“Nostalgia,” from Word Art Gallery, starts with a languidly funky beat, then a sample of swooping strings, horns calling out in response. It’s all evocative of something sweetly emotional. But New Haven-based MC Old Self has something a little more complicated in mind. He leads with humor first. “Illest rapper this side of my comb-over / International zone coaster, hold the door open,” he raps. Then comes references to Britney Spears, Lay-Z-Boys, Sammy Sosa. It’s nostalgia for pop culture. “I’m a grown person searching Earth’s surface,” he raps. Then the lyrics suddenly turn more serious, a nostalgia for youth that goes deeper than a Barcalounger.
“Living in the past ‘cause the present and future hurts,” he raps, and means it. But then follows it up with: “Like assembling Ikea furniture.”
Old Self — a.k.a. Brian Springsteen — is celebrating the release of Word Art Gallery with a show at Cafe Nine on April 28. Old Self will be supported by The Karma Kids, Big Breakfast, and Erik Lamb, featuring DJ Mo Niklz. Sotorios Fedeli, the MC from Political Animals, will host the entire evening.
There’s reason for a party. Old Self has been gracing New Haven’s stages for some time now as a supporting figure in hip hop shows around town, but here he steps into the spotlight as an artist with something to say. It begins with the bait and switch on a dime, from funny and self-deprecating to suddenly earnest and revealing. He’s an MC with ideas who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and that turns out to be an engaging recipe.
He cooks it up again, on “Word Art” — accompanied by an appropriately tongue-in-cheek video — when he cleverly describes himself as “part Pauly Shore / part Al Borland / Find me at the b-ball court / Or the Caldor bargain bin / Partially parched / Puffin’ a part of a Parliament / On the weekend seekin’ a parkin’ spot to party in / Green hat, yellow cardigan / Chuck D and Lars Ulrich in an argument.”
But earlier in the song is a line that sticks in the brain as much as any political pundit does. “What a time to be alive in America,” he raps. “It’s like a wack hallucination / I’m losing patience.” Aren’t we all?
Old Self has found a worthy collaborator in producer Headtrip, who matches the MC’s inventive lyrics with tracks that match heavy beats with more playful elements, deft use of samples, and just the right leavening of live instruments. Alto saxophonist Chris Coles makes welcome appearances on three songs, including “The Remix,” which he floats around a groove laid down by sampled drums and live bass and keys by Matthew DeRubertis and Phillip Anderson, respectively. On this song, Old Self trades verses with Headtrip himself. The subject? Tired movie franchises. It’s all in good fun as the MCs reveal their distate for — and the fact that they watched — a slew of not-so-great movies.
But in the middle of all that, again, is an idea that sticks, in a way that makes it feel like it’s making a point that’s bigger than bad movies, bigger than pop culture. It might even be a little political.
“The franchise is on its last leg / But it focused group so well / We already rebranded / And it didn’t boost sales,” Old Self raps.
“I mean, we’re only human / What can we do to help?” Headtrip asks.
And Old Self responds: “Have you tried shutting it down and letting it reboot itself?”
Old Self appears at Cafe Nine on April 28 with The Karma Kids, Big Breakfast, and Erik Lamb, featuring DJ Mo Niklz. Click here for tickets and more information.