By Dustin Lothspeich
Jay Smith is a student of music. Not so much in the way of reading clefs on sheets of paper or delving into heady theory, but rather from a purely appreciative perspective.
As a man who has firmly established his reputation in the San Diego music scene as one of the premier rappers to ever hit our sandy shores, Smith has a breadth of musical knowledge that few can match.
Known by his professional moniker, 10-19 The Numberman, Smith is one half of the San Diego Music Award-winning hip hop trio Parker & The Numberman. He’s just as likely to wax poetic on Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” album (“I used to think it was about the controlling hand of God. It’s not — rather, the controlling hold of drugs and addiction”) as he is Duke Ellington’s “Money Jungle” (“When I came across this one, I was amazed at how modern it sounds.”)
For some artists, separating their influences from their own work is nearly impossible. Thankfully, on Smith’s new solo effort, “The Natalie Rose EP,” he’s channeled his all-encompassing love of everything musical into a surprisingly refreshing style, albeit one ultimately inspired and bookended by personal grief.
“Natalie Rose was my grandmother’s maiden name,” Smith said. “She passed away last year and I had a really hard time with it. Some of the songs on the EP are about loss. Her passing really personified that feeling for me — that sense of loss. So I named it after her.”
The mournful atmosphere blankets the record’s four tracks. The EP opens with “Popular Opposites,” a slow, minor-key dirge centered on a winding bass line, heaving orchestral strings and guest vocalist Abby Dearden’s mantra-like phrasing. That song gives way to an acid-rap reimagination of the Parker & The Numberman track “Farmer’s Heart,” off their 2012 album, “SM57.” In this version, a wild, stutter-step beat and distorted electric guitar noodling run amok under psychedelically echoed stream-of-consciousness verses — it’s beat poetry under the stoned guise of jam-band trip hop.
The EP represents a slight stylistic departure for Smith—one that he welcomes. A team of impressive producers (Open Optics, Room E, Andy Matsunaga, Psycho Pop) replaced routine programmed beats with live drumming, organic instrumentation (courtesy of members of local experimental psych rock band A Scribe Amidst the Lions), deftly placed samples, fuzz-out bass lines and mind-bending vocals. “H.D.” bounces along with an exotic, Middle Eastern feel (shades of Mos Def’s “Auditorium”). Smith staggers through “Untitled,” the tape’s minimalist, smooth-burning closing track, with a guest verse from Rune Orfeus; its beat is seemingly on the verge of unraveling altogether, like a dangling thread caught in a washer machine.
“It’s definitely different. But that’s what I was going for,” Smith said. “I wanted to use this opportunity to stretch some, and work outside of my normal parameters: work with different people, play with different sounds, etc. I feel like I’m more personal on this project. I’m usually not like that at all.”
For someone who counts The White Stripes’ “White Blood Cells,” DJ Shadow’s “Entroducing…” and OutKast’s “Aquemini” in his current top five favorite albums of all time, it’s no surprise that “The Natalie Rose EP” plays like a musical trivia game. But for all the influences that could pepper Smith’s diverse lyrical flow, perhaps his greatest talent is not saying anything at all. The temptation to cram anything and everything into any open spot available within a song has long been the downfall of countless musicians. A who’s who of music’s true legends are known for what they don’t play rather than what they do, a fact that isn’t lost on Smith.
“I like how guys like Miles Davis used space. My favorite skateboarders, basketball players and musicians all use it as a tool. I was definitely trying to emulate them and let shit breathe, you know.”
Emulation achieved: Smith literally lets the music do the talking for him. A collaborative work of creative genius, it’s almost a shame that the EP has seen only a limited, cassette-only release. In an age of market oversaturation where artists are desperately trying to get their music heard by any means possible, Smith had a grand design from the beginning.
“I’ve had people pass on it simply because they don’t have a tape player,” he said. “I didn’t even consider that before the project came out. I just wanted it on cassette.”
For those who prefer to feel the bass in their chest, rather than in their headphones, City Heights’ Til-Two Club is the place to be on Nov. 14. 10-19 The Numberman will be performing a solo set comprising “The Natalie Rose EP” selections and other material, and you’ll be able to purchase a copy from him in person.
Better dust off that cassette player.
—Dustin Lothspeich is a music writer in San Diego. Contact him at email@example.com.
4746 El Cajon Blvd. (City Heights)
Tickets are $3 at the door
10 p.m.-2 a.m., 21+
“Hip Hop vs. Punk Rock”
10-19 The Numberman
Aim at the Engines