Imagine Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad detonating explosives under the prog-rock grooves of German experimental behemoths, Can. These ideas seem mutually exclusive, but they're not. The evidence is in the shrapnel funk of Late Pass, the third album from Anticon co-founder, Jel. As the scarred vocals of the title track instruct: don't get too comfortable. If you're unfamiliar with the Chicago-bred, Bay-area based producer/rapper born Jeffrey Logan, he’s on the shortlist for best indie rap producer of the last decade. Admittedly, this sort of hyperbole comes standard issue in one-sheets, but Jel has the necessary resume.
His career traces back to Deep Puddle Dynamics, a group featuring Slug of Atmosphere and Jel’s frequent collaborator, Doseone. Later forming Subtle, Themselves, and 13 & God, Jel and Dose’s blitzkrieg experimentations remain visionary and futuristic—they're also among the few times rock and rap have ever successfully gotten high together. Most recently, Jel co-produced the Kenny Dennis EP and C.A.R. with Odd Nosdam for label mate, Serengeti, two similarly brilliant blends of high concept ideas, hover-converted boom bap, and the occasional rib tip sandwich.
On paper, it seems a little strange that Late Pass is only his third official solo record. But not when you consider it’s meticulousness. Samples, hard-slapping drums, and damaged vocals are stitched with surgical precision. Six years in the making, Late Pass was casually co-produced by Odd Nosdam at his cottage studio, Burnco Berkeley, just blocks from the legendary Fantasy Studios. And it was at Fantasy that engineer Jesse Nichols assisted on the album's final mix, blowing the icing off the cake with the very same model SSL mixing board that Dr. Dre favored throughout the late 80's and 90's. In a 2006 online Q & A for Esquire Magazine, Jel expressed to Quincy Jones that "It's never too late man, never too late to take as much time needed to finish an album, to finish it right." Late Pass was fully baked by mastering guru Daddy Kev. “The title came from how I was just late in delivering a third album and how motherfuckers are late onto me,” Jel says. “It represents where I'm at right now. I’m not falling the fuck off. I’m not getting super large. I’m doing my thing.”
His thing is successfully reconciling warring ideas. It’s noisy and intense but it swings enough to make your head nod. It’s a psychedelic sample collage, but one that avoids the usual clichés. It isn’t trippy or cinematic. It will leave you dizzy, not because of a druggy vibe, but because your face has been slapped and your head spun around several times. You might recognize some of your favorite rap lines turned distorted and sunburned. This outlook is buried in the observational raps—it’s paranoid and skeptical, the personal as political. “Sometimes the inspirations came from walking around outside, sometimes they would come from a Boots Riley song,” Jel said. “We're an easily seduced culture in a twisted tornado of cell phones and information overload. As a response, I kept things a little more minimal. I didn't want to over do the drums. I wanted to get my point across.” This point appears from the first seconds of the album—when the MPC starts to punch and the drums start to kick—and the impact is bayonet sharp.