Mike Ladd: Sci-Fi Hip Hop Futurist

By Drew Fortune
April 25, 2008

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In the world of Mike Ladd, reality is far stranger than fiction. The Boston-bred MC/producer/spoken-word poet is the merry prankster of underground hip-hop, a sonic jester gleefully melding dystopian imagery with lo-fi hardcore, dub, and retro soul to create party music for the year 2032. His lofty concepts have documented the simultaneous death and rebirth of hip-hop in his operatic Infesticons and Majesticons projects. His 2005 release Negrophilia (Thirsty Ear) took its title and inspiration from the writings of Petrine Archer-Straw, whose work examined the sociological impact of African American Culture in 1920s Paris. On Nostalgialator, reissued early in 2008 on Definitive Jux, Ladd constructs a virtual time machine. The titular Nostalgialator travels simultaneously between the past, present, future, and after future. If it sounds overwhelming, consider it Kurt Vonnegut for the hip hop set.

Co-produced and engineered by Brooklyn’s Scotty Hard (Wu-Tang Clan, De La Soul), Nostalgialator was originally released on Europe’s !K7 Records in 2004. The album’s frenetic, overstuffed soundscapes recall a society overthrown by technology, where the only recourse is to celebrate the past. By revisiting the influences of his formative years, Ladd creates a future sound with the first half of the album, jamming in a space-funk rebellion that echoes early Parliament Funkadelic. “Wild Out Day” finds Ladd rhyming in hyper-drive over a caustic Bad Brains-style drumbeat. The album’s B-side slows down considerably and Ladd’s stream-of consciousness wordplay comes to the forefront. On the closing track, “Sail Away Ladies (Traditional),” Ladd ventures into distant, unrecognizable territory with a smooth ballad crooned over dreamy, sci-fi instrumentation.

The heady days of the early nineties are a touchstone of inspiration on Nostalgialator, evoking Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys with the live instrumentation and digitized vocals of “Troubleshot” and “Housewives at Play.” “I was thinking about the stuff I love and still love from the late ‘80s and early ’90s during recording,” says Ladd. “Bands like Ween, Dinosaur Jr., and Pavement were major influences.”

Despite the genre hopping, Ladd’s music is rooted in hip hop, and the sonic deconstruction of Nostalgialator reflects a man striving to take the next evolutionary step. “As I’ve watched the history of hip hop unravel, I realize it’s like a lot of social phenomena. There are key players, but it is really the movement en mass that changes the world. I’ve always stayed real to me and been honest about who I am in my lyrics and sound. Any diehard fan of my stuff deserves a medal. I am deeply grateful, even if I don’t check my MySpace enough.”

With his move to Paris in 2003, Ladd married and became a father, but does not consider himself an expatriate. “You find yourself defending the States more than you ever imagined, and I think this happens to a lot of Americans in France. I’ve almost become patriotic,” muses Ladd. “I see myself as a post-futurist. A post-futurist accepts that they are living in a society in which our science fiction is constantly trying to keep up with our non-fiction.

By Drew Fortune April 25, 2008

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