ARTIST: GENELEC & MEMPHIS REIGNS
ALBUM: SCORPION CIRCLES
LABEL (YEAR): HHI (2002)
FOR FANS OF: CANNIBAL OX, DELTRON 3030, BINARY STAR
Words by Gummo Clare
If you’ve come across this album before, you’ll know that it’s become pretty sought-after online – I saw a Youtube commenter offering $250 just for a CD version, and vinyl copies seem to be pretty much non-existent. Neither Genelec nor Memphis Reigns have released a huge amount, and there’s not that much information about the record floating around online; this obviously adds to the album’s mystique (and, presumably value).
But otherwise, on paper, this album doesn’t necessarily offer much to explain its cult status or differentiate it from the swathes of underground hip-hop released in the early 2000s: the sci-fi-influenced lyrical themes that reappear throughout the record, and the brooding production immediately suggest heavy influences from better-known peers. Most obvious is the connection with DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking production on Endtroducing….., with clear nods to his work appearing on a number of tracks – the ‘Organ Donor’-channelling beat on ‘Organisms’, and the drums-and-piano loop on ‘Prepare (Interlude)’ in particular show unmistakable signs of Shadow’s influence.
While, alongside Shadow, parallels between this album and the sound that drives artists on El-P’s Def Jux label (especially Cannibal Ox) are obvious, there is one clear difference. Where El-P often relies on density to create a sense of darkness in his beats, on Scorpion Circles Genelec’s approach is spartan, employing a limited selection of samples to create a taut and often unsettling sonic landscape. He employs drum loops that stray from the funk breakbeat key to the boombap sound, with a select few other samples drenched in reverb, providing a sparse backdrop for his own rhymes alongside Memphis Reigns. His occasional sampling of Indian, Turkish, and Japanese traditional instruments throughout the record reminds me of the some of Madlib’s production; it also provides a consistent and strong sense of identity to the album.
Another standout feature on the record is the sparing, but vital, use of scratching. At points scratched breaks almost serve as an extra voice – the best example being the close of track ‘Sunwheel’, where the final scratched ‘verse’, over a loping sitar and double-bass-driven beat rounds off what is the standout tune on the album. Similarly, DJ Gamma Ray’s scratch feature on ‘Anarchist Cookbook’, a track that, in its subject matter, draws parallels to MF Doom’s cartoonish supervillain narratives, feels like a separate voice in itself. As MCs, the pair are more inventive lyrically than they are in terms of delivery; however, Memphis Reigns’ flow, which often cuts across bar lines and often offers couplets in unexpected places offers an interesting counterpoint to Genelec’s relatively straight rhythmic approach.
This record is an underappreciated gem, and it’s a record that I’ve found myself constantly coming back to since I came across it a couple of years ago.