Label: Big Dadà
Format: CD, LP
Time: 25 min.
Style: Leftfield Experimental
According to its former members, Hype Williams was never a band. It was more of an art project, of which Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland were given temporary care. But when the pair began to work under their respective names with 2012's Black Is Beautiful, nobody else picked up the baton. And as a series of recent releases have tried to revive the project, Blunt's fingerprints remain all over it. Last year's 10 / 10 could have been offcuts from his recent Babyfather project; January's Guccistreams 2 resembled his rainy solo LPs The Redeemer and Black Metal. These were online-only tidbits—a statement accompanying Rainbow Edition declares them fake. This album is the real deal: the first Hype Williams LP in six years, and with entirely new personnel. But Blunt still seems to be lurking.
Race, a subject increasingly central to Blunt's work, is placed front and centre. (In opener "Madting," a woman berates her male interlocutors for being "Uncle Toms.") Titles reference US R&B (Salt 'N' Pepa's Spinderella; a lyric from the 1998 Kelly Price single "Friend Of Mine") and Leimert Park, a neighbourhood in LA—the subject matter and recording location, respectively, of Blunt's recent neo-soul project Blue Iverson. In a classic Blunt technique, oblique narrative is supplied by voices, delivered down crackly phone lines or via old TV. And in contrast to the psychedelic bedroom soup of Hype Williams' last album, 2011's One Nation, Rainbow Edition is more of a Babyfather-style mixtape: 20 beats, short and loop-locked, their snub 808 basslines and minor-key melodies dog-eared with distortion.
We'll likely never know who's behind the album, and in any case Hype Williams was always more than just a riddle to be solved. But Blunt's probable role hints at Rainbow Edition's shortcomings. It lacks the depth, intrigue and smirking beauty of the group's best work—a product, presumably, of Blunt and Copeland's peculiar chemistry—but doesn't replace it with anything fresh. For all that, it's not bad. Its hip-hop miniatures span the bizarro spectrum, from chest-beating stadium rock ("Loud Challenge") to shoegaze zone-out ("Puredamage"). And there are moments of headturning weirdness, as in "The Whole Lay," where an autotuned singer mewls off-key: "Where do we go? Why are you keeping me? I wanna know... "
There's beauty in there, too. Closing track "Kandy" samples Jim Cartwright's 1986 play Road, about working class Lancastrians in the Thatcher years, and the best tracks follow this gloomy lead. The likes of "Baby Blu" and "Smokebox" wallow in a noirish, romantic misery familiar from The Redeemer. Even better are the album's two longest tracks: "Spinderella's Dream," with its ghostly synth choirs, and "#Blackcardsmatter," which turns a dark late capitalist joke - "all I gotta say is: black cards matter" - into an oozing dirge.