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Production Breakdown: Fly Gypsy’s “Wildflower”

Posted by Richard on 10/02/09 | Filed under Features, Production Breakdown, Fly Gypsy
Fly Gypsy

(Editors Note: Each week our resident production expert Richard - he just goes by one name, like Prince - will take a track and break it down, digging into the often ignored sonic backdrop of a hip-hop track. This week he visit's "Wildflower," a track from D.C. duo Fly Gypsy that features some as out-of-the-box, left-of-center, and just plain unusual samples we've heard in a while.)

Like so many great ideas (and, to be fair, a whole lot of bad ones), this column started out as a joke. After managing editor Nathan S. paid me the compliment “I feel like you could write three paragraphs describing a track's production alone,” I not-so-seriously responded, “Maybe we can do a “Really Long-winded Description of a Beat” as a RefinedHype feature.” Well, here I am.

Of all the tracks featured over on this week, the one that caught my ear was the least 'hip-hop'-sounding hip-hop record to hit our front page since... well, I can't remember. But it's certainly been a while since we've heard something as out-of-the-box, left-of-center, and just plain unusual as D.C. duo Fly Gypsy's latest single and first feature, Wildflower.

While leaning too heavily on lengthy samples can be viewed as a creative crutch, there's something to be said about letting your source material stretch its legs to the extent that Alexei Jendayi does here. And that 'something” is, “It can sound freaking amazing.” Puerto Rican' guitar legend Jose Feliciano's cover version of Light Your Fire (which – sorry, Doors fans – is about a trillion times better than the Lizard King's robotically stoned original, in my humble opinion) is by no means obvious material for a hip-hop track – the track's focus is squarely on Feliciano's soulful but meandering vocals and radiant guitar chords, with the barely-there Latin percussion rhythm relegated to the bottom of the mix.

Nontheless, Jendayi accentuates the track's strengths rather than bludgeoning it into submission. With the addition of a subdued kick and some deft restructuring, it... still doesn't sound like a rap beat, but it works, thanks in part to emcee Komplex' skill for navigating unusual rhythms, but perhaps even moreso to Feliciano's intricate, brilliantly melodic chord changes (retooled somewhat by Jendayi), which lend harmonic momentum to a track that, at first blush, seems somewhat meandering,

By far Wildflower's best moment comes at the start of the second pre-chorus bridge. The lines “Eyes like a tiger, smile of a lamb/ Wildflower, do you know who I am?” may not make a whole lot of sense, but they don't have to – the cadence is perfect, and coupled with the delicate descending chords and the unexpected introduction of rising strings, it's chill-inducing (at least it gave me chills the first time around). At that moment, the whole feels much greater that the sum of its parts. Those few bars in particular is solid proof that sampling and great songwriting are in no way mutually exclusive; the record as a whole is evidence that truly genre-transcending tunes are created not by shoehorning incongruous sounds into an established form, but by allowing each musical element to live and breathe on its own terms.

To listen to "Wildflower" on, click here.

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