Anyone who has listened to DJ Shadow’s seminal 1996 debut Endtroducing… can appreciate its lasting influence on hip-hop. The seamless fusion of such a diverse spectrum of samples into an exciting and, importantly, highly listenable format produced an album which stands as the benchmark for any modern producer of the genre. Fifteen years on and San Francisco resident and Shadow protégé Benji Illgen, aka Mophono, is finally ready to make his mark on this ever growing cannon of musicians; his full length debut Cut Form Crush blends past influence into both bold and expertly crafted hip-hop.

Debut or not, Illgen is certainly no novice. Nights ranging from the Brainfeeder Festival to LA’s influential Low End Theory have all been graced by his name, while he also manages to run both his own CB Records and Change the Beat night in his native San Francisco. In short, Mophono’s time seems to be solely occupied by absorbing the music of his peers, an enviable position when you consider that The Gaslamp Killer, Nosaj Thing and Flying Lotus can all be counted amongst them.

Subsequently there’s an awful lot happening on the album, but it manages to retain a degree of consistent recognisability. The underlying focus throughout is on percussion, and it works tirelessly on almost every track. ‘Dedicated to the Synthetic Cosmetic’ may feel like something off Cosmogramma in parts, but there’s no mistaking where the crashing snares and tribal drum patterns are coming from.

Midway track ‘Rep’, perhaps the truest hip-hop number on the record, sees guest MC Subverse spit the line ‘Forget where you’re living for a minute, let go’, a feeling which harks back as far as the sixties and the escapist emotion of Beatles tracks like ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. True to the lyrics, tune out of the album even slightly and you’ll find that Mophono has moved on, evidently keen not to dwell too long on any one particular sound. From the driving percussion of ‘Blade’ to the more downtempo, sinister sounding ‘Cut Form Crunch’, it’s an album of shifting dynamics, and that variation keeps the music feeling fresh throughout.

Probably the most intriguing song on the album is ‘Now (Skip On Beat)’. Unusually sombre and minimalist, the piece stands out prominently amidst the decidedly heavier soundscapes surrounding it, eschewing the dense passages of throbbing bass that permeate the rest of the record in favour of 79 seconds of deft, stuttering piano patterns. Combined with the opening of subsequent track ‘Cut Form Intro’ (where ethereal synths glide underneath lines of emotive and introspective lyricism)   it represents the only moment of overt human feeling on the record, an oddity indeed given its opener bears the title of ‘Be Human’. The sequence lasts only a few minutes, but it’s enough to interrupt the fluidity of the opening ten tracks and provide the listener with a small window to digest everything that’s gone before. Small is the operative word here, and it’s not long before Illgen, true to form, has built the whole thing back up again, leaving you wondering what the hell was going on a few minutes previous. On first listen it’s a bit much to take in; the brevity of the moment serves as both its strength and its weakness. Yet with repeated spins it turns into a real highlight, and the album as a whole becomes an extremely rewarding experience.

Cut Form Crush is out on 15th of February on CB Records.

Related posts: