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Darc Mind - Symptomatic of a Greater Ill

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Artist: Darc Mind

Album: Symptomatic of a Greater Ill

Label: Anticon

Review date: Nov. 14, 2006

The story behind this release of Symptomatic is all too familiar to followers of the music industry, one of those albums that was recorded and lost in the mists of time and screwed-up record labels. In 1997, after a couple of years of preparation, the album was swallowed in the collapse of Loud/RCA, leaving Emcee Kev Roc and producer GM Web D (a.k.a. X-Ray) understandably bitter. That the album should now be released by Anticon is very appropriate: some of the songs here predict the off-kilter aesthetic of the label's best-known artists.

Symptomatic's opening and closing tracks are perhaps its most distinguished, and opener "Visions of a Blur" is easily the winner of the batch. Its simple beat snaps and rolls, providing momentum without crowding things, while super minimal bass and guitar are merely ghostly accents. Over it all is Kevroc's ahead-of-his-time flow, laid back and smooth, literary and imagistic words winding in and around the beat in such a steady stream that the song demands multiple listens for any hope of catching it all. At the album's opposite end, "Outside Looking In" boasts a similar flow, words like a rollercoaster, carrying you up one beat and down the next with a similar thrill.

Songs like those place Darc Mind somewhere outside time when it comes to comparisons within the hip hop continuum. It's difficult to think of other artists doing anything similar in 1997, and given the political and social commentary issued by Kevroc, the field grows even narrower. Granted, there are other songs here with clearer connections, like "Seize (sic) the Phenom" – a rainy night feel with a clattery snare rhythm and piano breakdown that's reminiscent of Eric B. and Rakim – and "Bmoc" – swinging, clashing cymbals and snare with a Public Enemy whistle. But there's no doubt that if this album been released when originally planned, it would either have made a significant splash or, perhaps, have been greeted by general bemusement.

A moot point of course, except that now in 2006 Symptomatic still stands out as an imaginative, strong release. The hip hop landscape from 1997 to 2006 has changed significantly, but not for the better; formulas being laid down 10 years ago have ossified since then, and labels like Anticon are obviously the exception, not the rule.

As a result, songs like the noir-drenched "Covert Op" and the fast-moving head-nodder "Fever Pitch", despite being 10 years old, sound fresher than 99 percent of what's being released today as hip hop. Ironically, while artists like Snoop Dogg continue to attempt to relive their past, Darc Mind's past turns out to have been more interesting in the first place.

As a final note, this album also identifies itself as a product of earlier times by its length. Rather than filling up 70-plus minutes with every extra piece of crap available, the 43 minutes here are unpadded, no unnecessary remixes or tired skits clogging up the works. Bravo.

By Mason Jones

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