The footwork artist's latest album shows a mastery of his uniquely hermetic universe.
One of RP Boo's calling cards is the cut-up technique he uses to layer and arrange short spoken phrases. On I'll Tell You What!, his third album for Planet Mu, speech is both a rhythmic instrument—like a drum machine or a percussive sample—and a narrative device that conveys a message or a mood. Footwork was made to soundtrack one-on-one dance battles, and tracks like "At War" or "U-Don't No" are peppered with disses, taunts and jabs that stoke the flames of competition. He places his own interjections in dialogue with the soul and R&B samples in his tracks, creating an intertextual back-and-forth between different layers of source material.
Another RP Boo trademark is the sheer ingenuity of his samples, which tend to have a loose narrative function. "Cloudy Back Yard" opens with ascending trumpet blasts, like he's telling us to pay attention because something interesting is about to happen. Indeed, something very interesting happens, though not what we expect. Everything drops out of the mix except for the funereal sound of a bell tolling quietly over a bass drum. It's a dark, psychological moment, initiating a paranoid shift like something from a Hitchcock movie. Skeletal toms, snares and hi-hats begin to crawl their way back into the mix, and the track takes a number of equally unexpected turns before arriving at its end.
Some of these tracks are simply mind-melting. On "Wicked'Bu," RP Boo layers Super Nintendo boss-battle synths over a bone-dry beat. He lets that loop for a couple minutes, then comes out of nowhere with the sound of a flute trilling, followed by a dusty soul sample—the tension here between digital and organic textures is electric. "U Belong 2 Me" reprises an earlier track, "Heavy Heat" (they both use the "you belong to me" sample), which in turn reprises an even older RP Boo cut, the Godzilla theme-sampling "114799." On the closing track, "Deep Sole," he chops up a sunny soul sample in a way that's reminiscent of DJ Rashad's early stuff, though with a touch of that unmistakable RP Boo eccentricity. In the last two minutes it settles into a kind of locked groove, with a single guitar chord shimmering over a drum machine, leaving us on an uplifting note as RP Boo's voice reassures us, over and over: "It's always beautiful at the end."