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Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

March 12, 2010 at 6:33 AM

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Beacon Hill Rap&B group Helladope releases "Helladope," celebrates with a concert at Nectar 03/12/10

Posted by Andrew Matson

Jerm (L) and Tay Sean (R) of Helladope

"Just So You Know" by Helladope

"Rainwater" by Helladope

Today, Beacon Hill Rap&B group Helladope puts out its debut album, "Helladope," and celebrates with a concert at Nectar in Fremont.

Before we go any further, a note on the name. In an accidental and PG-13 way, it expresses the kind of "if you don't get it, it's not for you" thing I love so much about hiphop (see: slang, graffiti, etc.). I've met several people who simply cannot say "Helladope" without making a face and pausing between "hella" and "dope" like they're embarrassed about what's coming out of their mouth. But I digress.

"Helladope" contains no fewer than three minor Seattle classics of fusion-y future-funk sing-rap ("Just So You Know," "Rainwater," "Shine On") and a range of other songs, many revolving around outer space in sound and lyrical content.

Throughout the album, the rapping and singing are excellent, with Tay Sean's nasally tenor perfectly foiled against man Jerm's sandy midrange. The former is in his early 20s, the latter in his late 20s, and they rap with different energy levels and precision requirements. Where Tay Sean's words pile up at the ends of rhymes, crashing in on each other, Jerm has more of a steady flow, and also a real gift for taking up space on a track, not rapping but not exactly singing, either. His refrain on "Just So You Know" is particularly memorable, but doesn't look like anything on paper: "Absolutely, positively Positively, absolutely out to get this party movin'."

Courtesy Tay Sean, the backing tracks on "Helladope" go several different synthesizer-y ways, showing the artist developing rapidly, trying new styles fearlessly. There is really no template for "Mind Shiftin," a song that would sound nothing like hiphop were it not for guest star Rajnii rapping on it. It's a quick-skipping, downward-moving beat with watery keys in the background.

There's a fizzy/aluminum can thing happening on "This Is My Planet" and "Cosmic Voyage," but "Gods On a Mission" is totally different, held down by smooth electric piano and fingersnaps. Sneak-attack strings and an agitated keys melody give "We Come In Peace" a paranoid feel. "The Soul Electric" could have been in a late '80s rapsploitation movie ("Breakin'," anyone?), its electro-synth composition made for popping and locking.

The songs are creative, all, but some have elements that could be done without: the shouty chorus on "We Come In Peace" (does it need to be so loud?), the incongruous Chrisette Michelle-style vocal hook by Isabella Du Graf on "Gods On a Mission" (not that it's bad, it just sounds like it was copied and pasted from another song).

Every time greatness is thwarted on "Helladope," I just go back and listen to "Just So You Know," "Rainwater," or "Shine On."

"Just So You Know" invents a new dance music (Swingstep? Grownstep?). "Rainwater" is sweeping, crushing, romantic synth-R&B/house; it sounds like "Thriller" at the roller rink. "Shine On" is rap that turns on a dime and erupts in joyous song. All three will kill at Nectar tonight.

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