We’re Not Acting Here
Darren Cunningham, better known as Actress, is the real article. His music drives that point into the bullseye, and the music is all that’s needed. His Ghettoville album is the direct antithesis to any point about hip-hop or electronic music that may have been made at this year’s Grammy awards, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.
Ghettoville is harsh, dark and largely unfriendly, yet occasionally catchier than anything on the airwaves today. The curtain rises on “Forgiven,” a clanging seven minutes of rust that could be the backdrop to any rainy alleyway or dank subway tunnel. Actress’ tone throughout the album continues in this fashion, creating a lengthy and atmospheric piece that combines the gritty allure of hip-hop with the bleak reality of life in… well, Ghettoville.
“Street Corp” creates its own rhythm in a sea of static that answers to no time signature. Further into the record, tracks like “Rims” bring in a more beat-oriented voice with the stripped down minimalism one might expect from RZA and his ilk. Actress periodically runs into more lush and aurally complex arrangements, but his strengths really shine when he restricts himself to bare rhythm.
Dance-friendly territory is largely uncharted in Ghettoville until the mid-album drop of “Birdcage,” which still manages to be off-putting in its own way. “Gaze” later brings up the dancehall vibe once more, only to drop it again into a barren landscape of concrete beats in the next cut. Melody creeps into a few tracks, but the album tends to focus in on rhythm– hard, fuzzy, rusted rhythm with none of the glitz that seems to pervade the ghetto-fab sensibilities of so many of the more mainstream hip-hop producers and artists.
Ghettoville is bleak. If it was a color, it would be gray. If the album suffers from one flaw, it’s a lack of direction. There’s no distinct beginning, middle, or end here, making it difficult not to treat the record as a compilation of tracks rather than a truly completed work. Nevertheless, it begs a listen. Actress composes every song to the contrary of contemporary hip-hop conventions, bringing what some might call a corrupted art-form back to its roots.