Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Milwaukee Rapper Bliss & Alice Blends Poetry, Pathos and Shit Talking on His Remarkable Debut

By Evan Rytlewski
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Since the genre’s earliest days, MCs have described rap as poetry, an assertion that once seemed bold but now seems indisputable. Of course rap is poetry. It's a uniquely insular strain of poetry, though, more interesting in quoting itself and inventing its own language and traditions than it is in quoting the classics, so it’s rare to find a rapper who cites literary poetry as a direct influence. Milwaukee’s Bliss & Alice is an unusual exception. A gifted rapper who probably would have been an equally gifted spoken-word artist if he’d been born in the days before hip-hop, Bliss takes as many cues from the rhythmic phrasing of Langston Hughes and the tragi-comic squalor of Charles Bukowski as he does from the hyper-technical word slinging of MCs like MF Doom.

With his gruff flow, Bliss & Alice slots cleanly alongside young talents like Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples, straight spitters who share a knack for long multisyllabic pileups, and like those rappers, he’s at his best when working with a narrative. “I never thought that I’d be losing it again but tonight I got delusions in my head / An assortment of small capsules rattling around my satchel lifted from pill cabinets / I know it’s a bad habit,” he raps on “Madness,” one of the many meditations on addiction’s grip that populate his debut mixtape, Poetry Volume One – The Shit Talker Tape.

As the title promises, there’s a good amount of straight shit talking going on here. Bliss has almost certainly listened to his share of Odd Future, and he opens Volume One with a borrowed Action Bronson/Party Supplies beat, so mischief runs in his DNA. But “poetry” is the operative word on Volume One: He floods the tape with incredible wordplay, often capturing the ridiculous, the sublime and the heartbreaking in the same breath. “You can find me puffing orchids with Cream City orphans,” he raps on “Man of the Year,” a boast that sounds less like a boast with each listen.

Addiction is a tricky subject for a rap album. Despite their good intentions, most rappers who tackle it come across as either buzz kills or hypocrites or both (see Schoolboy Q’s new Oxymoron, which awkwardly wedges a lengthy message song into the middle of an otherwise hedonistic gangsta rap album). Pathos bleeds into Bliss’s rhymes so unobtrusively, though, that Poetry Volume One never feels exploitative, even when Bliss details a particularly graphic suicide attempt on “Mademoiselle.” It’s bleak, yes, but it’s also cathartic, pointed and, in its own dark way, funny. It’s poetry.

You can stream Poetry Volume One - The Shit Talker Tape below via Bandcamp, where it's posted for free download.

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