Still Too Anonymous
Sean Anonymous and Dimitry Killstorm have been busy kindling a reputation in their native Minneapolis. Following the road paved by elder statesmen Atmosphere and Eyedea, the rapper and the producer have maintained a steady output since 2005, their persistence earning them Warped Tour slots and local acclaim. Better Days — their first full-length collaboration outside their group Wide Eyes — presents itself as a next step forward, but largely fails to deliver.
First, it should be acknowledged that becoming even a moderately-proficient emcee takes work and dedication. Or raw talent (though, as creative processes are increasingly demystified, “talent” reveals itself to be just hard work with greater pretenses.) But beyond factors that can be improved upon with practice like technique and cadence, vocalists are forever at the mercy of their natural timbre. And while certain voices may seem better suited for the rap trade, hip-hop music has proven itself elastic enough to accommodate all manners of voice — be it from the mouth of Chuck D, Q Tip or Kool Keith; Missy Elliot, Aesop Rock or Mykki Blanco. The point being: vocal timbre isn’t an issue so long as you can craft material that compliments it.
Sean Anonymous’s reluctance to match the content of his rhymes to his vocal tonality is Better Days’ most substantial shortcoming. The rapper’s adenoidal oration is at odds with his attempts at hard-hitting battle rap more often than not. Whereas many other emcees manage to spin their reedy pipes into an asset (The Beastie Boys, of course — but also Dose One, B-Real, and even MC Chris), Anonymous’s performance usually just comes across as flaccid, out of place and as faceless as his namesake.
This alone wouldn’t be so damning were his lyrics more consistent, but Anonymous possesses a propensity for bland, grating hooks and extraordinarily wack punchlines, like “Shit’s hotter than a leather car seat” and “From where I stand those cats are looking like some greedy sluts/ Don’t like my CDs? Motherfucker see deez nuts.” Verses are filled out by clichés and no-shit observations, the lowest moment being Anonymous’s declaration that “It’s dark when the moon is out.” (Yes. Yes it is.)
Holding down production duties for all 13 tracks, Dimitry Killstorm demonstrates a workmanlike understanding of beatcraft, with a questionable inclination toward bombast. Sound sources alternate between baroque orchestras, sped-up soul tracks and basic synth squiggles; snares are crisp and kicks pound thick. But while it’s all very functional, there’s little setting these beats apart from the early-aught boom-bap of Ant or New Hampshire’s Maker.
Beyond these missteps, the record does occasionally see Anonymous and Killstorm grazing a niche for themselves on quieter, more introspective pieces. Tracks like “Chapters” and “Timeless” show the producer dialing down his theatrics while the emcee uses his voice to convey vulnerability instead of machismo. “I was a c-section/ That poor immigrant’s wife,” Anonymous proclaims in the opening bars of “Pack Your Bags” — Better Days’ strongest track and honest-to-goodness brush with greatness.
Back in a 2013 interview with the StarTribune, Sean Anonymous admitted “I’m a shy guy by nature, so I don’t put too much of myself in the music. I’d probably be more famous if I bragged about myself more.” Two years on, Better Days shows the rapper beginning to loosen his guard and step out of the shadows — with middling results, but not without hints at unmined potential. Writing more candidly about his life probably won’t snag Anonymous additional fame, but it will likely make his music much more compelling.