Idris Goodwin: Break Beat Poems

Local Albums: April 2010 – Back in the day–1979–Hawkeye basketball star Ronnie Lester was a hip hop ambassador. Ronnie took his boom box everywhere , playing “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang nonstop. It was, to Iowa ears, something strange and alien, and yet irresistible. Idris Goodwin’s track “Isiah Thomas Camp” took me back to that seminal B-Ball/hip hop connection. It’s my favorite sort of rhyme–one that tells a story. Idris reminisces about going to a basketball camp run by Isiah Thomas of the legendary 1988-89 Detroit Pistons. He recaps the events of the playoffs– “Boys in Red & Blue/World Class Wrecking Crew/elbows reaching in/eye-gouging bone breakers/made to the finals game 7 with the Lakers”–and ties it into his own, more modest, basketball skills. “I let the rock go now I’m a rhyme sayer,” he says, as he tells the story of the dashed hopes and eventual triumph of the Pistons in a few deft verses.

Idris’ rhymes put him in the backpack “conscious” rap camp, but I’m impressed by how he threads the needle between wordplay for it’s own sake and overly earnest “positive” rhymes. “Make No Mistake” uses repetition of “Give” and “Take” as a narrative trick–“Give a damn, Give thanks, Give a round of applause, give up the glory, give praise, give the bleeding some gauze.” It’s clever, but like Professor Frink, he makes you laugh, and he makes you think.

Goodwin’s beats (produced by Anomaly, Lee Chest and Shotgun Start) deserve attention separate from his flows, drawing influences from electronica as well as hip hop and R&B beatmakers. “Slice” rocks raw sawtooth waves and 8-bit synth stabs, while “Burn Somethin'” makes something sweet from what sounds like the horns and strings soundtrack from a Lifetime Movie. The most sample-oriented track, “Madness,” bites a crazy-ass bit of Klezmer clarinet, turning it paradoxically into a laid-back, head-nodding beat, backing offhandedly polysyllabic shenanigans: “Insomniac Brainiac/Rambling Kerouac […] Sometimes it feels like/Lunatic liberties/battling bigotries/scream at the big TV/distracted lollygagging, fell off the paddywagon…”

Idris Goodwin also has the one thing you can’t fake in hip hop–a voice that makes you want to catch his flow. With his righteous beats and elliptically clever rhyming, it makes this album something special–three points, nothing but net.

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