Dixieland is a subgenre of jazz music, rooted in New Orleans tradition. To paint a sonic picture, imagine “When The Saints Go Marching In” being played by a brass band during Mardi Gras at a local bar. This is by far the most common way that many people will be exposed to Dixieland outside of NOLA.
The trumpet will play the melody and be accompanied by a clarinet or saxophone, who will play fast lines that serve to ornament the melody and accentuate the chord changes.
Tuba and trombone lay down a bass line, while the drums play in ragtime or shuffle feel. Dixieland is a rhythmic team effort, and possibly more so than any other genre in America.
This is a paradigm that pervades most of “Potluck”, the most recent project by San Marcos native rap collective PNTHN (pronounced like the word pantheon). Every lyricist spitting on the record does so with rhythm in mind. Every verse serves to either develop energy or add rhythmic contrast.
Contrary to the expectation of a seven-person rap group, the order of every rapper is impeccable, with their verses being sequenced in a way that compliments their individual styles.
Flow is absolutely also on the forefront of this EP, and PNTHN knows exactly how to meter the pace of a track. They understand when to give the song space and when something eventful needs to happen; they are a team effort. There is not a single lyricist who seemed to under deliver during their verse.
The influences of their childhood are worn on the sleeve of every lyricist. You can tell by listening to each member of the group individually who they garner much of their sound from. However, PNTHN navigates this influence in a way that is original enough to be accepted as a sort of homage rather than an imitation of their favorite artist.
The lyrical content is heavily influenced by touchstones to their childhood, as references to video games, rap culture, movies, cartoons, sports, are ever present. No topic is off the table with most bars leading to an unpredictable punchline.
The lyrical content, however, also proves to be a double-edged sword. The verses could seemingly go on forever, with most bars lacking any sort of direction other than a quick punchline. The verses are very much reminiscent of freestyles, which finds the ears wanting the lyricist to focus on one topic for just a little bit longer.
It is easy for the listener to become unfocused on what the rapper is discussing, which leaves every verse clouded in a forgettable haze. This blandness also pervades most of the hooks, which vary in catchiness but lean more toward the unmemorable.
The production on the album does not escape this lack of direction and is also akin to the production of freestyles. The cloudy, smooth, boom-bap production pairs well with the rappers of PNTHN and sets the overarching aesthetic of the project. But the beats hardly develop and lack an evolution of depth or texture.
This does, however, change minimally near the conclusion of the EP, with the tracks “bunta” and “chrome” containing more intricacies and textures sonically. The project would benefit from a more prominent contrast between beats as well, as every lyricist seems to be tethered to their comfort zone tempo-wise.
With all of that being said, this EP should make the listener excited to see what PNTHN’s next project holds in store. Potluck is dripping with style, personality, and obvious proficiency from everybody who touches the mic. Once all of the things PNTHN has going for them are directed into content with more focus, it is all too clear that they will see great success.
– Josh Kayo is an English senior