“CAR.” What is that exactly? Chicago MC Serengeti makes a case that it’s all about a funk-fueled vibe under enough scratching to require a daily supply of new vinyl. With the help of Anticon producers Jel and Odd Nosdam, Serengeti (born in Chicago as David Cohn) has released the latest in his double-digit hip-hop discography.
At the album’s open, we’re on a Greyhound, and it’s not wrong to say that things sound like early Beck. Though there’s a “classic” feel to the programmed beats and horn blips, CAR is also classic Serengeti, full of self-deprecation, disappointment, and worry, which is definitely classic American millennial. “Go Dancing” tells a story similar to Miranda July’s The Future: a young couple feels old and unhappy, and Serengeti’s hopeful refrain, “we’ll go dancing; believe me this time,” is unconvincing.
Known for unordinary instrumentation (at a recent free hometown show, the MC rapped over a cello and melodica), Serengeti blends styles across CAR, with tracks built on samples that range from buzzy, machinistic loops to acoustic guitar. The latter sneaks onto the album in the last track for a surprising finale. “Uncle Traum” is innocuous, good for a vista or two, but if a listener picks up the pieces of the rapper’s quiet one-liners, a tragic tale unfolds.
This is the surprising power of Serengeti’s style. Without bravado, rap can seem empty, but the MC’s monotone delivery and love of the mundane has a way of sneaking up on a listener and has a poetry all its own. CAR is laid-back fun but far from irrelevant; Serengeti says that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but we get the feeling that he does.