An instant hit with tasty ingredients from the Philadelphia rap duo.
Martin Aston 2012
When is a debut album not a debut album? When it’s a free mixtape. Broken via MySpace, Philadelphia rapper/MC Chidera ‘Chiddy’ Anamege and his studio-wiz partner Noah ‘Xaphoon Jones’ Bersin made waves in 2009 with The Swelly Express, whose mix of originals and samples included the irresistible MGMT-raiding Opposite of Adults.
The Sufjan Stevens-sampling All Things Go was even better. 2010’s mini-follow-up Air Swell embraced La Roux, Ellie Goulding, Tinie Tempah and Gorillaz in a smash-and-grab of UK rhythm aces. Ye olde trick of hooks sweetening hip hop’s blunter impact felt fresh for a change. But as an official debut three years after The Swelly Express, the virtually sample-free Breakfast has a lot to prove.
Clearly Chiddy Bang don’t just know a good hook, they can fashion one too. Breakfast’s lead single Ray Charles is symptomatic of their way of combining something insanely catchy and just as brief, but the soulful piano riff oozing retro charm in the style of Raphael Saadiq (likewise the Blue Brothers-referencing video) is evidence of something much more sophisticated.
VV Brown’s (uncredited) vocal on Happening is another slice of soul-pop bounce, but it underlines the obvious Chiddy formula of hooks so simple they resemble playground chants and nursery rhymes.
In the one sample-based track, Mind Your Manners, it’s the turn of haughty Swedish electro-pop girl duo Icona Pop’s single Manners, a great counterpart to Chiddy’s swagger and punch. The slower jam Does She Love Me? has a perfectly formed three-note hook that sounds like a robot child, as if Chiddy are only content in a state of arrested adolescence. The fact they sampled MGMT’s Kids for Opposite of Adults doesn’t seem to be a coincidence.
Breakfast sparkles less when the boys force themselves to act their age. The title-track (not the same as Air Swell’s Breakfast) is, strangely, one of the most uneventful tracks, 4th Quarter is an anti-climatic finale, and Whatever We Want only comes alive with the chorus.
But Bersin’s a smooth operator: Run It Back taps the same velvet melancholia as Frank Ocean, Talking to Myself could almost be a 21st century Hall & Oates, and Out 2 Space is simply great hip-pop, a space-age soul-rap with Neptunes-style fizz. It helps Breakfast be a more balanced meal, despite the album’s predominant diet of candy hooks and bouncy-castle rhythm.
So, less Philly steak, more like Chiddy Bang’s beloved Nando’s; an instant hit with tasty ingredients, and worth waiting for.