QUANTUM LEAP: Time Machine have graduated from stank rap shows to swank gigs.
I knew a girl named Juliette who moved to Queens in her junior year of high school. She was foxy; homegirl pulled off white lipstick and hoop earrings like she was auditioning for a Cool J video. Only problem was that she spent her first few months banging losers. By the time Juliette realized her mistake, she had to service a parade of jocks and thugs to arrive atop the social stratosphere.
Time Machine remind me of Juliette. After toiling for years on underground hip-hop’s stylistic and thematic fringes — and seducing lame beat and rhyme aficionados like myself — Jet Set Jay (formerly Jaysonic), Biscuit (formerly Comel), and Mekalek realized that to win popularity contests they needed much cooler friends.
But even though there will be far more candy-colored Pumas than oversized white T-shirts at Time Machine’s Middle East show next Thursday, the group have not attitudinally assimilated with their arrogant dance-happy hipster contemporaries. They prove as much by offering me a glimpse of how it feels to graduate from stank rap shows to swank gigs with the likes of Yo Majesty, the Cool Kids, and Roxy Cottontail.
“Scenes change rapidly, and now more rapidly than ever,” Jay explains by phone from Time Machine’s Los Angeles compound. “The fact that the music we’re making now is appealing to a broader audience is great, but at the end of the day it wasn’t designed for anybody in particular.”
Mekalek, who handles Time Machine’s sophisticated bouncy backdrops, is still negotiating the upgrade. “I think it’s great that we’re finding people outside of that core traditional hip-hop audience, but by the same token I’m personally a hip-hop dude, so I’m hoping that it appeals to those kids too.”
A few spins of Time Machine’s new Life Is Expensive reveals that the trio haven’t tripped far outside their know zone. On the OutKast-caliber “Something We’re Becoming,” Mekalek remains one of the few hip-hop purists who can juxtapose Beat Street æsthetics and progressive flair. And on topic-heavy cuts like “We’re Making a Video” and “Survival Kit,” Jay and Biscuit still juggle arcane and existential concepts like George and Jerry, Freud and Jung, and Harold and Kumar.
“When we made Slow Your Roll, we were meat-and-potatoes hip-hop kids, and it was our first time cooking up an album,” says Biscuit. “If I’m going to stick with the kitchen analogy, I guess this time we were comfortable using different spices and endive and all of that shit to make our own flavors.”
Given that Time Machine’s new flavors are comparable to such past genius offerings as “Who Needs a Mic?” and “Personal Ads,” it’s clear that the group’s only significant shift is their realization that life is far too expensive to rely on kids in flat-billed New Era caps who don’t buy music. As Jay says on “Something We’re Becoming”: “When we were young we thought you shouldn’t do things for the money/But that’s before we knew the things that money could do/Like if your day is cloudy, cash won’t make it sunny/But if it’s already sunny, it can buy you a pool.”
If there’s a message here, it’s that it’s no use regretting past blunders; in this Time Machine, it’s impossible to travel back and make adjustments. For Jay, Biscuit, and Mekalek, the only logical maneuver is to find the in-crowd, get promiscuous, and, of course, hope that your old dork friends will still be waiting when this materialistic neon rap scene dries up like Juliette.
TIME MACHINE + XO SKELETONS + INNERPARTYSYSTEM + DJ MICHAEL SAVANT + DJ E-MARCE | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | May 8 | 617.864.EAST