Cloud rap producer team Friendzone’s debut album DX, is easily one of the genre’s best and is one of the most therapeutic instrumental hip-hop experiences I’ve had since Clams Casino’s Instrumentals.
9.0 / 10
Bay Area natives James Laurence and Dylan Reznick, aka Friendzone, have been responsible for producing some of the greatest material in the cloud rap genre, including the lofty “Fashion Killa” by A$AP Rocky and “Perfect Skies” by Main Attrakionz. They are also set to produce Main Attrakionz’ 808s & Dark Grapes III some time soon. They even produced for Swedish rapper Yung Lean’s debut Unknown Death 2002 with the divine “Solarflare” (that instrumental was the only thing that was salvageable on that album, also bread). Friendzone’s production style can be easily compared to Clams Casino’s woozy “illbient” beats and Ryan Hemsworth’s nostalgic Japanese video game influenced style. They seem to be obsessed with Asian pop stars and use them to reinterpret modern hip-hop landscape. Friendzone’s 2012 mixtape Collection I was easily one of the most underrated mixtapes of the year and contained some of the best instrumentals of the decade including “!!-MAJOR”, “NEAR”, “CHANGE” and “I HAVE NOTHING.”
On DX, Friendzone embraces the LP format quite expertly and there is no filler or interludes that were frequent on Collection I. On DX, Friendzone creates this impenetrable wall of sound much like My Bloody Valentine. Instead of using copious amounts of guitar distortion, they use hard-hitting 808’s, Japanese piano melodies, and high-pitched vocal samples that have been modulated beyond comprehension. DX starts off with a bang with the first four songs that one can’t help but get lost in their overwhelming beauty and intensity. “RETAILXTAL”, which I’m assuming is a reference to Aphex Twin’s beloved ambient classic “Xtal”, works kind of like a faster-paced hip-hop version of the song.
Near the midpoint of DX, Friendzone push the brakes a little to give listeners some time to reflect after the frenzied barrage of hip-hop chaos that has ensued. “All My Life+” and “HISLO”, which features chill wave act Finally Boys, are probably the only tracks where DX loses any momentum, but it can still be appreciated for the attention to detail. The singles “POLY” and “8AM”, which were released this past summer, work well within the context of the album and somehow still sound fresh. DX ends quite triumphantly with “Yr Bliss Yr Touch”, which creates the feeling of defeating the final boss in a difficult Nintendo game like Zelda or an epic RPG like Final Fantasy X with its violent and bittersweet strings intricately drowned in endless layers of bass and percussion.
If you download DX off of their Bandcamp, it comes with eight bonus tracks of material they have released over the last year. Singles like “4 YIA YIA” (named after the approximate translation of the central lyric), “ALWAYS” and “IF U KNEW” were tracks I played ad nauseam over last summer and still exemplify Friendzone’s unique and exhilarating production style.
It’s still a mystery to me why this duo is still unnoticed by so many people considering their work with A$AP Rocky and their relevance to cloud rap. One could argue that DX needs guest rappers, but like DJ Shadow’s Entroducing…, DX can easily stand on its own, which is no easy feat. Hip-hop producers for the first time ever are now becoming as popular as the artists they produce for — Mike Will Made It comes to mind. Ryan Hemsworth said in a interview that producers deserve to be praised as much as rappers for their work, and with releases like Clams Casino’s two instrumental mixtapes and now Friendzone’s DX, that argument is further solidified. Friendzone definitely have left the “friendzone” of my earspace with DX, I just hope they have some more time to get out of obscurity before cloud rap fades away as a genre.