Normally when you stumble across an early artifact from an artist’s career it’s more curious than satisfactory, offering you glimpses at the promise that was there all along but ultimately serving as a reminder that artistry needs time to develop and early failures are as important to the DNA as initial successes. So the fact that I first thought Croatoan Crimewave was a new collaboration between UDF’s BB Sun (formerly Bolo Nef) and producer Ryan Evans speaks volumes. This is an album that sounds fresh and new both in terms of BB Sun’s ouevre and the current hip hop landscape, trippy and futurist and unexpectedly hopeful; it may have been recorded several years ago, a document of BB Sun’s “final years as a teenager” as he puts it, but if it weren’t for social media I never would have guessed that.
The album essentially defines its own genre early on, with opening track “Positive Thuggery” laying out the tone and themes of the work. Over a Ryan Evans beat that sounds like an exile from a late period Gregg Araki film, Sun says “Ask me how I am/And I’ll probably tell ya great/’Cause my head on straight,” explaining “I can see the big picture/Got my lens on straight” a sentiment that is worlds away from the nihilistic fallen deity identity he gives himself on canon UDF releases. There’s a little more focus on material goods, with “Positive Thuggery” laying out a plan for success that revolves around getting a Benz, but Sun is as frank and brutal as ever, detailing the slack “no future” life he leads, where couches are a house not a home, and he carries around a .38 snub but always forgets to pack rubbers.
A lot of Croatoan Crimewave’s futurism is due to Evans’ production and its openness, favoring hazy synth pads over the ominous, claustrophobic synth bass that serve as Khrist Koopa’s signature style on BB Sun’s UDF work. I don’t know why this album got held back for a few years, but it’s not hard to figure out why the duo would be especially motivated to release it now because Evans’ work not only predicts the style Drake’s new collaborator Eric Dingus is profiting off of now, but it’s leagues ahead of it, the arrangements more precise and artful, the textures more haunting and alien but still just as catchy. The Caz Greez featuring “Rotten Lotus” has that lawn sprinkler digi hi-hat but it’s also got a massive drop where BB Sun piles on the momentum Greez builds, offering an unusually speedy flow for the usually deliberate and lethargically paced emcee.
The album also turns a corner at its center, with “Do Dope” juxtaposing Evans’ most hypnotic, luxurious beat with BB Sun’s most experimental cadence, crafting a drug addict narrative in fitful stops and starts, leading the way for a number of stylistic diversions in the back half of the LP. With its Sigur Ros-like sonar ping snare sound and a wave of synths aping then deconstructing that Ratatat backed sound that made Kid Cudi a brief superstar, “Do Dope” is druggy in the same sense Enter the Void is, hallucinogenic and terrifying yet comforting in its finality. You get the sense it’s a sincere attempt at a club hip hop track from the duo, but a sincere club track from a self-proclaimed dark sun god and his crafty producer partner is obviously a completely different experience from whatever Lil’ Jon is backing at the moment. It’s worth mentioning that it is immediately followed by a track called “D.R.E.A.M.” as in Drugs Rule Everything Around Me, as in that Wu-Tang classic needed to be blunter. Don’t assume it’s just a one note joke, though– that track has BB Sun calling out his Seattle hometown as “Kurt Cobainia” and then describing his Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder remedy, which includes a shitload of oxycontin, so anyone from the mopey Emerald City is going to have plenty to be entertained by.
Maybe that sly humor is the key differential here, other than Evans’ warped sonics. Final teen years BB Sun cuts a sardonic figure, that adolescent cockiness coming through not as swagger but as a winking acknowledgment of a whole world of bullshit. In the next few years, he’d be shacking up with the bleakest crew in postmodern hip hop and restructuring that humor as a more murderous joke, wielding that sun god status as a reminder that supernovas destroy everything, ushering it all in with those trademark Koopa cult jams. But here you can still hear the smile in the turns of phrase and head bop along to shimmery Ryan Evans atmosphere. Far beyond a curious look at some awkward teen years, Croatoan Crimewave is only scary in how intimidatingly good BB Sun was all along.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover