January is, perhaps, the cruelest month. There is little to no incentive to leave the house. The holidays have passed, snow has turned to sludge. Resolutions grow faint, gym memberships neglected. It’s become this decade’s ‘Why don’t we just stay in and watch Netflix?’ month.
Forged from within his own seasonal anxieties, Raphy’s No Gods on 3rd Street can be viewed as the consequence of a thoroughly modern Thoreauvian hibernation. Insulated from the cold, yes, but hardly dormant, the Detroit based producer’s latest is the sonic manifestation of an adrenalized artistic psyche in isolation. In his own words: “The winter blows. Especially snow; super trash. It’ll be so fucking cold outside, and I don’t want to do shit when it’s like that. I feel like I get trapped in the crib so I just post up and make some dark shit.”
Although the tape often sounds gloomy in the way of much of Raphy’s oeuvre, No Gods remains exuberant and boundless throughout. It is a flurry of booming drums, synaptic glitches, and fragmentary vocal samples. At the atomic level, when water freezes, the water molecules have slowed down enough that their attractions arrange them into fixed positions. Yet over 13 unpredictable tracks, Raphy concocts a bizarre cocktail of dark, spastic Trap and subversive Tech house, rejecting his numbing atmospheric conditions.
808s often make for uncanny explosions in empty space, an apt allegory for Raphy’s DIY, budget-bedroom studio. His is a sequestered space of composition (read: confined apartment during a particularly brutal Michigan winter) colored in by manic fearlessness. When asked about his creative process, Raphy shrugs off the notion that there was any unified vision for the album: “I just sat around and tried out sounds and melodies together and made shit slap.”
And slap, it does. Stop anywhere on this exploratory tour along these thumping 808s and you’ll want to bust out a thousand pushups. Raphy achieves this energized effect by utilizing a portamento style full of pitch bends and slides. The album continues in this intentionally erratic direction with late highlights “Ill”—particularly post beat-switch, the outrageousness of which is unspeakable—and “Weight.” Both tracks find Raphy at his most absurd and experimental; they are devastatingly harsh inflections amidst an avalanche of irreverent, off-kilter beats.
It’s worth noting Raphy’s choice of vocal samples as they are remindful of MF Doom’s in their astounding prolificacy in dark humor over “fuck you” beats. He co-opts provocative platitudes (“I’m just flexin’ on the haters”) and imaginative characterizations (“Jigglypuff ass n****”). These are more so esoteric Vine clips (RIP) than profound comic book references. Not much more needs to be read into them—Raphy is simply havilng fun with it, gleefully shouting into a white abyss.
No Gods also boasts four collaborations with Detroit contemporaries Skywlkr, Caleb Stone, Ambesaw, and Sammy Passion, brought in to help with the chilly drums and twitchy skronks Raphy was chasing. 3rd Street may not be heavenly, but in these collaborative moments it is graced by local beat scene divinity: members of Detroit Lines. Some of us stream Narcos during the wintertime. Others make Trap-ass beats with their friends. No Gods is a testament to inventiveness catalyzed by hermetic winters and a willingness to ask for help.