Listening to Gabe ‘Nandez’s debut full-length release H.T., it’s hard not to boil the EP down to 26 minutes of mere MF DOOM worship, a sonic payment of the great debt Gabe owes to hip-hop’s greatest villain. It’s enough that Gabe’s voice simply sounds similar to DOOM’s gruff, throaty snarl. Yet throughout H.T., whether rapping about the inadequate MCs that pervade hip-hop or the joys of having a skunky green thumb, Gabe demonstrates a deeper understanding of the ways of The Villain with his tendencies to touch on these themes within his mini-riddle-like rhymes. It just so happens that Gabe ‘Nandez is doing MF DOOM in a time when MF DOOM has stopped doing MF DOOM—and he’s doing so with the deftness of the original Villain in his prime.
Despite undeniable similarities, Gabe is able to convincingly distinguish himself from the original Villain with a more tactful attention to the little details that make a full-length project. The most glaring example is in Ioan Delice’s fantastic feature on the second track, “Gipetto.” Ioan starts his verse singing, stumbling through lines that give the impression of his supposedly unassuming timidness while sweet-talking a lady:
“But out of all these tricks, no bullshit / The one I pick is you.”
The genius of his verse is in how he reveals his actual scummy intentions:
“Wit’ a little effort I kept her / Don’t talk only eff her I prefer / Pop pop nigga hot like that pepper / Pop pop tweakin’ wit’ the freak of the weekend.”
For these bars and the rest of his verse, Ioan seamlessly switches from singing to rapping, and the whiplash from this little transition is one of the most clever moments H.T. has to offer.
Gabe’s mindfulness of the big picture also comes through in the way that he’s economical with the length of his tracks. Of the 8 tracks that comprise H.T.’s 26 minutes, the longest is the last song “Trinity,” clocking in at 3:52. This efficiency makes for a listening experience that isn’t too far off from a smaller-scale Madvillainy with its ability to string together idea after idea in a manner that’s organic. Through this effective use of space, Gabe gives each idea room to live and breathe before moving on to the next.
As far as beats go, at worst they’re innocuous —“Vaccine” is really the only dud—and at best, they’re riddled with cleverly placed intricacies. The opening track, “Champiyawn,” is no-frills and decisive–a brief low-key whir that is immediately followed by Gabe spitting the album’s first verse over a boom-bap drum pattern. As the song progresses, the beat heightens and becomes boomier and bappier as the beat layers in harder bass and snare hits. It makes for a solid opening, settling the listener into the low-key haze that colors the rest of the record. “Skein” sounds like something that could have been cut from an early demo of Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!, its melancholy melody and choice of drum sounds reminiscent of the Brainfeeder mastermind’s dynamic sound palette.
The apex of H.T. comes in the form of “Trine,” undeniably the album’s best song. The track has Gabe spitting over a hazy, laid-back beat that’s laced with a sparse vocal sample, evoking a dusty record overheard from a distance. Halfway through the track, the beat introduces a squeaky melody articulated through behind-the-beat stabs that only punctuate Gabe’s flow, accentuating the potency of his lyricism. Indeed, “Trine” is perhaps the best encapsulation of H.T.’s sound; Gabe’s hazy voice and effortless swagger laid over a slow-burning yet compact beat.
Action Bronson made the self-endangering mistake of saying Ghostface Killah “isn’t rapping like this no more,” and Starks’ subsequent outrage was understandable. Ghost isn’t just riding on a legacy of being the guy who gave us Supreme Clientele and Fishscale; he’s the guy who gave us those records and still manages to consistently give us great records like 12 Reasons to Die and 36 Seasons. Bronson didn’t respect that and he paid the price. A feud between MF DOOM and Gabe ‘Nandez wouldn’t quite play out the same way. H.T. proves that Gabe isn’t committing the crime of copying DOOM, like a punk. No, he’s committing the crime of theft, stealing from DOOM like a true villain. If it all comes down to a matter of respect, then DOOM has no choice but to admit he’s been outplayed at his own game.