Edan Portnoy, who didn't have to look far for his 'Edan' rap moniker, is a Maryland native who specializes in rhyming, producing, and deejaying. Although he's classified under the more "alternative" banner when it comes to our chosen genre, he traffics in a love for the old school, filling his songs with samples, scratches, and flows reminiscent of the late 1980s and early 1990s whenever the mood calls for it. However, Edan is fully capable of bringing himself to the modern age whenever needed, as his "debut" album, Primitive Plus, proves.
Primitive Plus ended up being the first full-length project Edan would release, but it isn't really his debut: that honor would have to go to Architecture, which he recorded in his dorm room during his sophomore year at Berklee School of Music: only a handful of those songs ever saw the light of day as twelve-inch singles. After signing with Lewis Recordings, he scrapped his original effort and started recording anew, the result of which is the album that I'm stuck sitting here with while wondering why I decided that November would be a good time for a stunt month, what with the holidays and all of the Christmas shopping and all.
Primitive Plus was met with critical buzz and, as expected, low sales numbers, which people still equate with low quality product, but those people are fucking retarded. The songs run the gamut from parody to probably-should-be-parody, and that is meant as a compliment to the man's skills. Edan handled nearly every angle of the project himself, performing all of the rhymes (save for those provided by a couple of guest stars), handling all of the production (save for one short track), and lending the album all of its scratches, which firmly places it in the hip hop section of your mom-and-pop record store, where it collects dust to this day while everyone asks for the whereabouts of Drake's Take Care.
1. '83 WILDIN'
Serves as a rap album intro that is mostly instrumental, partially filled with vocal samples, and experimental all the way through, but with some dope-ass drums thrown in for good measure. This track sets the overall tone fairly well, and the creepy use of the Pac-Man music at the end leaves you with an unnerving feeling that is a tiny bit more frightening than anything Necro and the Insane Clown Posse were able to conjure up this month. Huh.
2. ONE MAN ARSENAL
The first real song on Primitive Plus features our host providing two verses and an outro over an old school-esque instrumental that hits hard up front, but leaves a hint of melody behind. The verses were okay enough: nobody's ever going to list Edan as their favoritest rapper ever, but he doesn't suck behind the mic by any means. Toward the end, he explains that he not only wrote and produced "One Man Arsenal", he also provided all of the deejay scratches, which not only gives you two some insight on just how hard he worled for the track to sound complete, it also helps confirm the accuracy of the title. Not bad.
3. HUMBLE MAGNIFICENT
The drums on this aptly-named track pound on your brain even more so than the previous song, which, in hip hop, can only be a good thing. The scratched-in vocal samples that make up the "chorus" are a bit off the wall and don't fit the proceedings quite as well, but Edan's two-and-three-quarter verses (he ends the final stanza prematurely to get ready for the next song) sound a lot better than he did on "One Man Arsenal". The shit-talking has also been kicked up a notch, which was nice.
4. MIGRAINE (ALMIGHTY DUST MIX)
Our host claims that he wants to take the listener back to the "golden age" with this track, a remix to a song that he released independently on a twelve-inch single back in 1999, but the instrumental on here smacks more of experimentation than it does the way old school rap used to sound. This is in no way a bad thing: although I didn't care much for the beat, I will admit that it helps move things along smoothly. Edan turns into his own version of Rakim behind the mic, unleashing a flow that hits many of the same points without tarnishing the man's image; as such, this comes off as a lovely homage to one of the best who ever did it.
5. KEY BORED
Our host spits a quickie over a looped sample from a Mozart composition (handled by DJ Eli), which means that he didn't have to pay for the sample. It makes you wonder why more producers don't just simply lift from classical music more often. Anyway, Edan kicks some of the most random shit on here, letting his mind float from subject to subject in that way only rappers can seem to pull off, so this wasn't that bad. Also, it being short (it doesn't even last for two minutes) helps tremendously.
6. EMCEES SMOKE CRACK
I wasn't feeling this one, but I appreciated Edan's attempt at a laid-back track after the last four songs.
7. #1 HIT RECORD
All sorts of ridiculous, but in a funny way. It's amusing the first time around, anyway. Our host's one-verse wonder is one of the goofiest performances on all of Primitive Plus, so as long as you look at this solely as an interlude and not an actual song, you're good.
8. SYLLABLE PRACTICE (ORIGINAL)
Edan helpfully explains during the intro that this song consists of "battle raps", which means that "[he] won't say anything significant...but it'll sound pretty". And for lack of a better way to put it, he's right: this does sound pretty. The instrumental is calming, but dope nonetheless, and our host's two verses weave around the drums and the melody with ease: even though you'll walk away convinced that Edan was clowning on how he believes underground hip hop actually sounded back in 2002, you'll still be entertained by the level of skill involved. Strange, that.
9. GOOD EVENING (SKIT)
An uncredited skit thrown in around the halfway mark. Kind of enjoyable, in its own way.
10. RAPPERFECTION (FEAT. MR. LIF)
Edan finally lets another rapper in on the fun, and the result is the winning "Rapperfection", which allows our host and Mr. Lif to deliver a single verse each over a banging beat. This song also happens to be the very first one on Primitive Plus that doesn't sound as though it were performed with tongue firmly planted in cheek: Edan comes across as your typical underground rapper on here. And in no way is that a bad thing: he sounds confident and sarcastic behind the mic all at once, and Lif complements his work with an excellent guest verse. Nice!
11. MIC MANIPULATOR
Meh. This was the first single released from Primitive Plus, too. Take that as you will.
12. PRIMITIVE PLUS
Edan performs alongside a higher-pitched version of himself (think The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Gimme The Loot", except on helium) over a beat derived solely from a human beatbox. This wasn't bad, but it isn't all that good, either. This title track is salvaged only by our host's actual rhymes, which are interesting enough to keep the listener, well, listening.
13. YOU SUCK (FEAT. FATHER TIME)
It would be too easy for me to write that this song sucks, but it isn't a very good representation of what Edan is capable of. The instrumental sounds kind of lazy, and the rhymes themselves are too cocky for someone in our host's position. I realize that I just trashed someone's rhymes for sounding "too cocky" in our chosen genre, where cockiness is pretty much the flavor of the day, but it is what it is.
14. RUN THAT SHIT!
An interesting study in contrasts, as Edan uses this smoothed-out instrumental to rap about robbing motherfuckers of increasingly absurd items (money, sneakers, earrings, a bagel, "your little brother", among others). This shit actually works because, even though it's all a goof, our host sounds like he's taking every single word seriously. The bit with the girl who sucks him off and is then forced to give up her jewelry at gunpoint straddles the line between wrong and really fucking wrong, but aside from that casual misstep (which was included merely because, well, this is a rap song, after all), "Run That Shit!" was pretty good.
15. ULTRA '88 (TRIBUTE)
This was kind of hilarious. Edan uses "Ultra '88 (Tribute)" to pay loving homage to the Ultramagnetic MC's-era Kool Keith by unleashing his impression of Keith Thornton on this quickie one-verse wonder. The strange thing is, even though it doesn't entirely work, it still connects with me, probably because there isn't anything malicious about it (as opposed to, say, Party Fun Action Committee's takedown of MC Paul Barman). His instrumental is also a decent Xerox of what Ultra was working with back in the day. The random shit being spewed at the very beginning is also funny as fuck, especially the absurd imagery of having a cheeseburger signed by Slick Rick in your freezer.
16. SYLLABLE PRACTICE (12" VERSION)
An alternate version of the track that appeared earlier, except without Edan engaging the listener by explaining what he's trying to do with the bars. As such, it fades into the background, never to be heard from again, unless it shows up at its cousin's wedding out of obligation or something.
An instrumental track to get us ready for the final song on Primitive Plus. Kind of nice in its own way.
18. SING IT, SHITFACE
Primitive Plus ends with a previously released track that slides into the tracklisting seamlessly. This song has more of a scatological focus than the rest of the project, which isn't a shock if you actually read the song's title above, but Edan's two verses are funny without betraying the fact that he's actually pretty good behind the mic. The chorus is grating to the ears, but it's all done with a smirk, so it's hard to get too upset.
After a brief period of silence, "Sing It, Shitface" finally segues into the final track on Primitive Plus.
LET'S BE FRIENDS
This was just a corny plea from Edan aimed at all other rappers to hang out. It's stupid enough to laugh at, but it isn't silly enough to warrant repeat listenings. It's probably best for all parties involved to pretend that "Sing It, Shitface" marked the true end of Primitive Plus.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Edan's Primitive Plus finds the midpoint between El-P and MC Paul Barman, if we really must compare underground rappers at this point (which, yes, yes we do). The rhymes alternate between straight parody and genuine wordplay, but for the most part, our host succeeds either way, and his work on the production side of things is impressive. Not every track on Primitive Plus works, as Edan sometimes allows his sillier impulses to get the best of him, but looking past that, this album is a surprisingly cohesive debut that showcases the best of what Edan is capable of accomplishing without dwelling too much on the mistakes. His obvious affection for hip hop also shines through, which may help the majority of you two succumb to Edan's charm. Primitive Plus was pretty good.
BUY OR BURN? I would recommend a purchase, but only if you enjoy your hip hop with a side of humor. Edan is an acquired taste that you may not take a liking to within the length of Primitive Plus, but there's enough good songs on here to make the effort anyway.
BEST TRACKS: "Humble Magnificent"; "Run That Shit!"; "Ultra '88 (Tribute)"; "Rapperfection"; "Syllable Practice (Original)"