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Apothecary Rx

Carl Hancock Rux

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Album Review

Six long years passed since Rux Revue, the debut album by poet and rapper Carl Hancock Rux, blew people's minds with its long aesthetic, beat-conscious, and literary reach. Six years is an eternity in the world of popular music. It's not only enough time to slip permanently off the mass-culture radar, it's an eternity that can deny you ever were on it to begin with. With Apothecary RX, Rux comes thundering back with one of the most expansive, ambitious, and musical recordings to come down the pipe in a long while. What ties these tracks together besides the musician's lyrical savvy (think scholarly, yet street lean and mean from the Gil Scott-Heron old school) and exceptional ear is almighty rhythm, as a cipher, as a shape-shifting ever-present in a musical meld that touches on everything from the Delta blues and Storyville to vanguard rock, vintage R&B, classic and futuristic pop, tough urban soul, and of course, the rainbow of sounds and beats that is hip-hop. A strange and unwieldy cast of characters were assembled for this set, including guitarist Dave Tronzo, avant jazz violin legend Leroy Jenkins, Marc Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius), Brazilian samba guitar genius Vinicius Cantuaria, Rob Hyman from the Hooters (who wrote "Time After Time" for Cyndi Lauper), and backing vocalists such as Irene Datcher, Stephanie McKay, and Helga Davis. Co-produced with help from Stewart Lerman (Black 47, Dar Williams), Rux assembles a montage of sounds that weave through and around one another in a constant effluvium of urban music that continually references and overwrites its history politically, socially, and spiritually. On the opener, "I Got a Name," with its shimmering African juju guitars that open onto a body of dubbed-out, compressed pianos, multi-layered percussion, and throbbing basslines, Rux sings, raps, and chants his way through to establish an identity in the African diaspora as it stands tall as its own signifier, the American urban landscape. On "Eleven More Days," the contrast of generations, religions, races, and social statures is played out on subway platforms, playgrounds, slam apartments, prisons, and in the streets. While Rux iterates the terrain and circumstances in his landscape, a stunning gospel refrain sung by a chorus of female voices emphasizes the place of intersection, the place of hope, the place of loss, and even deliverance while contrasting contrapuntal synthetic rhythms slip around basslines and indeterminate sounds. And while these two selections provide a view, they are by no means the only ones. Everywhere polyrhythmic strategies, multivalent pop textures, and smoky roots musics fold into one another, sometimes clashing but more often just touching and caressing one another before they move on to get Rux's poetic depth of field across, and that field never cancels anything out of its articulation, except perhaps hopelessness. Apothecary RX is indeed a prescription: musically it opens wide the current closed scene of alliteration, endless insider referencing, and production conceits by sounding organic and visceral without ever bogging down in its own ambition. Lyrically, it offers voices, many of them, sometimes speaking simultaneously, sometimes out of the depths of solitude, and they speak from reportorial detachment as well as from pain and joy and the desire to transcend as well as be delivered. Rux has created something off the boards here, unclassifiable, truly beautiful and moving. It is as unrelenting in its excellence as it is in its ambition.

Biography

Born: New York, NY [Harlem]

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '00s

Poet/spoken word performer Carl Hancock Rux was born and raised in Harlem, NY; a product of the city's foster care system, he later attended Columbia University. Named "One of 30 Artists Under the Age of 30 Most Likely to Influence Culture Over the Next 30 Years" in 1994 by The New York Times, over time Rux increasingly began incorporating elements of hip-hop, jazz, and R&B into his live poetry readings, and in 1999 he released his...
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Apothecary Rx, Carl Hancock Rux
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