Cecil Otter - Rebel Yellow
Record Label: Doomtree Records
Release Date: August 26, 2008
I actually found out about Cecil Otter through Astronautlis' myspace page when I was reviewing his latest release. When Andy Bothwell endorsed him as "one of his favorite rappers" I figured that it was definitely worth checking out. For those unfamiliar with Cecil Otter, he's a member of the Doomtree crew (who are also worth checking out).
His solo stuff takes on a completely different sound than that of Doomtree. Like the aformentioned artist, he integrates a lot of different genres and styles into Rebel Yellow. One of the biggest integrations I find is a dark, almost folk styling that permeates into many of the songs. The "folk" styling isn't nearly as pronounced as in, say, Astronaualis' works, but there are many places throughout the album that have that kind of low-key vibe to them. This, combined with general experimentation, really changes up the sound and creates something that's worth listening based solely on Otter's obvious creativity. Of course, that's not the only reason.
Under all of the layers of experimentation and sound, it's best to remember that Rebel Yellow is a hip-hop album at it's core. This is obvious throughout most of the album, but there are quite a few parts where it doesn't seem like a hip-hop album at all. The greatest examples of this are the scattered instrumental tracks where there's everything from samples to electronics beats, and even a monologue in the intro. The experimentation in this album is a huge part of its sound. Each track seems to carry a different kind of experiment with it, but each of the them have a cohesive sound that he manages to keep from sounding like a bunch of different sounds thrown together. Otter has a great ear for beats, and many of the different sounds, samples, and instruments he brings in are quite brilliant.
Of course, his vocals are going to be under quite a bit of scrutiny. This is, as we've concluded, a hip-hop album and there's really nothing more important to hip-hop than the artist's vocals. Otter doesn't fail here either; he's got a great delivery, and in the places where it's important, a great flow. However, what I really like about his vocals in a lot of places is that he doesn't rely on a set flow. Instead, there are many places where the vocals seem kind of discordant and don't rely on a set flow. He'll be rapping and end the verse in a bit of a spoken word. It's not that he's offbeat, it's just that the way he structures a lot of his verses doesn't follow the norm and it sounds a little off, but in a great way.
Here's the part where I'm supposed to go through and highlight my favorite tracks from the album and tell you which are best and why. However, it would take far too long on this album, since there's really not a single bad track. I will go ahead and mention the remix of "Matchbook Diaries" featured on the album. It's one hell of a song, and while I've never heard the original song, the remix is great. The honest, straightforward, and (in some places) brutal lyrics are probably what makes it such a solid song.
I feel like I should be surprised that I'll be the first review for this album here. However, I'm really not at all, as these are the kinds of albums that tend to fly far under the radar on AbsolutePunk. I don't hesitate to say that this is one of the most ambitious hip-hop albums I've ever heard. While it may not be immediately accessible in the way that mainstream hip-hop is, anyone that appreciates good, creative efforts should find this an amazing listen. So, rip yourself away from whatever rap-pop album you're currently listening to (I'm guilty as well) and check out what deserves to be the future of hip-hop.