Distantstarr keeps repping introversion and self-reliance on new mixtape Fine
Earlier this month, Philadelphia producer and emcee Distantstarr released Fine, a new mixtape that combines his psychedelic production and sound collaging with wry honesty. In eight curious tracks totaling less than eighteen minutes, the hip-hop artist brings us along on an introverted trip, and he explains how he’s gotten so comfortable with himself.
Distantstarr has been a prolific contributor to the local beats scene fo almost a decade, though his tastes have kept shifting throughout that time. His Bandcamp catalog — the most extensive collection of his output — dates back to 2012 and contains nineteen different releases, including six releases in the time since The Key caught up with him in February 2018.
Some of his earlier mixtapes relied heavily on synthesizer sounds and reverberation, but Fine presents the same scratchy, sample-heavy soundworld as his more recent releases like Distant and Mute, his collaboration with Mute Won from last August. Soul basslines, tight percussion and chilly keyboard cuts rule here. Throughout the tape, DS shows his affinity for the work of other futuristic producers like Madlib and Flying Lotus, who both have a penchant for moody sample collages. On a few different tracks, including opener “What Do I Know?,” contrasting instrumental patterns fade into one another like dreams. Many of DS’s samples are unexpectedly muffled and dry, which makes for a dark, claustrophobic mix on the statement track “Slide.”
“Don’t Panic” creeps forward with ringing organ and cymbal samples, but without any snare drum sounds on 2 and 4; during one instrumental break, the whole mix suddenly jumps to the left channel, then to the right, then back to center. The many surprising moments that find his entire tracks tilting, twitching, and glitching make Distantstarr’s work on Fine best enjoyed in headphones, alone — although live realizations of these experiments could certainly prove compelling.
DS explores the sensation of aloneness on this tape in his lyrics, too. He eulogizes the powerful crowd-oriented hip-hop from New York’s past (DS grew up in NYC) by dropping names like Big Pun and Onyx, but he concedes that their world is no longer around for him to inhabit. “Ain’t been ruckus since Onyx was buzzin’,” he raps on “Slide.” Later, he disparages the young rappers who he sees obsessed with glamour: “Hip-hop drowned and this new thing sucks / It’s been outweighed by the worry for ducats.” DS insists he isn’t looking for sold-out crowds, and his simple passion is the work; throughout Fine, this credo sounds quite genuine.
Elsewhere, he promotes self-fulfillment through self-reliance and disconnection. Some of these quips come off as braggadocious, (“Nothin’ to prove, so my mood been zen”) but some sound like humble descriptions of his everyday lifestyle. “Slide” begins with an anonymous monologue about Zen meditation and enlightenment: “We should just sit without any expectation, even enlightenment. Because we practice in order to get enlightenment, and that is desire. Desire, or egocentric desire, is still working there inside your truth.” He also also balances his inner seeking with a personal flexibility that makes his outlook as selfless and post-human as it is introverted: “Good riddance to the ones that think they got it all figured” (“Slide”). “Grow like this planet / No need to panic” (“Don’t Panic”).
When DS frames his anti-materialism and creative independence in the context of humble spirituality, he makes Fine into something surprisingly approachable and candid, even with all the disorientation in his music. And as quiet Bandcamp releases become more common for producers like him, these introverted experiments in independent seeking provide a testament to the new emotional spaces into which hip-hop continues to creep. Sometimes, these spaces offer solitude.