by Nate Patrin Contributor for Pitchfork.com
Even if it never became prominent and frequent enough to occupy the same trend-space as dancehall or Bollywood did, the intersection of hip-hop and Brazilian music has provided some indelible moments over the years. Dilla stirring up Stan Getz and Luis Bonfa’s early ’60s bossa nova for the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” Mos Def building “Casa Bey” around a cut from Brazilian funk powerhouse Banda Black Rio, Wanderlea’s tropical quiet storm “Lindo” finding its way into a grip of ’10s beats peaking with Isaiah Rashad’s “Smile”—even Black Eyed Peas in their prototypical Cali backpacker days knew the strength of a good Jorge Ben loop. So the surface notion of BROOKZILL! (all-caps/exclamation point theirs) as a melding of Brazilian musical influence with American hip-hop isn’t the most unprecedented idea, even if it benefits from the more direct engagement with a Brazilian artist.
Rodrigo Brandão, who raps under the name Gorila Urbano, was introduced to the creatively restless producer Prince Paul in São Paulo about a decade back. And over time their collaborative interests drew in longtime Paul cohort/producer/3 Feet High and Rising host Don Newkirk and Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca, the Portuguese-speaking daughter of two Brazilian expat jazz musicians. Given three Brooklyn-based artists with an unbreakable connection to ’90s rap bohemia and another, Brandão, whose previous trans-American collabs last year included indie favorites Del the Funky Homosapien (3rd World Vision) and Anti-Pop Consortium’s Beans (Takara & Brandão), you’d be right to expect Throwback to the Future to feel like an artifact of a time—and a style—that seems more defiantly earnest, if only in retrospect.
That owes a lot to the flows both MCs use, which are breezier and simpler than modern fans might be used to and older heads might admit an ambivalence towards. That in itself isn’t a problem, but it does make the record feel a bit more fleeting than it means to be. Ladybug was the velvet scalpel of Digable Planets, cool and precise and right to the point even in abstraction, and she keeps up that smooth demeanor here—sometimes to the point where her laid-back energy level gets drowned out by the production’s bottom-heavy analog funk touches. That can be a strain for an MC who’s more listenable than quotable here; as someone who can catch the mood of childhood nostalgia (the Del-featuring “Maralém”) or remembrances of those lost (“Saudade Songbook”) with a straightforward energy less reliant on lyrical flash, the musical qualities of her voice don’t always get their due. That goes double for Brandão, who raps with a sleepy purr and would rather murmur than shout, even on uptempo cuts like the banger closer “Let’s Go (É Noiz)!”.