(Jenke Records, digital download)
On their eponymous debut EP, Agent Slacker provide an example of why, according to Huffington Post, Burlington's Jenke Records is "an expression of rebellion in a society that is trapped within institutional conformities and down-the-road retirement plans." A hip-hop project helmed by a folk artist — that would be Jenke founder Tommy Alexander — Agent Slacker operate under the guiding principle of their cooperative label: that artists can and should be free to create and express whatever is inside of them.
Agent Slacker consist of Alexander and MC Humble — both veterans of hip-hop outfit Set Up City, who last year released their own debut via Jenke — and producer Loupo. Loupo navigates a variety of hip-hop sub-genres with his beats, providing the basis for Alexander and Humble's lyrical synergy. The two explore community issues and topics that inspire introspection — Humble with his expert verse delivery and Alexander with melodic hooks sung in a languid coolness à la Lou Reed.
After a quick "Introlude," the EP kicks off with the soothing, chillwave beat of "Meant to Be Free," a song title that could double as Jenke Records' slogan.
Next, "Mixed Up Man" evokes a minor-key progression reminiscent of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony circa E. 1999 Eternal. Here, Humble's verses shine as he tells the story of a man who is "watching and waiting and wondering why, giving to live and waiting to die."
"We Don't Care" has an ominous beat that lurks beneath lyrics about the perils of drug abuse. Intentionally, Humble's smooth cadence is at odds with Loupo's lurching rhythms, creating an appropriately discombobulating aesthetic. The song also marks the EP's catchiest employment of Alexander's breathy hooks, this one wet with reverb that's the sonic equivalent of a foggy drug haze.
The EP then winds toward a close with the penultimate track, "All Goes Quiet." Its politically inspired verses mirror Jenke's overarching creed of community inspiration. "Your Turn," a track colored by a soulful, J. Dilla-inspired Loupo beat, comes last.
Although a far cry from Alexander's previous folky releases, both solo and with his band Quiet Lion, Agent Slacker embodies Jenke Records' mission to "empower individuals to pursue their dreams in the arts." It's a collaborative work that draws on the varied backgrounds and talents of its creators, as well as on the creative spirit of the community in which it was conceived and aims to serve. More importantly, this is just some damn good, head-boppin' hip-hop.
Agent Slacker by Agent Slacker is available at tommyalexander.bandcamp.com.