Thavius Beck knows hip-hop. Hands down, he understands the game's nuances. From his early days in the underground collective Global Phlowtations, to his solo career under the name Adlib, to his current stint as the vinyl hip-hop head honcho at Amoeba Music, Beck has always had his ear to the ground. And Los Angeles is thumping with rabid beats.

So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Beck's most recent solo album Decomposition - his first under his own name - doesn't feel like a hip-hop album at all. It feels more like a complex musical movement. Dodging genres, it is primarily instrumental, with several impeccably placed vocal performances by Beck, and fellow musicians Subtitle and Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta.

Decomposition is an examination of loss and decay. "A lot of reviews I've seen took the title and ran with it, like 'The album is the decomposition of musical genres,'" Beck explains from Amoeba's employee lounge. "No. It's an album about death. The initial track 'Miasma' is emissions that come out of a dead body. And everything from there stems from the decomposition of the human psyche, the way we die and what we go through. It's just an album about death, nothing more, nothing less."

Though Beck admits that his music tends to meander into dark themes, this album especially resonated with somber meaning. After touring with the Mars Volta in Europe, Beck feels that portions of Decomposition reverberate with his personal eulogy for Jeremy Ward, a member of the Mars Volta who passed away last year.

"The stuff he was doing as a sound manipulator showed me another level of live performance and how you can enhance something that's already there. The track 'In Memorium' has a vocal sample from my daughter. That's about how someone's going to be remembered through all the great stuff he's done. In a way it was written as Jeremy had passed. It was a tribute to him."

That the album is so bleak and different from Beck's typical output marks less a change of course than a singular departure from the norm. Beck expects his next album to go back to his familiar hip-hop vibe.

"To be honest, Decomposition is a little out of character for me. Everything I do is going to be dark. It's more about if it's going to be dark with some sort of motivation or forward motion behind it. It's a hip-hop album to me. That's what I've been doing this whole entire time."

In addition to returning to his solo work, Beck's producing schedule has been busy lately. Upcoming releases by local hip-hop figures like Subtitle, Busdriver, and Saul Williams will all sport tracks crafted by Beck. In addition, Beck and Subtitle are currently working on a new album together as Labwaste, scheduled to be released this year on Busdriver's label, Temporary Whatever.

Beck's first participation in hip-hop came through rhyming. But, as an artist who is constantly experimenting with vivid soundscapes, he felt limited by typical attitudes toward emcees.

"I got to this weird identity crisis where rhyming is cool, but for what I want to do, I want to be respected by other artists. They don't respect rappers very much. I want to be respected as a well-rounded musician, not just a rhymer who gets on stage."

On any given day, Beck can be found lounging on the main floor of Amoeba, consorting with customers, and calculating his next musical apocalypse.


Mush Records