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In What Language?

Mike Ladd & Vijay Iyer

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Album Review

Inspired by the experience of an Iranian filmmaker wrongly detained by INS officials at JFK airport in New York, this epic work explores life through the microcosm of the airport — a place of arrival and departure, of being an alien or leaving one's citizenship behind. Poet/hip-hop man Mike Ladd has done a superb job with the lyrics, polished by real little monologues that examine all aspects of the problem — and it's a problem that often leaves travelers dehumanized. Keyboard player Vijay Iyer gives tone and color to all this in his compositions, and the two together become more than a sum of their parts. It's not an easy album to listen to — often harrowing, as in "Innana After Baghdad" or "Terminal City" — but more than repays the investment of ears and time. Is it jazz? Not really. It falls outside category — as it should, given the subject matter involved. At first it can sound simplistic, but it soon becomes apparent that the textures and depths of the music only reveal themselves gradually, such as with "Asylum." Written originally to be performed on-stage in a theatrical setting, it transfers well to a purely recorded medium, dense and demanding, but ultimately satisfying, inasmuch as it leaves the listener full of questions and less certain about the world.


Born: Cambridge, MA

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Mike Ladd is an iconoclast hip-hop figure, a producer with studio smarts and an intelligent MC as well, but a man with a wide-ranging set of aims that occasionally interfere with his music. The Bronx-based Ladd, whose roots lie in poetry and performance, has close ties to largely spoken-word artists like Saul Williams or Carl Hancock Rux as well as underground rap maestros like El-P or New Flesh. Born in Cambridge, MA, Ladd played bass or drums in varying types of garage bands while in high school...
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In What Language?, Mike Ladd
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