ECID | Triple Rock Social Club | Saturday, March 28
Jason McKenzie doesn't cut the archetypal figure of a rapper with 10 years of experience in the underground game. For one, he's on time for a meet-up at a hip East Lake coffee shop. He also has an enthusiastic preference for the honey-sweetened café miel, and a cheerful and gregarious demeanor. "I look so young your neighbors think I'm dating the babysitter," he raps on his new record, and it's uncannily accurate.
McKenzie, better known as ECID, has paid his dues as a broke rapper long enough to remember recording his first rhymes onto a double-barreled tape deck.[jump]
"When I first started, I knew nothing about music composition or rhythm, it was a total blank canvas," McKenzie recalls. The first spring sunshine of the year filters across his features. "Then I saw an IPR commercial, this was back when it first started, I think I was 19 or something. I went there, and from there I started making beats."
Despite the revisionist tendency of the press to pigeonhole all local hip-hop made before 2005 as boom-bap or emo-rap, ECID is the product of a rich vein of upper-Midwest weirdoes that have been making brainy auteur-hop since the '90s. His contemporaries are the missing link between innovators like Oddjobs and Out of Bounds, and the new breed of genre-benders like Allan Kingdom. But one name looms larger than others over ECID's development.
"He used to ask me all the time, 'Have you started playing piano yet? Have you started playing guitar yet?'" says McKenzie, of his time as young gun under the wing of Twin Cities legend Eyedea. "On the new record I'm using his Moog Voyager [synth]. It was sitting there for three years, and I was just like 'Man, I need to use this,' because he would have wanted me to."
Micheal Larsen, a.k.a. Eyedea, was integral to McKenzie's growth from a sample-obsessed teenager into the rapper-producer-musican triple threat that ECID has become. They were introduced through McKenzie's longtime collaborator Kristoff Krane. ECID recalls being consistently floored by Larsen's synthesis of sounds from indie rock and electronic music, even when he wasn't fully ready to take his mentor's advice.
"His passing inspired me, even more, to take it where he left it," says ECID, of Larsen's untimely death. "I was going to produce a record for him, and we unfortunately couldn't do it. So that lit a fire. I decided to do all the shit that he was telling me, and it worked out in a really beautiful way."
Don't get it twisted, though; McKenzie isn't building a career on someone else's coattails. His newest album, Pheromone Heavy, is 100 percent ECID, full of lush in-house production and irreverently witty wordplay. Citing a breakthrough brought on by a summer spent training to be a yoga instructor, McKenzie let his tendencies toward insular, bedroom art go and began embracing a more open, holistic approach to songwriting.[page]
"It was like this weight was kind of lifted off of my shoulders," he says, of his newfound zen. "The second I started doing it, this other voice inside me started creeping up musically, and it just started to feel more effortless. The more that I practice and take care of myself, the faster I can get in my zone."
That zone opened space for collaborators like Ashley Gold, local superproducer Joel Mabbot, Daddy Kev (LA OG and Low End Theory), and the grown 'n' sexy R&B of Tickle Torture. The latter contributed to "Fuck a Car We Teleport," which bangs like 2001-era Dr. Dre.
The added talent lends an ambitious, cinematic quality to Pheromone Heavy's seams-bursting 16 tracks. Its narrative arc reflects McKenzie's own personal growth like a funhouse mirror. The album's front nine is loaded with huge braggadocio thumpers like "Counterfeit Dreams" and juvenile, sex-obsessed limericks like "Never Been to France."
"'Never Been to France' is about lost innocence in a way," he says. "The whole first half of the record is references to adolescence, so they're supposed to be more ridiculous."
Jokes about your mother rolling his weed give way to the deepening consciousness of McKenzie as a young adult, and songs like "Don't Wanna Know" and "Monpolized" tread into sociopolitical righteousness, displaying some of the shoulder-strap scars left over from ECID's backpack-rap days. By the end of the album, the tolerance of an adult is fully formed on songs like "Number One on a Hit List" and the album's title track.
While McKenzie was inspired to write the former after a night spent chasing his runaway dog, the track could just as easily be addressed to his own wild side. Over a poppy, hypnotic hook and beat that would've made Eyedea proud, ECID implores his best friend to come home, knowing full well that there's no reasoning with nature.
"That's one of the other big themes of the project, it's the things that are inherently a part of you that you can't shake," McKenzie says, and although there's a rueful acceptance to the way he states it, there's a pride too. After all, we're all just animals at the end of the day.
ECID plays a Pheromone Heavy release show with Kristoff Krane, Cas One, and DJ Foolproof on Saturday, March 28, at Triple Rock Social Club; 612-333-7399
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