Listening: Benjamin Miles’ Wishing Tree
Maybe I ain’t heard them / Really? What’s the difference? / (It’s) Just another song about a rapper’s existence
What happens when there’s “…too many rappers?” MC/lyricist (and day-job lawyer) Benjamin Miles materializes the results of that query along with many other soul-searching queries on Wishing Tree, his new solo album (which, itself, is aided, in production and bolstered with cameo bars by various other rappers).
“Ya’ll trying to get low / I’m trying to go higher / ya’ll trying to get dough / I’m trying to grow wiser / When there’s too many rappers and not enough space / bunch of open mouths without enough space / we all need to stop…slow down and wait…”
And that’s the refrain, fading away on “White Noise” (a remix of a song from Miles group Of Mice And Musicians produced by Seth Anderson, a founding member of Flint Eastwood): “We all need to stop.”
With all its propulsive beats, smooth blends of soulful pianos, haunting strings and spacey synthesized bass loops, this is a record about stopping. Not forever. Just, more of a wake-up call. Is it dark? Is anything existential ever not dark? C’mon. Spin it.
“Agoraphobic” (ft. JP From The HP) sets the scene properly at the album’s opening, with Christopher Jarvis letting in these eerily beautiful guitar flutters like fading thunder on a quiet summer night – but the environs are not serene – we’re in the middle of Detroit and our dueling rappers are taking stock of everything disenchanting and outrageous about the current state of the city, how it’s run, how it got to this and who still stays here, nonetheless. And why do they still stay here? “Find the beauty in the waste that you pace in…” nonetheless “god damn it…I was raised here.”
Spin through the shortest, sparsest and possibly saddest-sounding track “Spinning Blue Record” and you might want to pass over it – but it’s really the richest and most exemplary track, lyrically, on Miles new album, showing how thoughtful, how poignant, how frustrated your modern DIY/lo-fi/local-level/basement-lab lyricist can be in a weird, complacent and cruel world that just seems to keep spinning on… (…like a broken record). This, over a detached piano line from a dusty jazz nightcapper and a shuffling beat, is where we get the lyric opening up this article, above. It makes for a fine character study, rather than another rap album of big talking braggadocio or party-starting-like-there’s-no-tomorrow tromps… This album’s songs are all the bare “tomorrow’s” that follow the various parties of your 20′s…
What happens when there’s too many rappers? They hone each other. Red Pill, Mister, JP and Blaksmith sound so solidly attuned to the vibe, the heavy questions and inward gazing assessments, that Miles is going through here, particularly as Red Pill punches in: “You’re the only one who knows anything you’re living through / I don’t need drama / I’m not a teen so let me go put a beat on”
Anderson’s bassier remix makes “White Noise” feel like some kind of cathartic shadow boxing session, a meditative pummel with those grunted samples shouting silently under…a banjo and a cooing choir… Man, that’s some flavor, there. Still, every rapper joining Miles explores that idea of “just what, exactly, are we doing here?” Which leads to one of the more cerebral rap record you could hope for… where its like a shared memoir as told by a number of narrators imbued with a similar ideology that they’ve all developed together, through rapping together, writing together and just sorting through the shit of life, together.
“My real life is not my dream / I should fix that…”
Free Album Release show
May 30th at The Loving Touch (22634 Woodward)
featuring Kopelli (of Cold Men Young) along with other artists contributing to Wishing Tree: Britney Stoney, MOLA1, Charlie Beans and Tony Braggs