Patterns of Chaos (POC) have been a fixture of Cincinnati’s rap scene for years. Do yourself a favor and catch POC live at Madison Live on January 8th. It’s a blast to see Jay work a stage with his energy, humor, and flow; he’s one of the most talented rappers working. Patterns of Chaos's new album Chaotic Good does a solid job of capturing the charm, intelligence and energy that makes a live POC show great. The album features several guest performers (Spacer, Roberto, Grandace, DJ Noahimean? Jaybee Lamahj, Aziza Love and Wednesday Campanella) and shows a lot of love for Cincinnati (on “Clout”, Jay gives shout outs to Cincinnati-area artists while boasting tongue in cheek “I’m the rap scene Obama with the clout!”). That mix of talent and humor is all over the album.
Chaotic Good kicks off with Jay breathlessly chanting the Animaniacs pseudo-Yiddish nonsense word “Freunlaven” over and over and then dives seamlessly into dizzying lyrics mashed over a catchy, danceable beat punctuated with brassy horns. It’s reminiscent of something Digital Underground might have done back in the day.
“Como La Floor” (with guest verses by Roberto) flips between Spanish and English over a smooth ‘70s vibe. Times are brutal but can still be shot through with positivity and optimism. Forget “A Rose in Spanish Harlem,” in the Ciudad de La Reina (The Queen City aka Cincinnati) it’s more like:
“We learn to navigate the world that has no love for you
The concrete lotus blooming up through the rubble
Cuz we don’t believe life was only meant for us to struggle through”
And a reminder that one’s own success doesn’t have to come at the expense of others”
“We advance the mind state
Leave behind hate
I ain’t putting homies down to remind you I’m great”
The whole album is sonically lush with creative and surprising elements like the Spaghetti-western vibe of “Good Money” or the Isaac Hayes Black Moses-era slinkiness on “Como La Flor”, even an echo of Burt Bachrach on “Sidechain”. Smart, canny lyrics abound with references to stim checks, anti-vaxxers, activism, Stranger Things, Chick fil-A, Sallie Mae. But at a time when it’s easy to be negative, the overall mood is encouraging.
Not everything is so sonically smooth. The booming “Spazzin (The Bag)” recalls the dental filling-rattling sound of “B-Boy Bouillabaiise/Hello Brooklyn” from the epic Paul’s Boutique as it takes on the state of fair-weather activism:
“You pat yourself on the back for hijacking a noble bandwagon/
Claim you’re passionate? Pray you don’t get distracted
…Nobody got solutions, I need more than a slogan
can you miss me with that woke-woke shit?”
And on “Citizen’s Arrest,” the mix of word and sounds is so urgent, dense, and chaotic that it takes several listens to untangle. Strangled horns bleat under trashcan-like clangs and a woozy loop. Like these times, it’s uneasy, anxious, clamorous. But, man, there’s always a glimmer of hope and the promise of hard work rewarded.
In the end, it’s about the work you make and leave. Jay bemoans the constant struggle of creatives that need a day job to feed their art: “I’m so sick of working a nine to five/rap music only way that I feel alive” then turns around and wryly jokes: “Doing 85 cross country in the rain/cuz the bags on my eyes too heavy for the plane.”
The album closer “Sidechain (Remix)” kicks off with what sounds like a Vincent Price sample (“Let’s get to work”) and slips into an almost easy listening groove that let’s Jay ruminate about the future:
“I’m Radio Raheem with this
Romulus and Remus shit
Rome wasn’t built within a day
But have you seen it lately?
The world is moving fast
And we too shall pass
Live in the moment
But I wonder will our ruins last?”
Yeah, man. With music like this being made? Yeah.