After a decade-long hiatus, Chicago’s legendary rap duo reunites for a new Kanye-produced record
Despite its name’s implications and the respective ages of its most vocal proponents, Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop is not contingent on the age of its creators. It’s adult in its sensibilities, golden-era soulful with an easy-listening quality unmatched by its more experimental, abrasive counterparts, giving it an edge of cross-generational appeal. Abstract Mindstate, a duo of forty-something rappers, embodies these sensibilities in a way that might resonate with fans of ACH artists like 26-year-old Joey Bada$$ and 23-year-old Cordae.
Abstract Mindstate, comprised of Olskool Ice-Gre and Ebony Poetess (a.k.a. E.P. Da Hellcat), have actually been practicing members of the ACH community since the ’90s. It was Christmas break for Jackson State University when the universe brought them together in the drunkest car of a Chicago-bound train. E.P. found herself lacking the proper provisions, so Ice-Gre’s cousin and then-manager, Lee Majors, opened his booze bag to her. The train started rolling and the students began back-and-forth freestyling. E.P. jumped in, delivering rhymes that left the entire car asking, who is that chick? Ice-Gre asked the chick herself and thus, the dawn of Abstract Mindstate (otherwise known as The Misfits of Dialogue; both names were, in fact, pulled from a hat).
They established themselves as Chicago’s forebears of hip-hop while Common and Kanye were still on the rise. “We were the hot thing at the time,” Ice-Gre says. Kanye was watching them more than they were watching Kanye. Chicago adored the pair, they attracted a global audience and all the hoopla that makes for stardom, but it seemed fate was against them. Or, rather, the music industry was, in its most deleterious and vacuous form; breaking the two down, sucking them dry of any emotional or monetary support, and bringing the end of Abstract Mindstate.
The breakup retrospectively became an extensive hiatus when Kanye called Ice-Gre just after 6am over a decade after the MCs called it quits. Abstract Mindstate was exactly what the world needed and Kanye would produce its first record in thirteen years. On August 6th, Ice-Gre and E.P.’s full-length album, Dreams Still Inspire—14 tracks recorded across three years—became the first release on YZY SND.
With Dreams Still Inspire, Kanye proves that the capricious nature of his own career doesn’t carry over to the work he does with others, but still maintains his self-imposed standard of meticulous, near-unattainable perfection. But Kanye’s name in the credits isn’t the only thing that makes Abstract Mindstate’s personal renaissance notable. The album art alone—a simple color tinted, black-and-white photo, the ultimate hallmark of cool—is enough indication of greatness. Despite E.P.’s tendency to swear, all of the songs are clean (swearing dilutes the message of the music, Kanye insisted). Ignore the statistics of popular music—hip hop does not need to be explicit to mark itself as art. The rare male-female lineup sounds so modishly natural that it seems almost a cheat code to success, making you wonder why it doesn’t exist at greater rates in hip hop. The record keeps to the duo’s roots, calling on backpack rap of the early aughts. The production, the lyricism, the delivery all evidence that this group was not meant to exist in evanescence. “Even though all of those years have passed, it was like LEGO pieces coming back together,” E.P. explains. Abstract Mindstate just clicks.