.