Review: Monster Rally and Jay Stone’s Hip-Hop Vacation, ‘Foreign Pedestrians’
Release Date: January 26, 2015
Label: Gold Robot Records
The pairing of producer Monster Rally (real name: Ted Feighan) and rapper Jay Stone is the kind of musical kismet that’s much rarer than you’d hope. Feighan was an exotica-tinged Los Angeles hip-hop producer in a Clams Casino vein, but tinged with the cinematic majesty of Air and the globe-trotting euphoria of the Avalanches, with a couple of instrumental albums under his belt. Looking for an MC to pair with, he found one in Stone — an Oakland-based spitter reminiscient of Curren$y and MF Doom, who’d become increasingly stream-of-consciousness over his handful of EPs and was looking to do something a little different. Based on their first collaboration together — the Foreign Pedestrians LP, out this week — it’s the union that both have been waiting for their whole careers, whether they realized it or not.
From the opening minute, the starkest thing about the album is its sheer sunniness. In a rap world increasingly dominated by the nocturnal bass rumblings of DJ Mustard and the trap-derived grandiosity of Mike WiLL Made It, it’s more than a little jarring to hear songs like “Lake Merritt” and “Parthenogenesis,” which practically sound like they’re auditioning to theme a remake of A Summer Place. With sweeping strings and woodwinds, gently brushed drums and crackling vinyl sound effects, it’s hip-hop as musical escapism — something the genre has seemed to have very little interest in of late — but grounded enough in its DJ Premier-esque looping and drum programming to keep from floating away entirely.
It’s not just the production, though — the record’s summery vibe has just as much to do with Stone, who skates over the beats with impressive nimbleness and rapid-fire wit. His verses are jam-packed with dextrous, evocative phrasings like, “That nigga just ate a whole Bible / And now he think he Jesus” and “Broke down the door ’cause them bitches wouldn’t let us in / Killed a bigot’s son with expired epinephrine pen.” He manages to be verbose without being overwhelming, free-associative without coming off scattered. and there’s a laid-back openness and willingness to go with the flow in his rhyming that fits the sonic expansiveness of the music. (Halfway into “Parthenogenesis,” he remarks, “Wait, I think this joint is laced,” and his verse instantly down-pitches to a sub-baritone moan for the rest of the song, an amusing trick that stops just short of being distracting.)
At just seven songs and 22 minutes (twice that if you count the instrumentals of each track, which appear in the same order after the album proper is through), Foreign Pedestrians is as brisk and enjoyable a listen as you’ll find in early 2015. There may be a kind of inherent retroness to the album, by virtue of both the ’50s and ’60s-style soundscapes that Feighan samples and of the ’90s-era influences that clearly weigh heavily on the sound and style of both rapper and producer, but a large part of that feeling just comes from the fact that there’s so little out there in hip-hop right now that sounds like this. And based on how satisfying their debut effort is, it may have been something we were missing more than we realize — and something it’s tough not to crave more of once the too-brief LP is over.
We spoke over Google Hangouts with Ted and Jay to talk about the how they ended up pairing together, some of their favorite producer/rapper team-ups of the past, and the importance of IPAs to the duo’s history.
SPIN: So who wants to tell the story of how you guys got connected?
Jay Stone: Well, after my first EP [Melodious Miscreant] was released in fall 2012, Hunter [Mack, Gold Robot Records founder] heard my music and sought me out through a mutual friend of ours. He thought my lyrical approach would work well with Ted’s eclectic style of music. He introduced us through e-mail, then we just started corresponding with one another.
Monster Rally: Hunter and I had been going back and forth about potential MCs to do a Monster Rally album with, but no one really stuck out until we both heard Jay.
Was there a line or a song of Jay’s that you heard where you really saw the potential fit, or was it just his overall style?
MR: Not a particular lyric, but I heard Melodious Miscreant and loved it. The track “Pursuit of Perfection” was a real standout. I knew from hearing a few of Jay’s tracks that he really knew how to navigate a weird beat, and that’s pretty unique.
Had you ever rapped over stuff like Ted’s before, Jay? Or had interest in that kind of sweeping, sample-based, exotica-influenced stuff?
JS: Not really. I was use to more boom-bap types of beats. I was ready to expand myself, though. I was ready to evolve, and make something different than my previous work. Ted’s music was perfect for that.
So what was the first collaboration you guys did? Did you test the waters a little before committing to doing the whole album together?
MR: Yeah, I sent Jay a few beats at first. We hadn’t planned on doing a full album right away, but after we did the first track I think we both knew we had to do the album.
JS: I think the first song I wrote and recorded was “No Cilantro” back in like mid-2013. There wasn’t any plans to do a whole album. We were just experimenting at first.
MR: Jay sent me that track with the rough vocals, though, and I knew we were all good. I probably listened to that 100 times right when I got it.
Did you notice yourself changing up your production style at all to play to Jay’s strengths?
MR: For sure, I knew that I wanted to keep things very simple and let Jay do this thing. I wanted to strike a good balance of between our styles and create something that when Jay did the vocals over it, it would sound unique to us. It still has the sort of typical Monser Rally light exotica style, but it’s a bit harder than that, and funkier.
Have you guys gotten together in the studio at all, or on stage? Are there plans to?
MR: I made a couple rough versions of the beats for the album when Jay was at my place a little over a year ago. Other than that we’ve produced everything separately.
JS: Yeah, I remember that night… we were vibing hard, that was really fun.
MR: IPAs and banana bread.
JS: Homemade banana bread!
There’s an IPA reference on the album too, right? You guys big fans?
JS: Huge fans!
MR: For sure, I’m a big IPA fan and I know Jay knows his beers.
JS: I should get a sponsorship from Stone IPA, ha!
I’m a rank amateur when it comes to IPAs, you got any recommendations for beginners?
MR: The Golden Road brewery in L.A. has an IPA series that is really great.
JS: Lagunita’s Little Somethin’… one of my favorites!
You guys have any favorite producer/rapper teamups? Present-day or historical?
MR: Eric B. and Rakim of course. Guru and Primo [DJ Premier]. The killer trio… RZA, Ghostface, and Rae.
JS: Madvillain, Nas & Large Professor, Pete Rock & C.L. Even those early Kanye West and Jay Z tracks are so amazing.
What’s the reception been like so far? Do you feel like you guys are getting more fans, new fans by joining forces?
MR: Most people have been really cool and responsive to the album. I think a lot of MR fans were waiting for something like this and they’re really happy to hear it.
JS: I’ve been getting a lot of dope feedback and response from people. Definitely getting more fans.
MR: My mom loves the album so that’s all that matters.
JS: Right! My mom and dad are stoked on this album.