It’s been a long winter . After a series of monotone afternoons, I stumbled across this insightful interview and found just the artist to bring some warmth back. Iceberg Theory is a New Jersey rapper and producer who’s been keeping himself busy so far in 2017. He released a quadrilogy of beat tapes in the last few weeks– “The Poet Is Dead”, “I Eat Life Back”, “In Savage Wastes”, and “Screed of Frost”– and they’re any indication, 2017 is gonna be a great year.
Part of that is because “Iceberg” is such an interesting guy himself. On his Bandcamp page, he explains that Iceberg Theory is “the name of a writing technique coined by Ernest Hemingway, in which the author wrote in a journalistic fashion and left most of the deeper meaning under the surface, up to the reader to interpret.” As a former English major who was entranced by “The Old Man and the Sea” in high school, and who just last month bought a copy of “Islands in the Stream”, I was smitten. I listened to everything he’s got. I devoured his interview with Huffington Post’s Alex Koenig, where he talks about his other literary influences (such as Rainier Maria Rilke and William Everson), as well as his enthusiasm for fantasy novels, world religions, and Russian cinema. I can’t not pay attention to someone with such a collection of interests.
He rapped on a release with DJ A.I. last year called “Technomagical Realism”, a funky collage of sci-fi imagination. DJ A.I. handled the shimmering production on that album, and now, with his four new tapes, Iceberg Theory gets a chance to flex his muscles with an arsenal of soul, funk, and jazz samples that crystallize his pace as a talent to be recognized. Sadly, we don’t get to hear any of his talented rhymes on these tapes, but it’s such a smooth, solid listen that I honestly can’t complain.
“Screed of Frost” came out on January 23rd, starting off the series right with a smug saxophone announcing Iceberg’s love of jazz loud and proud. Flashes of voices and violins follow on “Clairvoux” and “And So (Goodbye to Cities)”. Both tracks, along with most of the rest of the 40 songs between these four tapes, are 2 minutes or less, and it’s the greatest shortcoming. I could easily listen to 5-6 minute versions of almost all of these tracks, and feel like no time at all had passed. Iceberg isn’t a flashy producer. He lets the power of his soulful selections speak for themselves. We hear electric guitars shiver through “Abba Moses”, a standout track with some fuzzed-out horns that paint an abstract landscape of icy color. When we hear some extended vocals on “LONGTIMEAGO” , they blend in with the percussion fluidly, and make me really excited about what Iceberg Theory might accomplish in a collaboration with any talented R&B singers in the New Jersey area.
Possibly my favorite part of these tapes was the basslines. They’re a reflection of Iceberg Theory’s approach to production in general– understated, but firm. “In Savage Wastes” shines with tracks like “Barren Meadows”, “5 Course Meals in Catacombs”, and “Screed of Flesh”, with basslines that hit every note calmly and crisply. I’ve been listening to a lot of trap music this year, and after a heavy dose of Migos and Gucci Mane, it’s a breath of fresh air. These tapes make me think about Hemingway’s theory, justifying our producer’s artistic statement. Hardly a single sound is overemphasized. When you hear the thick synths kick in on “Current of Time”, you hear a simple steady rhythm that lets the voices soar and fill your mind. You can hear the spaces between each note and it helps you sink deeper into the beat.
You hear a little funk crawl into “I Eat Life Back”, on sexy tracks like “Alpaca Fur” and “Grace’s House”. The cymbals creep and hiss like a cat. You get delicious jazz sections in “Last Rites”, “John the Dwarf”, and “In All These Acts”. A high-pitched vocal sample on “Our Lady of Guadalupe” and some ambient background on “Eros” is the closest you get to some of the dreamier sounds in hip-hop today. Iceberg Theory’s music wouldn’t sound too odd in any late 90’s rap album, or Kendrick Lamar or Joey Bada$$ album in our own decade.
On “Current of Time”, you heard vocals urging you to “run along the current of time”, and on “Carved Buddhas”, you hear Iceberg’s spiritual fascination seep out with more exotic instruments. This tape didn’t stick out for me as much as the others, but I still nodded my head to smooth jams like “Immortal Strangeness”, and closed my eyes with satisfaction for “Ghostface Visions”. In his interview Iceberg talks about his love for Ghostface Killa, and music made for the nighttime. “The Poet Is Dead” is especially well-suited for the nighttime. As “Equinox” lets its horns simmer with a jazzy cymbal beat, you might start thinking to yourself that this might be the music you put on the next time you bring home somebody cute.
It really is a shame that several of these songs are so short, because it was such a pleasure to go through them. Iceberg says on his Twitter, where he’s also known as Lord Northbourne, that he personally designed the hypnotic artwork for each tape, which adds yet another dimension to a fresh and emerging talent. In his interview, Iceberg let slip that there’s another album in the works. After hearing what he can do on these tapes, and on his collaboration with DJ A.I., I can’t wait to find out what other marvels are hiding under the tip of this iceberg. Keep an eye out for this guy.