Serengeti, “With Greg From Deerhoof”
With Greg From Deerhoof
For as prolific a solo artist, collaborator, and alter-ego manufacturer as he is, it’s impressive how much uncharted territory Serengeti still manages to roam. With 2020 seeing the rapper churn out another project with German electro-kraut-noise sound designer Sicker Man (expected), the latest chapter in the Kenny Dennis mythology (also expected), deleted scenes from his 2015 LP with Open Mike Eagle (not unexpected), and an all-lowercase avant-folk/spoken word record (yeah, not entirely expected), news of an album-length improvisational collaboration with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier called With Greg From Deerhoof wasn’t entirely shocking, though still pretty unique to the Chicago-bred artist’s bizarre oeuvre.
That said, it isn’t the “improvisational” part that’s surprising—the standout title track on February’s Berolina EP was a live recording of Geti stumbling through verses, improbably only making the raw emotion of the seemingly unrehearsed track more compelling—nor the “with Greg from Deerhoof” bit—he’s worked with everyone from Sufjan to Workaholics’ Anders Holm to WHY?’s Yoni Wolf, with whom he made his Joyful Noise debut a few years back. The music itself, though, feels pretty out there in ways that feel new to the artist born David Cohn, stringing words together over wonky live instrumentation instead of hiring on a producer like Owen Ashworth or Odd Nosdam to center his tales of despair—or odes to onions—in a distinct electronic universe.
Over old-timey radio sounds, loopy woodwinds, the occasional horror-film strings, and Greg’s chaotic percussion, Cohn unleashes non-stop verses he’d improvised the first time he heard each of Saunier’s instrumental recordings. It’s pretty impressive to hear him keep up with the left-field sounds of the instrumentals on opener “Wasps” before you realize it’s essentially what he’s been rapping over since he aligned himself with Anticon in 2011, Saunier’s drumming style even feeling like an analog analogue to Jel’s drum machines at times. The only thing that really feels out of the ordinary on the opener is Cohn’s lyrics: “Will America ever care about the Black man?” he asks tiredly, shifting to a societal focus following nearly two decades of concept albums focused on the individual—fictional or otherwise.
From there things certainly get more playful, culminating in the album’s centerpiece (and impetus—this unearthed recording from 2009 is what caused Cohn and Saunier to reconnect earlier this year) “I Got Your Password,” a seventeen-minute live improv set in which Cohn goes full Kenny before weaving in and out of the persona and more obscure chapters in the expansive Serengetiverse, such as hooks from his soundtrack to the seemingly fictional movie To the Max. It’s laugh-out-loud funny at points (“Put your pants on!”), sounds like that percussionist translating Charlie monologues to drums at others, and elsewhere even recalls the It’s Always Sunny character’s mad ramblings.
It feels like the bonus track tacked on at the end was removed from the final track list because it disrupts the otherwise perfect balance of anxiety and quirk, tipping the scales handily toward uneasiness with yet another of Cohn’s sagas imagining the colorful lives of the promiscuously bored ruling class. As disjointed as all this sounds, the record’s both a perfect culmination of the year—directly addressing quarantine, protests, and getting caught masturbating—and the emotional highs and lows of Geti’s discography. By no means perfecto, but miles away from what anyone else is doing in hip-hop.