“The beat is the thing,” MC Kevroc philosophizes. “That's what you got to court. Beats keep you grounded. Beats keep you in touch with your core element. You do what the beat tells you.”
Sometimes it takes a while for the rest of the world to catch on to the rhythm that the beat dictates. Darc Mind is okay with that; they're used to defying convention. The duo is the brainchild of Queens, N.Y. producer GM Webb D and lyricist Kevroc. The work is nothing new, but that doesn't mean it sounds old. But it is old — almost a decade in fact, unburied from the vault, waylaid by Loud Record's 2002 liquidation and eschewed in legalities since they turned in the album in 1997. Finally, in 2006, Anticon released Symptomatic of a Greater Ill, a welcome déjà vu of mid-'90s hip-hop.
At its height, Loud Records boasted a hip-hop arsenal rooted in lyrical MCs: Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, Dead Prez and M.O.P. So what would've come of this album if it saw the light of day in 1997? Think Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and the Spice Girls saturation. In hip-hop, 1997 was the year of Eminem, Biggie, Jay-Z and 2Pac. And then there was the proliferation of the Alkaholiks, Beatnutz and a hot Loud Records film soundtrack called Soul in the Hole. That's where you'd find Darc Mind, which gained notoriety for its cut “Visions of a Blur.” By then they'd been at it for some time; Webb, who also produces as X-Ray, released his first track in 1989. True collectors will be hip to Darc Mind singles released on Ruffhouse Records in the mid-'90s.
But Darc Mind's rich catalog was and is an untapped reservoir both pre- and post-Loud, perhaps because it's fueled by the pure drive of making hip-hop for the love of it and not the promise. “We're going to do this regardless to take out tension,” Kevroc says. While they've stayed busy working on outside projects — X-Ray has scored soundtracks and collaborated with MF Doom and Public Enemy — they've continuously recorded, resulting in a library of music. “We want to hear us now. We think we got a little better,” he says.
Simultaneously, they're releasing Bipolar (Mind-benda, 2006), a mixtape of original tracks featuring much of their subsequent material but also some older cuts. “Bipolar kind of reflects different moods we went through at different times,” Kevroc says.
It's hard to tell the difference. The beats on releases old and new are bass heavy and busy — twisting and contorting — and complement Kevroc's deep baritone, which is offset by an authoritative East Coast inflection. (For a striking resemblance in cadence and tone, check out Scarface's 1994 track, “I Seen a Man Die.”) “I compare tracks to women,” Kevroc says. “They're flighty and temperamental and unstable. They're beautiful and symmetrical and elicit a response from me that is essential, attractive and blunt. By making a track like women, I can conceptually share it with other men.”
What's remained firmly intact is the partnership between MC and producer and their aptitude for studio harmony. They come from the old school — when the producer and MC vibed in the studio together, not from a beat CD, an MP3 or a WAV file. GM Webb D lays the foundation, toiling away at his gear to lay the brick. “We work with a lot of different sounds; we do play with tone,” Webb acknowledges. “That's kind of based off the bass line. You fill in the gaps that the beat doesn't.”
To execute his methodology, Webb sticks with the tried and true gear: “Some of the stuff I still use is the [E-mu] SP-1200 and an Akai S950. You can hear the filtered sounds. Now I use an [Akai] MPC2000, and I work with [unfiltered] samples, but I prefer our traditional method, using samples with [certain] tones filtered out. I'm stuck in my ways.”
Although Darc Mind's album resurrection harks back to studio time from '95 to '97, the story is far from over. “We're in the middle of doing the new album that will show that our music didn't change from that time to now,” Kevroc says. What's most fascinating is how an older record finds new love whenever it actually drops — Symptomatic was a time capsule worth waiting for.