Malcolm Palmer | Between The Womb And The Tomb (Orange Van)

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Man, white boys sure have it rough—in hip-hop that is. With Between the Womb and the Tomb, singer/songwriter/poet/philosopher Malcolm Palmer releases his fifth album, his premiere foray into rap, and explores the rap aesthetic that can only be achieved by a musician deeply seeded in folk and soul roots.

Whenever a genre-crossing artist releases an album, the first instinct is to define the influence and motivation of the artist. In this case, Palmer attributes his sound to his upbringing by his singer-songwriter mother in Albuquerque, N.M. When he struck out on his own, he moved up to Chicago to Humboldt Park where, having already been exposed to hip-hop, his interest in performing the art began to pique. His rhymes are poetic and reflective with very little melodic inflection, and possess an unmistakably folky rasp. However, the backing music is not what you would expect from anything with “rap” in his genre listing. The moods swing through twangy acoustic guitar, violin, even sitar, but there is nary a drum program or loud, blinged-out brother screaming “yeah!” to be heard.

That said, it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact, as far as any folk-rap attempts I’ve heard, Palmer has a pretty good sound. The band is very crisp and well produced, and his voice, though slightly monotone during the verses, is gravelly and interesting. His rap is fiercely antiestablishment, deeply poetic, highly stylized to flow over the folk beat, and in tune with some of the issues discussed in underground rap. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the music is its sung hooks, which are quite good. From praise to his muse (“Thank you music/thank you words/without you this poor boy would be of no worth”) to rage toward the government (“Fuck the almighty dollar and everything it touches/all these possessions, mental obstructions/man and his money and his soul seduction”), Palmer’s lyrics really stand out.

The harshest criticism I could advance toward the disc is that it should not, strictly speaking, be considered rap. Poetry-laden folk music isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept, and aside from the tracks talking about prostitutes, I don’t see a ton of similarities between Palmer and even the fringes of underground hip-hop. To call Malcolm Palmer a rapper would be to call Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down to Georgia” a club banger, and I’m just not sure I can just call something rap because the artist/poet isn’t singing the verse. Definitely take a moment to listen to the disc, though, especially if you like folk music, as Palmer has a lot of interesting stuff to say before he reaches the tomb.

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