On their third full-length release, Potatohead People widen the frame of their progressive musical vision and deliver a far-reaching yet approachable set of moods and grooves.
Mellow Fantasy continues to showcase the trademark instrumental prowess of the duo and their ease with the loose but hard-hitting drum style brought to the fore by Jay Dee’s influential productions, but goes well beyond basic boom bap bread and butter, with singer-centered R&B and uptempo bumps sharing the stage.
Beginning in 2008 as a Vancouver-based hip-hop production team, Potatohead People (Nick Wisdom and AstroLogical) have collaborated with a fantasy league of MCs, including Frank Nitt of Frank’n’Dank (the 2013 breakout jam “Back To My Shit”), Illa J (producing an entire album for J. Dilla’s younger brother) and the late Phife Dawg (the beloved A Tribe Called Quest co-founder’s last recorded verse was over one of their beats).
Setting them apart from other Dilla-influenced beatmakers is the way they push the scope of the style, working the corners with their own unique touch. At its most basic, “the goal has always been making really dope loops,” they explain. By using slices of their own rough instrumental ideas, finding “a chord progression or texture that you can hear again and again and never question it,” they’ve taken this fundamental concept and elevated it to new levels of melodic, harmonically complex music.
A jazz-like responsiveness to the input of collaborators is a key component of how the team works. “We like to get the artist involved when the beat is an early idea, and build the beat around the vocals, getting inspired by what they do.”
On Mellow Fantasy, they had some impressive inspiration. Pos from De La Soul immediately connected with “Baby Got Work,” a sophisticated slap that went through several iterations before settling into its ultimate form. Appropriately, the song’s diligent construction echoes the ethic of the grind in the clear-eyed, precisely dovetailed lyrics fans have come to expect from the Daisy Age don. “Baby Got Work” is the album’s lead single, hitting on 9/25/20.
Befitting Potatohead People’s origins as a hip-hop group, cameos from Illa J and Slum Village’s T3 on the summertime teaser “What It Feels Like” and Vancouver veteran Moka Only (the sassy, vanity take-down “Ungodly”) add to the unimpeachable rap bonafides.
The hometown connections continue with Lotusland local Kapok slinging verses on a couple tracks and rising stars Kendra Dias and Clear Mortifee, who stake serious claims as names to watch with standout vocal turns on the low-slung neo-soul “Break Even” and the upcoming second single “Hidden Levels,” a high-flying house/future boogie hybrid. Following up their successful 2019 collabo “Single Life,” Bunnie makes her return to action with the group on “Kettle Boiling.” Ranging further, Reggie B, who broke on the scene with his lead on Onra’s “High Hopes,” shines on the optimistic bounce of “Bring The World A Little Closer.”
Threaded throughout are interlude instrumentals that comfortably manage the neat trick of being musically intriguing while retaining an accessible, gut-level thump. Look no further than the statement-making, Yussef Kamaal-like funk fusion album opener “1st Light” and their nod to overlooked Vancity synth pioneer Dale Jacobs (“Ode To Mr. Jacobs”) for clues to where Nick and Astro’s hearts are at.
Mellow Fantasy, released 10/30/20 on Bastard Jazz and available on vinyl and all digital platforms, is Potatohead People’s most evolved collection yet, rooted in earthy low end but elevated, expansive and reaching new musical heights.