“I’m trying to hit the beat a little different … so bear with me”
Casual “Later On”
Casual Later On (Remix)
Rappers in the 90s were all about vocal stylesÂ the way that today’s emcees are about their swag. The two concepts are close enough to be nearly synonymous in my view, or at least this is the case in enough instances (including those where “swagger” encompasses “style”) to warrant a valid comparison. Much like contemporary fixations with swagger-jacking and the like, proficient emcees of yore were highly protective of their distinctive styles and yet also yearning to be as versatile as possible. So much so that even the wackest rhymers of the era were compelled to make the claim that they had “mad styles upon styles” even if those styles were wack, limited, bitten, pandering, or just poorly executed.
Casual was one rapper who could make the claim honestly. Out of the highly lauded Oakland-based Hieroglyphics crew, he was easily the illest all-around rapper. His debut LP Fear ItselfÂ is sixty minutes of microphone devastation, arguably one of the most highly skilled vocal performances in the genre. Critic Mike Ichioka notes that Casual’s “highly inflected delivery” and “mercurial, cypher-honed flow” make for a style that is “relaxed but never sloppy.” That about sums it up – Casual verbally mollywops inferior competitors in tones that are nearly shrill in places and yet otherwise deep and sort of smooth. He exploits his vocal idiosyncrasies to great effect, dancing in and around the jazzy beats that the Hiero producers throw at him, shifting inflections for change-ups in the music or narrative.
Casual’s stylistic versatility is cleverly showcased on the “Later On” 12″ VLS. “Later On” is a cut from the A Low Down Dirty Shame soundtrack that is, in the words of the TSS Crew, “as soothing as the few moments of breeze you feel after suffering through a hot day.” Casual takes the listener on a journey through a day of pure blunted fuckery and mischief. He’s all braggadocio and devil-may-care cool, but takes the time to smoothly yet firmly reassure an around the way freak “and later on, I’m a chill with you.” The remix is a parallel world apart. The music is darker and harder and Casual responds in kind by adopting a more vicious flow. He almost literally flips the script in the middle of the remix’s first verse (which started out nearly identical to the original’s lyrics) by digressing into yet another masterful denunciation of atrocious rappers. No smooth talking the ladies this time around.Â
Taken together, “Later On” and its remix are a great listen, a reminder of Hiero’s peak years, when they were committed to bringing the listeners something fresh with every new recording. The whole crew’s early discography is filled with similar examples, most of which have aged nicely.*
Bonus: The folks over at Freestyle Madness recently posted a link to download Casual’s 1997 cassette-only album titled “Meanwhile.” Cop it here.
*This is not a dis to their recent output, as I respect the brothers for their longevity and hustle, but their 90s material is notch above, in my humble opinion.