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Previous Industries sound poised and focused on Service Merchandise

"Service Merchandise"

Release date: 28 June 2024
Previous Industries Special Merchandise cover
01 July 2024, 10:30 Written by Riley Moquin

After a pair of teaser tracks on 2022’s Component System with the Auto Reverse, Open Mike Eagle has joined together with Video Dave and STILL RIFT to thrive off oddity and eccentricity.

The collaboration is a natural one; three Chicago rappers based in Los Angeles, longtime friends who have existed in the same spaces for some time. The product of this trio’s efforts is Service Merchandise, a project that sees each rapper sound in his own element, not trying anything too far beyond their comfort zone but proving mastery at their specific craft.

Service Merchandise exists in a time paradox, with beat selections that feel as if the listener is flipping on an old VHS tape. Several tracks, particularly “Montgomery Ward,” are glitchy and repetitive as if the trio are freestyling over a skipping vinyl record. Production is primarily managed by Child Actor, with Quelle Chris (“Braids” and “Dominick’s”) and Smoke Bonito (“White Hen”) contributing on select tracks. All three are in step with the creative vision of the project, with beats calling back to hip hop greats such as Madlib and even J Dilla.

From a lyrical perspective Open Mike Eagle, Video Dave, and STILL RIFT give purpose to the nostalgia of their beat selection. The tracks on the record are named after long-gone retail chains, such as “Fotomat,” further inducing this nostalgia and calling back to past memories and experiences. In the tradition of this style of inflection – pioneered by those such as MF DOOM but also calling back to those such as A Tribe Called Quest – all three rappers rhyme with focus but also with quirky and sporadic callbacks to staples of American culture, in particular those of the 80s, 90s and occasionally the 00s.

The purpose of this nostalgia-infused rap is twofold. In part, the effect is a fun and at-times humorous back-and-forth between three wordsmiths with fantastic chemistry. Even this effect though points towards the larger themes of Service Merchandise, that of a longing for a time in the past that was, if not simpler, at least it felt purer. This theme begins to make itself clear on “Roebuck” in particular, when it is said: “No returns, no exchanges, finger through the pages no papercuts / self-addressed stamped got me amped while the selection got me waiting for the shipping time with less than Prime handling.” To this effect the nostalgia of Service Merchandise is not reduced to a blind bias favouring the childhood decades of the artists; instead, there is charm and beauty within inconvenience. Flipping through a catalogue might never beat the ease of Amazon Prime, but for the Previous Industries trio – all around middle age at this point in their lives – there was an excitement and a charm to the ways of the world as it was that will never again be replicated.

On “Fotomat,” nostalgia is expanded into wider notions of consumerism, not only about the world as it is today but as it appeared in the “previous industries” of the record. The artists allude to the fleeting and ever-changing value of products, not only within a store or supermarket but also as it applies to other industries such as music itself.

Pulling the themes of Service Merchandise together in this way and connecting the dots with the call-backs of the song titles, beat selection, etc. creates a record that is both consistently enjoyable and thought-provoking, thriving in its off-kilter sound and the intentional oddity of its lyricism. The most impressive part of Previous Industries is how synchronised the three rappers are not only with one another, but with the vision they foresaw in Service Merchandise. From the first play on the record’s opening track to the final words on “Kay Bee,” Previous Industries sounds focused and committed to the concept behind its project.

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