In 2018, while Kanye West was leading the infamous GOOD Music sessions in Wyoming, he also took the time to listen to Chicago EP rappers da Hellcat and Olskool Ice-Gre. Under the name Abstract Mindstate, the duo had worked with West on their first and second albums in the early 2000s, but a stroke of bad luck and worse derailed the duo’s career. In Wyoming, their fortunes improved after one of their old mixtapes helped West overcome writer’s block. In return, he offered to bring them together and produce them. Dreams always inspire captures the joy and bonhomie of this impromptu reunion, celebrating the couple’s legacy and their wayward path back to rap.
Abstract Mindstate recorded their album between their day jobs as Behavioral Therapist (Hellcat) and A&R for GOOD Music (Olskool). Sparks didn’t immediately fly – they hadn’t recorded together in years, and Hellcat’s creativity suffered in the meantime. “Greg has never stopped writing. It was like pulling teeth for me, ”she said. Recount Rolling stone. Some days I was in tears—[thinking about] all these dope rhymes I was writing, and now I can’t write a line anymore. Guided by detailed coaching from West, the two embraced this urge to restore what had been lost.
The resulting record is decidedly nostalgic. Abstract Mindstate has always been a returning band, from “I loved itTheme from their first song “Rhythm” to “Nostalgia” on the nose, which features, of course, Common. Here, that retro aesthetic lingers on and beckons to a bygone golden era of clever puns and moral authority. “We’re talking clarity, we’ve never mumbled it,” Hellcat says in “Greetings (Intro),” drawing a line in the generational sand. In interviews, they have described their music as “contemporary adult hip-hop,” something too light to take seriously. Between Quelle Chris, Jean Grae, Run the Jewels, and Armand Hammer, along with fellow Chicagoans like Noname, Saba, and Open Mike Eagle, the kind of lyrical conscious rap that Abstract Mindstate claims to resurrect with their return has never even entered into. State of shock .
This white lie to revitalize art, however, gives the couple confidence. Their performances, sometimes a little wobbly, overflow with energy and catharsis. “I’m back with my first love / It’s like my first time / I’m back in the studio / It’s not my first rhyme,” Olskool says on “I Feel Good”, his voice echoing. Hellcat echoes that sentiment on “Expository Mode”, rapping, “It’s a wonderful feeling to be back in the booth / Because being back in the booth / It’s like reliving my youth.” Her verse stops at the end of the line as if stunned by her own longevity. Upon opening “Greetings (Intro)”, she calls West Mr. Glass, using “Through the Wire” as the timestamp.
West’s rhythms are adapted to this evocative atmosphere. The samples are distinctly nostalgic, incorporating tracks from Abstract Mindstate songs, multiple snippets of the hip-hop soul aesthetic from GOOD Music 1.0 and tweens by Brand Nubian (“I Know You”) and 2Pac (“The Brenda Song” ). The battery programming is simple and neat, the low end vacant. And there are few maximalist sequels or changes of pace that have been mainstays of West’s production over the past decade. Throughout the album’s 31 minutes, there’s no doubt that Old Kanye is at the console.
In 1994, when Abstract Mindstate met, another Chicagoan, William Upski Wimsatt, coined “Chicago Syndrome” to describe the city’s neglected status in the music industry. As New Yorkers and Angelenos were awarded recording deals, and Windy City rappers bemoaned the lack of opportunities, Wimsatt argued that the people “who get the most out of hip-hop are the ones who do it just for their own good. Those who work their butt just because it makes them feel alive. The quote is arrogant, but it captures the sense of sustenance and rapture that drives Dreams always inspire. Most of us will never have our dead passion resuscitated by the whims of a megastar, but for Abstract Mindstate it happened, and they had the time of a lifetime.
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