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EP Review: Dust by Serengeti

I’ll admit it: I’ve got a soft spot for Serengeti’s “new” EP.

Released on Spotify just in the last few weeks, Dust, the collection of six songs was recorded in the early-mid 2000s with producer DJ Crucial in St. Louis.

Serengeti—real name David Cohn—is a Chicago-based hip hop artist who grew up somehow not in the local hip hop scene but, in many regards, against it. He’s been cited as describing modern hip hop trends as “depressing”; much of his oddball, left-field style was developed both at college (with others such as Open Mike Eagle and Hannibal Buress) and afterward as he spent a year in Europe “learning how to make music.”

According to an interview I conducted with him, Cohn claimed that Dust only took about five hours to record.

“I just showed up and rapped while Crucial played beats,” he said.

Before its Spotify release, Dust’s songs were only available on YouTube, giving it an underground, mystical quality which was initially what attracted me to it. With low-budget, almost stock image–esque music video art, the EP’s tracks were shrouded in vagueness and mystery that other underground bands—such as Animal Collective or George Clanton (both still arguably underground)—couldn’t really achieve with theirs.

And I fell in love pretty quickly with the YouTube version of “Chi Ali.” I initially had no idea where it came from; it seemed almost as if it were something Serengeti uploaded to YouTube just for me to see and appreciate.

Dust documents, pretty well, a unique place in Serengeti’s discography. Specifically, his transition to his earlier, more serious style to his later, eclectic M.O. (e.g. what would later be explored on concept albums such as 2006’s Dennehy and the 2012-and-on saga of Kenny Dennis, a fictional blue-collar Chicago rapper). Cohn, soon after Dust, began to adopt a Zappa-like penchant for parody and satire; this EP is humor drenched in reality.

The EP is, more than anything, summery; the sampling and production don’t attempt to confuse or hide anything from the listener. There is nothing secret, sinister or overly-complex about the EP. It’s accessible, enjoyable and—above all—a great introduction to the artist. It’s a fantastic example of underground hip-hop without the negative connotations of “underground” music (read: unsophisticated). Though its tracks are densely layered with samples and Serengeti’s typical tongue-in-cheek wordplay, the EP is approachable, listenable and digestible. It’s a warm, open Cohn—his attempt to really just have fun with a project (see: Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion).

The EP’s opening and title track is a warm, welcoming beginning to the following five songs. The beat is pacey and bright, acting almost as a friend to the listener being introduced to the artist. And, like with most of Cohn’s music, it deals primarily with being a burnout—or, more specifically, depressingly average (“The strip club got sold/Turned into Cash 4 Gold/Wanted to be a food stylist/Ended up at Little Caesar’s, oh”). It’s a Serengeti track in the best way possible.

The third track, “Foster Brother”, is the closest thing to “lo-fi hip hop beats to study/chill out to” Serengeti has ever done. The crackly, low-fidelity piano sample adds structure to the old-school drum loop, providing the track Cohn’s classic eclectic signature.

“Chi Ali” is a Serengeti classic—a frustrated story about the expectations (and inevitable failures) of love and marriage. It’s a topic Cohn explores comprehensively throughout the rest of his discography, especially in songs like “Geti Life” off his 2012 album C.A.R. and “California” from 2011’s Family & Friends. Bars about marriage’s “honeymoon stage” (“I met my wife on ice/She agreed with everything and we were so nice/Like a nun, and everything is still fun”) followed up by lyrics about its grievances (“Everybody’s pissed ‘cause she always had sun/Like no fair, why does she get to tan so much?/All I do is work and have no time to eat lunch/Or smoke blunts”).

More or less a look into Serengeti’s musical history, Dust is more than just that; the EP holds its weight as a classic in Cohn’s canon, offering something for almost anybody who listens. 8/10.

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