Get weird AF with ConRank, the Shanghai producer bringing a foreign element to bass music with his own artistic expression that is jarring and so bizarre, so out there that the sound waves cut into your brainwaves, rifting the time space continuum. It isn’t just because he is from the opposite end of the world; this music is intergalactic. His sound is experimental and futuristic with traditional aspects of trap music and dubstep. Conrank is an artist and a composer, utilizing such a diverse array of noises beyond instrumentals and vocals, containing sounds and chopping them into pieces. They no longer exist as they were, but become a part of something greater. The album is filled with juxtaposition between foreign or alien, and familiar or inherently understood.
Prepare yourself for this. Ma Fan (麻烦) means trouble (well, sort of), and so does Conrank. Listening, you get the feeling like you have heard this all before. Deja Vu is a glitch in the matrix, and we are going in with the welcomed that is this EP. Glitches are breaks in a broken system. Glimpses into an alternate universe where everything is nothing and a picture becomes this a mosaic of pixels, misshapen and creating this distorted picture that can’t be contained in a frame. Nothing can contain the music in this EP; and you follow it willingly as it runs off into strange, unfamiliar territories. What a long, strange, dark, and enlightening trip it is, through the glitches and digital noises, vocals not in English, eastern and UK influences, robust percussion, and resounding bass.
This EP plunges deeper than a hipster’s t-shirt collection. It is more subtle though, coveting its truths and masking its depth by seeming simply to be a random collection of sounds. Random, they are not. Nor are they simple. Each one means something, intentionally arranged in a subliminal message for the audience. Music is a universal language through which we absorb understanding and enlightenment by listening.
Let’s break down this album, track by track:
Complex UK premiered “Tongues,” noting the eastern influences that drive this track. The title is a thematic motif, presenting the listener with some sort of wind pipe playing a feathery, melodic solo, like Link on his Ocarina. Suddenly a small engine revs, maybe a motorized bike zipping down a busy street, cars honk, and then people begin speaking in tongues foreign to almost anyone listening. It is an Asian language, and may have some significance to Conrank, who lives in China. As the track progresses the wind pipe blows on, but the voices fade away. In their place begins this very rhythmic series of das and dis, that actually set up the backbeat on the track as the drums roll in. The beat climbs and with it climbs the complexity of this layered track, as some more high pitched wind pipe sounds are added in progression, as well what sounds like a female opera singer. It all moves very quickly, with builds and breaks moved perfectly by Conrank’s clever concoction of clamor. He pieces together bass horns, rolling snares, and nonsensical vocals, and turns that into a track of simple fluidity. That simplicity is met with the complexity of this track’s meaning. A homage to his culture, a statement about how even those who speak the same language can be talking to each other in tongues, or a message about how we are all speaking in tongues; no one but Conrank knows. If nothing else, its foreign parts make this track thought-provoking and innovative. It reminds me of Baauer’s Search for Sound.
It should be clear by now that traditional instrumental hip hop aka trap music is not what ConRank makes. For the record, neither do his friends. He teamed up with experimental trap veteran DJ Shadow on “Exhale Therapy,” another track that matches its title in sound. Sexy female vocals alternate between whistle and blow in a smoking hot whistle tutorial, forcing you to exhale uncontrollable. All of the instrumentals are airy, with a return to the wind pipe, screaming synths, and echoing bass that breathe. When the music moves with more density, the melody goes in and out and you find yourself breathing alongside. Atmospheric drums that beat softly, breathing out an ethereal trap beat, exhaling life into this breathing track.
“Jetlaggin,'” and its remixes, is my favorite part of this album. Brass driven bass and typical trap beats mix bring us in, establishing this track as dark and dirty. Followed by filth, with dubstep fills making their way in the mix, as well as a voice saying what sounds like ‘we.’ Whatever he is saying sounds like no trap sound I know, but Messy MC is from the UK and ConRank is from China so who knows? In the spirit of experimental instrumental hip hop with this added global influence, anything goes. In the spirit of instrumental, the UK MC has only one verse on the track, low and grimy to compliment the track’s prominent instrumentals. Two solid are also on this EP, one from Bleep Bloop and the other Mad Zach.
This title may give you gangster rap feels, as does the slow, low vocal track claiming, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want millions.” However, the ever present dichotomies in ConRank’s music are further indicated here, as we constantly see him putting two forces against each other. “No Milli” is led by an ambient melody and upbeat percussions that stay strong, even as darkness emerges from within and a heavy bass line creeps into the background. We can hear the melody get lower as the track progresses, pulled down by the strength of the bass. Ultimately, we end up with a well-balanced track that showcases a more melodic side to ConRank.
I am starting to think we are in the 90’s and the music video for ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems,’ is on the tube. It will never not be true that the more money you come across, the more problems you see. ‘Problems’ features a low, slow voice repeating money mostly, but also problems. Today’s trap producer is almost more relevant than the rapper whose 16 bars need a beat and some instrumental flow to be a hit. Talented and versatile producers like ConRank can find vocal samples to use or get one of their friends to say something into a microphone. A lot of them are musically inclined enough to compose their own instrumental sequences through machinery and technology, and everything can be warped, manipulated, distorted, and layered, so that a track such as this that barely says a few words is solid, and complete. The best trap producers seem to have a penchant for the trap life they never knew, drawing from the actual trap to tell its stories. It is about making something that sounds different without having to create something entirely new or be someone you’re not.
While there is nothing traditional about ConRank, and his music reflects originality unmatched, he makes use of traditional trap sounds as a foundation on which he expands. The OG trap sounds run deep through his music, establishing solid ground before breaking the entire system with his progressive alterations. “Beat the Block” has all the makings of a traditional trap track, it just isn’t. One phrase repeats i, “beat the block up,” chopped into notes as if to sound like he was scratching this record, and cascading the syllables and distorting them. It is almost as simple as that. The vocals are a deep dark melody that also serve as instrumentals throughout, with some strings and reverb to shock your senses. These noises are not from this universe.
“Knuckle” made it onto our Too Future last week w Stylust Beats just about the coolest drop I have ever heard on a track, using unconventional sounds in a build made up of whirls and mad cool noises. Sick drum rolls around space sounds, and video game pews of every pitch and length fire away, traveling through your ears, and landing a direct hit on your brain.
Stylust Beats’ dropped ConRanks, “Loco,” an RTT premiere, at Shambala 2015. It is easily one of the best live sets ever, if not the best Shambala Mix from this year.
This track is ironically titled, “Tech.” Something I have observed with this album, is the use of technology and a constant realization that most or all of these sounds are digital. All of it is so authentic, it reminds me of a simpler time in music. Except, that nostalgia fades very quickly, and white walls come crumbling down to as the whistle that has been following you since the beginning of this track is surrounded by darkness. The constant rhythmic clap reminds you that it is in fact, a trap. It never gets old for me to say, look out, you are in the trap now. The claps go double time, and the track is circling around you, the beat knocking at your head and a gangster breathing down your neck. That, or he is sneezing. Some weird bubble popping noises join the whistles at the end. This track totally creeps me out, and I can’t seem to fix the disgusted look on my face as I listen to it, but I also can’t stop. Saturate labelmate Mad Zach contributed to this heavy track, part of this network of psychedelic, futuristic, bass music makers.
Jetlaggin ft. Messy MC (Bleep Bloop) premiered on the Nest HQ just before the EP dropped. Bleep bloop transforms grime vocals into sounds resembling fuzzy frequencies. Just when the words of Messy MC become clear, the beat and the bass drop. And so do you. Forgetting where you just were and not having any idea where you even are anymore.
The middle section of this remix is so heavy, it hurts your face, makes you feel squeamish as you squirm and tighten the skin on your face. It is seriously so disorienting that I have to make sure to keep my eyes open as I listen to it. It is hardcore, like Nirvana’s Bleach, filled with screaming and the sound of electric currents crossing paths coming through the speakers. Ir honestly hurts my ears at some parts, but it is hard to hear the gritty, painful truths that make up our reality. Bleep Bloop leaves us in outer space as the sirens chime in and out, until we are alone in space being shot at by some character that looks like those two little robots from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Their shots keep missing me, echoing in outer space, maybe destined to travel forever.
Some time ago, my mentor told me he was going to make music that was all made up of radio frequencies. It doesn’t matter if it was true or not, what matters is that this is the future. Some of us have been living here for years. ConRank and Bleep Bloop must be from there.
Starkey remixed “Tech,” giving the original an upbeat and melodic spin.
There is too much awesome in this remix. We love the original, and Johnathan Thomas adds some real flair to this track. The futuristic sounds of the original shine through in this remix, but there is added depth to the track that comes from the mixing skills of Swift.
Both of these remixes are dope. With such a stellar original track, and literal out-of-this-world skills from Mad Zach, we don’t mind listening to “Jetlaggin'” thrice. This one is about a minute shorter, and very dark. Besides, not one of these three versions sound like any of the other one, although we do recognize this as part of the Ma Fan/ConRank/Saturate sound. A sound that is patterned with those things that have already been done, so as to pay homage to the past. Mad Zach is among the company of remixers on this EP that know how to do justice to the original and the remix, resulting in a track that has that newness a remix should have, while is still recognizable as it was in its original form.
We end this album with a remix of the first track, “Tongues,” going out with a bang, some heavy bass, and chopped and screwed das and dis, just as we began. There is a really dope melody in this remix, that lightens the track. Soulspeak’s contribution to this EP follows suit by matching the weird of its cohorts, and also like its companions is a testament to the talent behind these amazing 13 tracks. It is a complex and intense remix, worthy of its spot as anchor.
There you have it. There are momentary seconds of play on this EP, lulls in the madness, that trick you into believing this is just some ordinary trap. Something that misleads you into expecting an endless repetition of 808 kicks, double and triple time hi hats, heavy bass lines, air horn, gun sounds, [insert your favorite trap phrase to come right before the drop], and unintelligible rap lyrics optional. And nothing else. ConRank quickly eradicates those fears, as I have said, manipulating the tradition out of the trap. He runs the trap all the way to the future, and this is what it sounds like going through light years of time and space at unfathomable speeds. Running the trap means more than a played out sound or fake gangster attitude. The trap runneth over, and producers like ConRank can take the overabundance of potential out there, turning it into something next level. Trap has evolved, and you’re going to need more than stiff elbows and gyrating butt cheeks to get down to these sounds.
It is impossible not to recognize the talent on this album, that includes all the remixes and collaborations. Big ups to that village in the future, the whole one it took to make this album. A friend always taught me family first, and it seems the best squads in the industry stay that way by sticking together. I imagine they retreated back to the lab in their village in the distant future. After this EP, it hurts my brain to think about what might be next from any of these guys, especially our boy ConRank. Weird AF is enticing, but ConRank’s next release might literally cause heads to explode.
Stream the album below via bandcamp.
ConRank – Ma Fan (麻烦) | Purchase Ma Fan via Bandcamp
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