Friday Night
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"Friday Night Lights"

Hip-hop concept albums are historically futuristic. Whether it's Deltron 3030's vision of apocalyptic consumerism in the next millennium or Mr. Lif's prophesy of a nuclear holocaust on his narrative-focused 2002 record I, Phantom, rappers have often looked at the concept album as an opportunity to critique today's society with an Orwellian outlook on tomorrow.

But Friday Night's self-titled concept album — which is a collaboration between F5 Records alums Hi-Fidel and Serengeti — succeeds because it takes listeners back to the future. A biting satire of the latest generation of coke-snorting weekend warriors, Friday Night sounds like an ultramodern hip-hop ode to 1985.

"[The sound] just screams excess, waste, decadence — cocaine," Hi-Fidel says over the phone from his East LA home. "It's the 1980s in the First World. And in the Third World too, 'cause they supplied half of it. [The sound] helps the message get across a lot easier; people can identify with it. Maybe not for kids who weren't born in the '80s, but they can watch an episode of Miami Vice and get it."

Using spoken dialogue as well as the songs themselves, Night tells the story of two Canadian Club-swilling coworkers Umar and Dave and their wild night on the town. (For what it's worth, Hi-Fidel and 'Geti's given names are Umar Rashid and Dave Cohn, respectively.) After getting stood up by their dates, the bumbling duo embarks on a bender of epic proportions. They stumble upon "half a brick" of free cocaine when their dealer is killed in a robbery, then hit the club and meet a couple of easy women who aren't quite what they seem. The pair sees it all unravel with an overdose, a car crash, a pair of transsexuals and a hilarious moment of clarity.

"Coke nights, they start out with such promise, saying, 'Yeah, it will be so great,' but it always ends in a dark place," says Serengeti, calling from his native Chicago. "It starts with glitter and lip gloss and sequined jackets but ends in a dark corner in a basement. That's funny to me. I find humor in that."

Cocaine is hardly the only topic that the album tackles — several cuts take aim at commercial hip-hop. The chorus of "P.S.R." asks, "You want a rhyme or a limerick?/Glimpse of the business/Trust fund benefit/Never had to work for shit/Pussy sells records." "Certified Platinum" opens with the subtle touch of a scanning radio dial before bursting into a sendoff of chart-topping materialism: "You can listen to this but don't listen to that/'Cause this is that what's good and that shit's whack."

"There's always the same story of the underground rapper making fun of commercial rap, but it sounds so lame," Serengeti says. "Underground pokes fun at commercial rap, but all it does is talk about what commercial rap doesn't do. They don't have their own voice. We were very conscious of not following that mode. We wanted to tell a story using themes and happenings."

The key to Friday Night's dark and absurd style of comedy, however, is not the antics of its hapless protagonists. Hi-Fidel and Serengeti subtly mock the party lifestyle — by creating the perfect party soundtrack. Utterly danceable and clever, the songs reinvent even the corniest elements of synthesizer-driven club music. Like other '80s revivalists such as Justice and LCD Soundsystem, the music has just the right combination of swagger and sarcasm to make kitschy keyboards and drum machines sound cool again.

"We wanted something viewed as classic but very current and progressive," Hi-Fidel says.

To achieve its aesthetic, Friday Night enlisted an LA-based production team formerly known as the Art Thugs. Now working under the banner of Breakfast Beats, Webster Groves natives Grilla (Sam McConnell) and Ish (Matt Risch) say that the final Friday Night product was the result of several revisions.

"We started out wanting to do a straightforward hip-hop record with more sample-based production, but Serengeti mentioned that he wanted to go in a more dance direction, more electronic," Grilla says. "We started doing research, going back to Gang of Four and Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, a lot of '80s pop and new wave. It was heavily influenced by early electro breakbeat and '80s and '90s hip-hop, all mashed together with a little bit of club/dance tongue-in-cheek going on. We like our music to sound smart."

Adds Ish: "Once we knew we were going in that direction, we needed them to put the story in place, so that we could actually convey it with the melody. It was like scoring a film."

Grilla and Ish, who have produced tracks for locals Rockwell Knuckles and Wafeek, aren't the only ties that Friday Night has to St. Louis; Black Spade's vocals are featured on the standout track "Str8 2 Voicemail." But the strongest connection to the area is Hi-Fidel, a founding member of the F5 crew and F5 Records. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this week, F5 was formed when Hi-Fidel and DJ Crucial were both students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

"It started off with Crucial DJing around campus," Fidel recalls. "We were putting out mixtapes, he had me come over, and we recorded a mix and have worked together ever since. It grew into a label a year or two later."

Since then, the collective has come to include a broad array of local artists, including Serengeti, Nato Caliph, Altered St8s of Consciousness, Bits N Pieces and the Earthworms.

"We were like the Carbondale Wu-Tang," Fidel jokes. "Or the Jimi Hendrix Experience, if you think about how we crossed racial and cultural lines."

In 2000, Fidel moved to Los Angeles. In addition to pursuing a career in music, he has established himself as a successful painter in the LA art world, working under the moniker Frohawk Two-Feathers. He says that his adaptation to life in LA helped inspire the primary theme of Friday Night.

"I saw a lot of people really doing a bunch of blow," Hi-Fidel says. "I was like, Man, so this is it. But really [the] city [in Night is] a mixture of LA, Chicago and Miami. It's a composite type of city and composite characters. The bigger the city, the more you see it, but that doesn't mean that it's not going everywhere."

Ultimately, though, Friday Night is effective because of how it intertwines subtle character development with absurd narrative. The plot twists in the last few songs work because of foreshadowing and attention to detail which appear earlier on the record. For instance, a girl Hi-Fidel compliments on her tan and "neck-down niceness" in the midst of a drugged and drunken stupor, becomes "flat-chested" and "whorish and orange" when the high wears off.

"All these albums that I've made, I wanted to tell a story," Hi-Fidel says. "But I've never been able to tell it as concise and with as much energy and vigor and humor as I have with this one."

- Keegan Hamilton, St. Louis Riverfront Times - Village Voice Media


"Serengeti and Hi-Fidel are Friday Night"

Every day musicians I could give two shits about put out new albums. Their music gets played on the radio. Their videos get played on television, or watched on YouTube, or wherever the fuck people actually watch videos these days. Their face appear on the covers and in the pages of magazines. Bloggers mess themselves over them. And they even get invited on national television programs to perform their songs live for audiences made up of millions of potential fans.

It’s with nearly the same frequency that a certain rapper I love puts out new albums. He’s released at least three so far this year alone! That prolific emcee’s name is Dave Cohn, though he prefers the alias Serengeti, and he hails from the city of Chicago, Illinois. His Chi-town-themed concept album Dennehy and his electronic emopus Don’t Give Up, a collaboration with producer Polyphonic, were two of my favorite albums last year. In 2008 he released an updated and improved Dennehy and joined forces with Chicago beatmaker Tony Trimm and New Zealand-born vocalist Renee-Louise Carafice as Yoome for another outstanding robo-rap outing. That would be more than enough for the average musician, but not the ‘Geti King! Which is why I hold in my hand a freshly-pressed self-titled CD from Friday Night, another group-project, this time with Chicago-bred, Los Angeles-based emcee and visual artist Hi-Fidel a.k.a. Frohawk Two Feathers.

Anyone who’s followed Serengeti’s career to-date should well know that he’s a master of conceptual songwriting and album-making who’s capable of creating fully fleshed out characters and inhabiting them wholly through scenarios both profound and frivolous. Since his 2002 debut Dirty Flamingo he’s presented himself in a sort of uncomfortably reflective, self-deprecating, emotionally honest way, even when he was spitting braggadocio, spinning humorous yarns and bugging out. Of late the in your face boasts, goofiness and abstraction have taken a backseat to soul-baringly emotive journal recitations and scarred recountings of his personal travails. But on Friday Night ‘Geti and Fidel, with help from Los Angeles-based production duo Breakfast (formerly Art Thugs), approach having fun and acting a fool with the same level seriousness, artistry, authenticity and attention to detail that he’s addressed matters of the heart and existential pathos with on his last couple of records.

Like Dennehy before it Friday Night is a concept album. Over the course of 15 tracks and just over an hour it follows “heroes” Dave and Umar, two workplace acquaintances happenstance pulls into a madcap series of misadventures involving booze, drugs, “girls,” clubbing and tragedy. It works sorta like of one of those sophomoric road movies starring Cory Haim and Cory Feldman, or Harold and Kumar if they were into coke instead of weed, is tighter in execution (thanks to linear storytelling and cinematic skits that string it together) than Dennehy, and is one of the most epic Hip-Hop concept LPs since The Streets‘ A Grand Don’t Come for Free, Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves or Organized Konfusion’s Equinox. It also benefits from the evenhanded production of the Breakfast Beats crew, who lace the duo’s lascivious lyricism with synth-and-808-heavy beats that appropriately range from “clubby” to “get crunk.”

As might be expected from the pairing of ‘Geti and Fidel, surreal celluloid-style storytelling comprised of abstract imagery, complimented by eccentric vocabulary and culminating in unpredictable twists is the order of the day. “Girl” for example is the most cinematic drug deal gone wrong song I’ve heard since Ghostface Killah’s “Shakey Dog” thanks in equal measure to some of the most whimsical lyricism this side of Ghostface or MF Doom and a sizzurpy space-age Trap-Hop track that would suit the Lil Waynes of the world perfectly. Speaking of Weezy, “Boy,” voiced entirely in that devilish slowed-down chopped-n-screwed pitch-shift effect, is one of the most effective cuts since his “I Feel Like Dying” (or Mike Skinner’s “Blinded by the Lights”) at conveying the less-than-desirable feelings associated with recreational drug-use. I can’t even discuss many of the most compelling tracks for fear of blowing some of the surprises in the album’s storyline.

I can’t neglect to mention a couple more of my favorite tunes though…Higher velocity tracks, like “She Luh That” and “Let’s Go!,” which both tread into 808-and-cowbell-fueled booty-clap and body-rock Electro/Bass territory, are standouts based solely on production alone…Mellow-meets-melancholy numbers like “Crashing Down,” “The Gold Coast” (one of two selections featuring guest crooning from Hi-Fidel’s Missouri-based homie and Blogarhythms favorite Black Spade) and “Re-Arrange the Light,” which mix slumpy Electrofunk/slow-jam drum-machine beats with chilly IDM-ish electronics sound the most like something that could’ve been on one of Serengeti’s recent joints such as Don’t Give Up or The Boredom of Me…And Los Angeles area “Hipster”-Hop clique 87 Stick-Up Kids* add some of their Throwback-Rap/club kid flavor to the only vaguely Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired beatbox freestyle cum club banger “Down On the Corner.”

If an album by a Chicago area Hip-Hop artist could’ve carried the appelation Invincible Summer (the now abandoned title of Common’s forthcoming LP) and lived up to it Hi-Fidel and Serengeti’s Friday Night is it! Granted, Friday Night is just as perfect a title, but with its debauched story-raps and futuristic beats that embrace, envelope, devour, digest and absorb the sounds of the “dirty” South, the West Coast, old-school Rap & Electro, electronica and the shit popping in the “Hipster”-Rap & Club-Rap scenes it would’ve killed that warm-weather-wildin’-out vibe. I know it’s not exactly warm right now, but the shit still works…Like a glamorous companion to Dennehy, a David Lynchian (or Cohen Brothers-esque) cousin to Kail’s True Hollywood Squares, or a whole album by the dude behind N*E*R*D’s “Everyone Nose” if he was a dick who gave girls drugs instead of a nice dude who helped them come down.

Cop one of these bad boys on the Friday Night website right the eff now!

*ADDENDUM*

…Hopefully remember that self-titled album from Chi-Town’s Serengeti and adopted Los Angelino Hi-Fidel as Friday Night which I profiled last week where the two adopt the personas of two office-workers who get more than they bargained for when they embark on a night on the town. I know I already gave it the thumbs up, but I’ve been listening to it a whole lot over the last week and it just keeps getting better with every consecutive listen. I’m amazed at both of these dudes’ abilities to not only submerge themselves so wholly in the characters they portray throughout the album but then totally assimilate the trappings of the sort of commercial Rap two dudes making the night-club rounds on a Friday night are likely to hear a whole lot of into those characters while holding onto their intelligence and creativity thereby subverting the affected behaviors and characteristics to their own purposes. A song like “She Luh Dat” will come on my iPod and I’ll have to stop and ask “wait, am I really listening to ‘Geti and Fidel?” and then one of them will use a phrase like “mise en scène” between all the talk of pole-dancing and pockets full of blow and I’ll go “oh, yeah…I sure am.” It’s really not as simple as a couple of backpack rappers getting goofy or making an electroclubcrunkwhatever record, and it officially went on sale last week. - www.okayplayer.com


"Friday Night : Friday Night"

Hip-hop, or more specifically, the hyper-masculine thug archetype perpetuated by Jimmy Iovine and his ilk, facilitates self-parody to an extent: clueless buffoons running about in ridiculous chains, spouting verbal diarrhea that amounts to tremendously insecure self-aggrandizement (hey, DJ Khaled). It’s the prudent approach to just allow the sheer ludicrousness of this minstrelsy to serve as its own comedy; some of this stuff is so poignant it doesn’t require its condemnation or commentary, just a room-temperature IQ and functioning senses.

Attempting to chime in on this toxicity through one’s art is often as inane as the actual music being commented upon; also: it’s self-important and dick-ish. The notion of “conscious” rap is laughable in 2008 because of so many botched attempts to articulate the merits of “real hip-hop.” Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show (2005) fell flat on its face in part due to its ultimate purposelessness. Phonte came out in interviews preceding the album irately bitching about rap’s obsession with materialism and proceeded to put out a marginally boring record about rapping held together loosely by half-funny skits lampooning acts Dave Chappelle had already mocked ten times better. Not that these aren’t legitimate qualms, but its execution was as boring as any Plies record. You can see why it’s hard to take this stuff seriously anymore.

Which brings me to Friday Night—who certainly aren’t taking any offense at their money-loving counterparts’ idiocy, just happy to have some material—composed of Chicago cabbie/rapper Serengeti and his frequent collaborator Hi-Fidel, who eagerly consume thug-isms and the senseless rhetoric of party and bullshit rappers, and, instead of commenting upon them explicitly, don their clothes and crash their shindigs, playing the part of the snide assholes in the corner mocking the rest of the room with facetious quips. As Serengeti deadpans to Hi-Fidel’s inquiry about what he’s about to get into next amidst a night of debauchery: “coke.” There’s a vividness to the characters Geti and Fidel play here, some bizarre cross between the Big Tymers (charisma and winking intact) and Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan in the “What Is Love?” skit, out for a good time, but unconsciously fucking everything up—spilling drinks on themselves, getting a good friend killed, and a slew of other unfortunate coincidences (driven home by their hilariously nervous interactions with various partygoers in a series of skits).

This could be helplessly stupid in less able hands; Geti could drive that coke joke into the ground and Hi-Fidel could sport a diamond-encrusted penis around his neck, but there’s enough restraint here for things to be consistently engaging. It helps that these guys are genuinely talented rappers with an impressive chemistry, Geti’s stumbling, at times borderline autistic flow bouncing off of Hi-Fidel’s emphatic baritone; you can almost hear them giggling at how absurd the other one seems. Which explains why this is so much more interesting than most parodies: it’s actually a fair amount of fun on its own. It’s a party record making fun of parties, really. This is accentuated on the horn-driven “Down On The Corner” where Geti laments, revealing his character’s inner lameness: “Tonight feels like Easter / I need new beaver / I heard you gotta be calm / Can’t be too eager.”

The Art Thugs lend the album its whimsy as much as do Serengeti and Hi-Fidel’s oversized personalities. Their electro-inspired beats walk the same tightrope between satiric and, y’know, actually good that the MCs do. “Girl” is a slow, erotic exhalation of weed smoke accented by chintzy effects and outlandish sound effects, the perfect soundtrack to Geti and Hi-Fidel’s explanation of a night out that ends up killing several acquaintances. “Certified Platinum” features silliness like “Smell like Friday night / Act like Metaknight” over adamant, bass-heavy bounce aerated by slight synths.

As engaging as all this is, Fidel and Geti really are just playing half-baked faux-gangsters, and this shows through over the course of 66 minutes, especially during a ten minute span of overly obvious punchlines and lazy observations in the latter half of the record. But, defying the trend, the Chicagoans avoid harping on the same stereotypes repetitiously, electing to make asses of themselves rather than sport Roman collars. Ultimately, their self-titled effort succeeds because of this decision to have fun with themselves and their targets in equal measure, draining this satire of its self-importance and allowing the funny to shine like the oversized disco balls at the dive bars they frequent. - www.cokemachineglow.com


"Friday Night: Friday Night"

Friday Night features acclaimed underground rappers Serengeti and Hi-Fidel, and tells the story of two co-workers who are stood up by the same woman at the same bar. They decide to go out searching for drugs and women together, and the night quickly gets out of hand. Produced by Grilla and Ish, it's an introspective work that doubles as a party album, full of danceable electro and pop hip-hop beats. At times it's a parody of the mindless, lowest common denominator rap espoused by Plies and the like. On "She Luh That," for example, to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" Fidel raps: "All these ho's is in the club/Riding on my pony/When I'm finished with that shit/I'll pass it to my homies." Silly or not, almost every track explodes, and the work is highlighted by "PSR" and "Re-Arrange the Light." Call it goofily, thoughtfully moving. Available at thefridaynight.com. 5 stars. - Creative Loafing Atlanta


"The Year That Was: The Best of 2008"

1. Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer

2. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III

3. Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak

4. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

5. Friday Night, Friday Night Composed of gifted emcees Hi-Fidel and Serengeti, duo Friday Night put out a thoughtful and hilarious debut that chronicles a night of wild capers and crazy partying.

6. Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us The husband-and-wife team of Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel quit experimenting with sound and made crowd-pleasing pop instead. As inspiring as anything released this year.

7. Black Milk, Tronic

8. The Magnetic Fields, Distortion

9. Vast Aire, Deuces Wild An apocalyptic tour de force, almost good enough to make everybody stop whining for a reunion of his group Cannibal Ox.

10. 9th Wonder & Buckshot, The Formula - Las Vegas Weekly


Discography

Friday Night LP (2008 Breakfast Records)

Photos

Bio

Breakfast Records proudly presents FRIDAY NIGHT, a concept LP featuring Hi-Fidel and Serengeti with production by Grilla and Ish. After years of chance encounters, coast-to-coast touring, marathon studio sessions and a trail of discarded beats, the album went live on December 3rd 2008 for online/direct distribution via thefridaynight.com and cdbaby.com. Release via iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, eMusic, Amie Street and other online music retailers will follow soon. The CD is also available in select stores (Amoeba Records, Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records, Grooveriders) with more to come soon.

But right now this is an upstart creation in every sense of the word, an underground product of dedication and hustle from like-minded artists with stories to tell and the means to tell them.

WHAT IS FRIDAY NIGHT?

It’s the saga of Dave (Serengeti) and Umar (Hi-Fidel), two working stiffs who’ve seen each other around the office from time to time. One Friday night they wind up in the same club, stood up by the same girl. With paychecks in their pockets and the weekend stretching ahead, they decide to make the most of it.

A simple drive down the coast kicks off an evening of drugs, sex, music, and murder, a tidal wave of hedonism Dave and Umar will not escape intact.

CRITICS ARE SAYING…

“…One of the most epic Hip-Hop concept LPs since The Streets‘ A Grand Don’t Come for Free, Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves or Organized Konfusion’s Equinox.”

- El Keter, Blogarhythms/Okayplayer.com

“Gifted emcees Hi-Fidel and Serengeti as duo Friday Night put out a thoughtful and hilarious debut…5 stars.”

- Ben Westoff, Las Vegas Weekly’s Top 10 Albums ‘08

“…These guys are genuinely talented rappers with an impressive chemistry.”

- Colin McGowan, Cokemachineglow.com

“This is the album of the year! Produced by Grilla and Ish, and featuring incredible raps by Hi-Fidel and Serengeti, "Friday Night" is an electro-funk, hip hop, pop masterpiece.”

- Jim Mahfood, 40ozcomics.com

“One of the top 10 albums of 2008.”

- Washington City Paper and Creative Loafing Atlanta

HOW IT HAPPENED…

An extremely prolific artist, Chicago based emcee Serengeti's first album Dirty Flamingo, was released by STL indie label F5 Records in 2002. After touring the US with Art Thugs and DJ Crucial in 2003 his follow-up Noodle Arm Whimsy hit the shelves. Since then he has released several records on multiple labels including Don't Give Up, Gasoline Rainbows, Noticeably Negro, Dennehy, and Thunder Valley. Outside his solo work he splits time between other projects like Yoome - composed of 'Geti, Chicago producer Tony Trimm, and New Zealand born singer Renee Louise Carafice; or a collaboration with Buck 65 and Sufjan Stevens on the forthcoming Dark Was the Night Red + Hot AIDS benefit album.

Hi-Fidel is an accomplished emcee in his own right: his debut Traveling Between St. Louis and Chicago (2001) and his 2007 follow up The Company of Wolves earned worldwide critical acclaim. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Hi-Fidel is better known these days as Frohawk Two Feathers, a talented painter, writer and artist, showing work in Los Angeles, Miami and New York, and contributing articles to magazines such as Flaunt.

Hi-Fidel and Serengeti met while attending Southern Illinois University, where they also met Breakfast's Grilla and Ish (then players in a live hip-hop band from STL that worked the college party circuit). In 2003, F5 Records and Art Thugs (Grilla and Ish's new project) booked a national tour to promote Serengeti's Dirty Flamingo and Art Thugs' Surviving And Building. Serengeti and the Art Thugs shared the stage, backed each other's sets, and formed a strong friendship along the way. The tour ended in Los Angeles with a promise to make records in the future.

Later that year, Art Thugs disbanded. Grilla and Ish relocated to Los Angeles where they established The Manor Recording Studios and started Breakfast LLC as an avenue to produce, publish, license and release their own music. Breakfast went to work on production and recording for music, for film, but most importantly for developing talent. From LA to STL and stops in between, clients included Funkdoobiest, Kool Keith, Digital Underground, Burton Snowboards and Destineer Games among others.

Fast forward to '08 - after months of discarded beats, song ideas and album concepts, Serengeti made the trek out to Los Angeles to team up with old friend Hi-Fidel at The Manor in Lincoln Heights. Over 4 marathon days of writing and recording - Friday Night was born. The group enlisted the help of friends Black Spade (Om Records recording artist and fellow STL native), Los Angeles artists TeLuv, and electro-rap favorites The 87 Stick Up Kids to bring in added flavor. While currently working on music videos and planning for live performance, the group is already beginning work on a follow up sequel to the debut.

For more info