Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.
Who They Are: A deeply unique experimental hip-hop ensemble from Newark, New Jersey, formed in the late 1990s, with MC dälek (a.k.a. Will Brooks) as their sole constant member and guiding luminary. The group’s membership has morphed and evolved over the decades, with key contributory roles at different times being played by Mike Manteca (the other current member), DJ still (a.k.a Hsi-Chang Lin, alas now deceased), Oktopus (a.k.a Alap Momin), Joshua Booth, DJ rEk and DJ Motiv. While dälek have made incredible music on their own over the years, they’ve also crafted extraordinary albums by collaborating with challenging experimental artists from ostensibly divergent musical traditions, including Faust, Zu, Destructo Swarmbots, and The Young Gods, among others. While their politicized flow is readily recognizable within the accepted parameters of modern hip-hip music, as a high-end, high-quality representation of the form, their beats are often freakish, weird, and far more industrial than others working their idiom, with atonal drones, processed squawks, and counter-intuitive samples anchoring the beds atop which Brooks works his extraordinary vocal magic.
When I First Heard Them: I arrived later to the dälek party than I’d prefer to admit, given how exceptional their early work was. The first disc of theirs I heard was 2009’s Gutter Tactics. At the time, I had a subscription to eMusic, an early alternative to iTunes, which often offered much better choices for listeners at the extreme ends of the musical spectrum, while Apple was still in empire-building mode. eMusic’s model was to give you a certain number of song credits each month, and if you didn’t use them you lost them, so that routinely forced me to find new stuff to download, lest I not maximize my expenditures on the site. I can’t tell you exactly what attracted me to sample Gutter Tactics at the eMusic site, but when I did, its opening track, “Blessed Are They Who Bash Your Children’s Heads Against a Rock,” utterly blew my mind by integrating a controversial sermon from Pastor Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (President and Mrs Obama’s home church for many years) with a killer drone groove, making titanic music out of something contextually sublime and subversive. The rest of that brilliant album lived up to that introductory moment, and then some, and I quickly acquired their back catalog, and have continued to stay abreast of their ongoing work. I named dälek’s 2017 release, Endangered Philosophies, as my album of the year, and I actively look forward to their continued creative story.
Why I Love Them: In my (admittedly weird) listening world, dälek sit at a particularly sweet (but small) spot in a musical Venn Diagram of my tastes where several themes and styles overlap. I’m a political beast by training (two degrees in political science and public policy), by profession (my entire working career has been anchored in the public sector), and by inclination (social justice warrior FTW!), and Will Brooks is as close to a perfect mouthpiece for what I believe and why I believe it as I have ever encountered. He’s a brilliant and insightful wordsmith, with the capability to turn his exceptional ruminations into rhythmic masterpieces, as a master MC with profound skills at the live mic and in the recording studio. That talent set alone would have likely put him high on my list of admired artists, but he’s also a stellar conceptualist when it comes to crafting and producing the sounds that underpin his vocal exercises, drawing less on traditional R&B or Gospel or Soul based “boom-bap” hip-hop beats than on the sorts of electronic loop-based mayhem perpetuated by the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Ministry, Swans, Faust and The Young Gods. It’s rare for me to find artists who speak to me as clearly in both their lyrical messaging and their musical intentions as dälek does, and I’m deeply appreciative for their genre-busting assaults on idioms that can often become dull through complacency or repetition. At bottom line, dälek never, ever fall into rote musical tropes, as they routinely build dense and rewarding structures of words and sounds, conventions be damned, normalcy be ignored, comfort be fully eschewed. They’re edgy, and sometimes the most thrilling experiences of our listening lives are at those sharp edges where we drop from a horizontal plane of familiarity into a vertical descent through crazy, thrilling weirdness, ignoring the peril associated with our falls into pools and pits of brilliance.
#10. “Ever Somber” from Absence (2004)
#9. “Guaranteed Struggle” from Asphalt for Eden (2016)
#8. “2012 (The Pillage)” from Gutter Tactics (2009)
#7. “Bricks Crumble” from Abandoned Language (2007)
#6. “Armed With Krylon” from Gutter Tactics (2009)
#5. “Corrupt (Knuckle Up)” from Abandoned Language (2007)
#4. “Gutter Tactics” from Gutter Tactics (2009)
#3. “The Son of Immigrants” from Endangered Philosophies (2017)
#2. “We Lost Sight” from Gutter Tactics (2009)
#1. “Opiate the Masses” from Absence (2004)