Ugly Orwell (Gabe Karter): Born and raised in Madison, WI. Went to college at the University of Arizona, eventually finishing up at Emerson in Boston. In the years since has spent time in Madison, Tampa, Brooklyn and Washington, DC.
August (Andy Kaufman): Born in NYC, grew up in Connecticut. Also went to the University of Arizona, eventually moved on to Loyola (New Orleans), and finally finished school in CT after being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. In the years since has lived in Madison, Harlem, and Brooklyn.
The shared history of these MCs/beatmakers is simple: a lifelong love of Hip Hop, a chance meeting in college at Arizona and now two albums (released in Madison - 2007 and Brooklyn - 2009).
In the early months of 2008, Ugly Orwell began to lose it. This, in its striking resemblance to the plague that befell August a year earlier, was making for an alarming trend. Wisconsin was a thing of the past by now. August had moved to Harlem, Ugly to Tampa... both in pursuit of dreams that didn't seem to matter. "Strange Passengers" seemed a million miles away, until a single moment provided the inspiration for a different type of project. August was drunk, bundled up nicely in the third row of a since-imploded Shea Stadium... and Ugly was nursing a nosebleed at an airport bar. Through the drizzle, August saw the text: "It's over. I'm drunk at a fucking airport... I don't know where I'm going."
The answer, which came half a year (and half a dozen medications) later, was Brooklyn. The group that once referred to themselves simply as "Horton and August" had taken on a more accurate persona- donning the name "Bi-Polar Bear" in response to the events that preceded this second reunion. In the winter months leading into 2009, "Today I Found Happy" came from the depths of a darkness that neither artist ever wants to see again. The album's intro, appropriately titled "Fuck Her", is an ode to the harder days. If nothing else, the duo wanted their new effort to be indicative of a journey - and like most great stories of redemption, this one starts at the bottom. The second track, "Test Your Might", sees long time associate Kalo return to the process, while Ugly and August revisit the form that inspired their beginnings so many years ago. On "Her for Him" (one of the album's lead singles), Ugly pays his respects to the art of escape, while one of the more infectious choruses in recent memory provides ample space for reflection.
In keeping with the bi-polar motif, August uses "NPFJ" to tell an abbreviated version of his life (and its brush with completion) through the skewed lens of modern religion. The beat, which was made nearly five years before it heard a voice, recalls the producer's comfort zone - with crooning guitars and a strangled vocal sample occupying the forefront. This down tempo step carries itself into the next track as well, as Ugly Orwell debuts an entirely new side to his production arsenal on "Good Moanin'". Here, Orwell's beat lulls us into a redemptive trance, as Ugly describes his reaction to a day worth waking for. The album's title track follows, providing a half-way reminder of the project's true essence.
While "Love Begins to Die" takes us into previously unexplored territories of production, "Night's Like This" sees both emcees in top form. The beat, which August describes as his favorite addition to the album, is the product of a cold winter's night in Madison, while the lyrics attempt to describe the moments in which the sadness just doesn't seem to matter anymore. Serving as a split track, Ugly lends a hand in the second half of "Night's...", providing the perfect balance to segue into the album's final two songs. "Party Girl", a beat that surfaced around the time that "Strange Passengers" faded away, shows Ugly reconnecting with his lighter side. The drums, reminiscent of a marching band's coke binge, are enough to get the laziest listener's head nodding, while Ugly drops some of the smoothest lyrics known to his catalogue. As the album concludes with "Life", we see the cycle complete itself. When Ugly urges us to "make up a song," he reveals the beauty of this coping process in its truest form..."Today I Found Happy."
Maximum Ink Album Review
Review available online @ http://www.maximumink.com/articles.php?articleId=1111
When the 100-year flood hit New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, hundreds of jazz musicians found refuge in Chicago, marking the beginning of the city's new sound in blues. More recently, Hurricane Katrina again flooded the city, and Producer August The Creep left, eventually re-uniting in Madison with Horton The Irrelevant, an MC he teamed up with at the University of Arizona. The duo’s first album, Strange Passengers, is possibly the best hip-hop debut to ever come out of Madison. Horton’s vocals sound like an updated version of the lispy Tame One or Fatlip from the Pharcyde, paired with an educated dose of knowledge. And let's not forget the beats which are soulful and dirty, reminiscent of the days when samplers and vinyl ruled the production studio. August The Creep, who un-retires from rhyming on "3 Headed" and "June, July and ____," has a knack for keeping the listeners attention on the mic and the beats. The combination of words and music flows from intro to chorus and through the verses with enough grit to please the grimiest of hip-hop heads.
The Badger Herald Album Review
Full review available @ http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2007/02/26/horton_has_a_hit_rap.php
On Strange Passengers, Madison spinster Horton the Irrelevant and his cohort, producer August the Creep (Gnarls Barkley comparisons may commence immediately), find a time and a season for all the flavorful strands of hip-hop — gritty gangsta, Gorillaz-esque experimental, soulful hip-pop and more standardized, sample-happy fare. It almost splits at the seams with stylistic variance.
But no matter the tempo, mood or motif, this deliriously enjoyable collection always comes at you with a volcanic rush of swooping grooves, wit, oddity, and left-field invention. You’ll get knocked on your ass and gleefully revel in it.
With Horton stationed at the helm and August managing the production tricks and terrains, they do posture like an underground, poor man’s Gnarls Barkley, but without the third-rate connotations. Strange Passengers, in fact, is a sheer instance of high-minded aspirants dicing up the work of their forebears and successfully merging it into a winning concoction.
The outgrowths of this ramshackle formula take on a maddening array of sonic shapes and colors. “Once Said Truths” is full of scattered atmospherics, almost as if multiple soundscapes are dueling it out for sole domain. The production dosages are kept appropriately light, however, creating a sound of texture, not a confused mishmash. “The Why” poses, at first, like an updated Jackson 5 burner, infused with the stomp and heft of marching soul-rock, and then halfway through curiously downshifts to a darker, enigmatic flow. It’s a theoretical car jam. But Horton’s characteristically throaty and husk-filled vocals bind the bustle of this off-kilter production work.
In addition to its shifty arrangements, Strange Passengers owes its swirling, full-loaded eclecticism to Horton’s wax and wane vocals. On the confessional chorus of “Problems,” he pleads, “Mama, I keep dodging these problems” with urgent self-indictment worthy of 2Pac (like on “Changes”). Horton equally nails the hushed expressiveness of the excellent “Strung Out,” and on its cousin piece, “The Author,” he inflects the twisting narrative with fits of furtive melancholy. One of the album’s rare misses, “3-Headed,” oddly reveals his mettle best because it sets up a contrast with the contributions of Kalo and August the Creep. Bookended by their serviceable vocal tracks, Horton stampedes through the din of sheen waves and female backup samples with a brawny charge.
Overall, Strange Passengers keeps the focus on production schemes, and many of its beats simply cannot be upstaged, even by Horton’s superb delivery. “What I Know” winds through a murky haze of twilight dials that recalls Gorillaz at their subdued best. The absurdly cool “Robots” samples — prepare yourself for this — a NES “Mega Man” theme and thickens its rhythm with punchy percussion. Too self-deprecating to sidestep the irony, Horton basks in it, asserting on the chorus, “You should know in advance what I hold in my hand/ Because Horton’s a Mega Man.”
“Save the Brunettes,” a jaunty ride through Horton’s taste for that hair type, plays up his cheeky inclinations in more plain view. This joyously comical facet of Horton is one measure of his confidence as an artist.
But he’s no one-note bar clown. Strange Passengers does play like an ideal house party backdrop. But it’s too full-bodied of a creation to be pigeonholed in this manner, a reality not lost on the seemingly modest Horton. Amid the click and clack of “Drop the Needle, Push Play, Say Yeah” (a song title the Go Team would likely envy), he allows for a revealing conceit: “Just listen and enjoy/ What a beautiful noise.” Strange Passengers brims with such delights and is so finely crafted that it must be included among the top releases of this still young year.
Grade: 4 out of 5
Isthmus Album Review
Article available @
Madison hip-hop lost a couple major proponents last year when scene promoter Brody Rose (a.k.a. Bro DJ) moved East and the Rob DZ Experience disappeared from club calendars. But the emergence of loquacious local rapper Horton the Irrelevant should do a lot to ease the pain. Strange Passengers, his new 19-track collaboration with New Orleans-based sonic scientist August the Creep, is a very convincing calling card that gives full play to his stentorian vocal style, his sly sense of humor and his aptitude for racing in front of the beat.
On the radio-worthy “Save the Brunettes,” a sardonic riposte to everyone who still believes even bleached blonds have more fun, he swaggers over August’s woozy beat with regal confidence. On the more urgent “Problems,” his pleas for clarity and purpose slap up against the saccharine uplift of Hall and Oates’ “She’s Gone,” producing a ferociously effective aural hook. Some of the best production comes on “What I Know,” a cagey mash-up of distorted electric piano and an oddly edited stop-and-start beat that flutters and flows beneath Horton’s mighty bass-toned palaver. August the Creep also digs deep into his bag of tricks on “Robots,” undergirding Horton’s onrushing rhyme with a sample of some over-driven electric harpsichord.
Searching for a party in a box? Look no further.