Bobby Sichran on Apple Music

Bobby Sichran

Before there was Beck, there was Bobby Sichran. And before -- or, at the very least, at a concurrent time as -- Beck happened upon his postmodern-hipster, cut-and-paste aesthetic mixing pop song structures, folk-rock sentiment, blues textures, and a hip-hop sensibility on one coast, Sichran had beaten him to the combination on the other with his debut, From a Sympathetical Hurricane. Beck became a critical darling and commercial phenomenon, was hailed as a "groundbreaking" and "visionary" progenitor and pioneer, and was even characterized in some quarters as a genius. Similar acts like G. Love & Special Sauce, Soul Coughing, and Everlast polished up the style and also made their fortunes, while Sichran remained an obscurity, and his contributions went virtually unacknowledged outside critical circles.

Native Long Islander Bobby Sichran dropped out of Columbia University in the early '90s with the intention of finding his way into the music industry, while taking a day job as a furniture mover and looking for his big musical break. That break came by his own making when he knocked on the door of Public Enemy's Hempstead, Long Island, studio. Hank Shocklee of the vaunted Bomb Squad production crew answered, and Sichran asked if he could hang out and watch them work. Soon he was acting as an apprentice engineer in the studio (he played guitar on, was an engineer on, and was largely responsible for mixing Das EFX's debut album, Dead Serious). He also began squatting on the Lower East Side and playing his form of anti-folk music on subway platforms, inspired by the music he grew up on (Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters) as well as everything from James Brown and George Clinton to Bob Dylan and the Beatles, not to mention the rap music that he helped make by day. Sichran released an acclaimed 7" single of his own, "Lorena, Lorena," in 1993, a mixture of folk, funk, blues, and hip-hop, and it helped to land him a record contract with Columbia. His debut full-length hit record store shelves the following year and garnered a small coterie of critical praise, especially in Europe. Predictably he was referenced by several sources as the "hip-hop Dylan" (not entirely incorrectly), but his name popped up in the press more frequently as a reference point to describe other artists' music (most notably in a Rolling Stone write-up of Soul Coughing, in which he was credited as a pioneer of "rap-rock"). The irony is that American rock critics making such references rarely bothered to write about his music, and Columbia provided little publicity backing due to an inability to find a market niche for the album, resulting in Sichran's split with the label.

He resurfaced in 1997 with another inventive 7" single, "All the Psychotics in My Building," on the New York indie label Messenger Records (the B-side, "There's So Much You Could Love," would also show up on the 1999 Messenger compilation album Wouldn't It Be Beautiful?), which was taken from an album project, the folk-dub Peddlar in Babylon, that Sichran had recorded the previous year. Still unclassifiable, though, no label was willing to release it. He also put out the harder electronica-tinged hip-hop 12", "Smoke of the Ghetto," in 1998, but garnered no label bites. Over the next couple years, Sichran did some scoring for television shows and a dance company and made short films. He also began work on an ambitious new album/film project, Drifters to the Light of the Sun. ~ Stanton Swihart

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