Depending on whom you talk to, and on what day, cLOUDDEAD is either the world's greatest hip-hop act, a throwback to the forward-thinking spirit of the 60's psychedelic movement, or just plain shit. Of course, in many ways, it's all of the above and more, but in producer odd nosdam's opinion of hip-hop is or how it may differ from anyone else's, especially when you consider that I've been following hip-hop for almost 20 years now," he says. "If me payin' $71 dollars for the "Dixie Peach Break " on eBay to use on an unreleased cLOUDDEAD song ain't hip-hop, then I don't know what is." Nosdam's also got some choice words for those quick to dismiss him and his mates as pretenders to the throne: "Here's a quote from a recent 'Dead Dogs Two' [the single from the new album 'Ten'] review in The Observer [UK]: 'San Francisco's cLOUDDEAD are rappers Doseone and why? and samplemeister odd nosdam and -horror!-they are white and middle class.' What purpose does a statement like this serve? Even if it's a joke, stuff like this perpetuates the very played 'Is it hip hop?' debate." In the end, he comes to the conclusion that nobody "even gives a fuck if it's 'hip-hop or not' anymore."
Though they come together to work on various projects, cLOUDDEAD being the most high profile of the lot, the three members have startlingly different opinions on how they fit into the grand scheme of cLOUDDEAD. Doseone (Adam Drucker) coyly says, "I am a poem co-consultant, musical mess maker, and emotional underdog. I also worry the most and like the dead animal part the best." Why? (Jonathan Wolf) opts for the straight-and-narrow approach when explaining his role. "Adam and I write all the words together," he says. "I also write and record about half of the music, and play all the instruments.". In characteristic fashion, odd nosdam (David Madson) pulls the whole thing together. "I guess I've always has the vision of what cLOUDDEAD could be, both sonically and aesthetically," he says. "For example, the ' cLOUDDEAD sound' came from inspired eight-track tinkerings in my bedroom, which led to a more serious vocal approach from Doseone and why?, which inspired me to go even further with this 'sound.'"
The dense, dark production of nosdam is one of the key factors that separates cLOUDDEAD from it's like-minded peers, so naturally, when asked what producers he looks up to, he has plenty to say. "It's difficult to explain how anything of mine comes about, so with that said, my biggest influence are the personality and emotional content of people like why?, Jel, Andrew Broder, Phil Elvrum (the Microphones), Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Lee Perry, the Beatles and Sir George Martin et al," he says. "Each of them has influenced, in one way or another, be it through beats or rhymes or flicks of the fader, my production style."
When asked how the songwriting process behind cLOUDDEAD differs from that of his other projects, why? is quick to point out that " cLOUDDEAD is the only group I'm in which I write the words with another person. It's very difficult to collaborate in this way, but it seems to yield good results - checks and balances, you know, editing each other's thoughts. The creation of 'Ten' was kind of odd in that we passed the music back and forth between out respective studios, and rarely recorded in the same room at the same time".
Though the group's self-titled debut album was actually as assemblage of 10-inch releases that somehow gelled into a beautiful, cohesive whole, its follow-up was a wholly new adventure for the group. When asked about the differences in crafting a cohesive song-cycle as opposed to individual pieces of a larger whole, Doseone explains that there are more similarities than one might think. "Neither record was difficult to assemble," he says. "Why? and I seem to see things a certain way together, or we can't really cut poem from it, and the fashioning of the musical sound follows along a similar line of creativity control. This record is also based largely on our cLOUDDEAD experience, revisiting themes that make us blink, and elaborating on what has always stuck to our ribs". He does point out one crucial difference between the two albums: "'Ten' breathes easy in the images it chooses to string together, whereas the self-titled record had no bounds and few conclusions."
So why name its second album 'Ten"? Nosdam reveals that "the name 'Ten' was chosen because this is cLOUDDEAD's tenth (and final) proper vinyl release." So, is this really the end of cLOUDDEAD? Why? elaborates on the group's dissolution. "I think cLOUDDEAD has run its course," he says. "I'm glad to end the thing on a relatively positive and friendly note with a worthwhile album and bunch of magazine interviews. It's certainly better than going out with a shit record and MTV aspirations and a bunch of ex-fans, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Whether or not 'Ten' indeed is cLOUDDEAD's final chapter, the self-consciously surreal lyrics why? and Dose have penned for the album are certain to become poetic rallying cries. But unlike most MCs, the pair's creative spark doesn't hit once it's heard the beat drop. "[With 'Ten'] the music came later," why? says. "We almost never write words to music, and I know that is a typical hip-hop thing to do, but for some reason or another we never really got too into that. I think the album is lyrically cohesive, even for the simple fact that they were all written within a relatively short time period, while we were in the throws of a very specific lifestyle."
More so than most acts, cLOUDDEAD is extremely cognizant of it's packaging, from the music outward to the album art and even branding. According to nosdam, "I would say the three of us are naturally very aesthetically minded people, so of course this is going to carry over into how we package our product or what we choose to put on our kitchen walls." But it seems to go even deeper for nosdam than a slick marketing plan or instant recognition. "Every little bit that we put into our music/art is 'necessary,' if that makes any sense," he says. "Plus we feel that a record cover can do so much to enhance a listener's experience within the music.
"For 'Ten's' cover art, I wanted it to have this quality of timelessness, like something you'd find, undisturbed for years, hidden in your grandma's dark, musty attic."