The Genius of Adam Snow
Adam Snow, a reclusive bomber-jacket and snap-back-clad beat producer from Washington. D.C., is the most innovative mind in hip-hop. And he doesn’t even rap.
His tracks on SoundCloud aren’t peppered with trendy genre hashtags. They’re simply marked with #Electronic, #Hip Hip, or sometimes #Love.
The music of Adam Snow, and his debut album, The Story So Far, lives in dark, damp places, down in the swampy, muddy areas of life, lifted up momentarily for two or three wistful, angelic minutes, as in “Always and Forever” and “Safe and Sound.” These songs (and the album as a whole) end on a wistful, bittersweet note — as EARMILK noted, “This is the type of music you cry to.” He is a man who has suffered love, loss, and heartbreak, and has poured all of these emotions and more into his work.
Adam Snow would never have crossed my radar if it weren’t for the eclectic and enthusiastic YouTube music promoter MrSuicideSheep, who uploaded “Meghan’s Theme” to his nearly six-million-subscriber channel, commenting “Oh my, I’m in love.” Since May of 2015, the song has racked up 1.2 million plays on YouTube alone.
Snow, for his part, has no YouTube channel. His social media presence, or lack thereof, breaks all the rules, much like his music. Carter Films teased a yet-to-be-released music video for Safe and Sound, but other than that, mum’s been the word on Snow’s artistic output since the end of 2015.
Snow’s Twitter and its relatively meager 3,200 followers is an intermittent stream that vacillates from cynicism to rise-above motivation. A recent follower poll asked whether most people are “1) reasonable or 2) cray.” (The results: ten votes for each.)
Thus is the online inequality gap; a digital hip-hop virtuoso has about as many social media fans as popular high school girl in the suburbs.
Suffice it to say, Adam Snow is criminally underappreciated. In September of 2015, Reddit user tiggerclaw submitted a lengthy post that detailed the musical roots of Snow’s music, reviewed each track in The Story So Far, and included an interview with the man himself. It got three upvotes.
Adam Snow’s tuned-up vocal loops hearken back to early Kanye, but pilfered from obscure, mournful SoundCloud talents circa 2010 rather than upbeat ’70s and ’80s pop hits. For many of his songs, the emotional core is driven by an intentionally bass and treble-boosted hip-hop-style beat. If Céline Dion had sung in sync with a beatboxer, Adam Snow might have some musical relatives. Lacking that, he’s one of a kind. He doesn’t speak or think in intros, verses and outros. Some songs fade like dissipating fog; others stop on a dime.
Snow has a talent for excising, distilling, and crystallizing the most emotionally dense snippets from his source material. Gabrielle Aplin’s four-minute, meandering “Start of Time” becomes a meager eight lines stretched over two minutes and forty-three seconds:
Oh today I’m just a drop of water
And I’m running down a mountain side
Come tomorrow I’ll be in the ocean
I’ll be rising with the morning tide
There’s a ghost upon the moor tonight
Now it’s in our house
When you walked into the room just then
It’s like the sun came out.
Sped up and set to a harsh, treble-heavy beat, “Meghan’s Theme” positively soars out of your headphones — do take care to listen to it (and all of Snow’s music) through quality audio equipment; playing The Story So Far on laptop speakers or a cell phone is committing a special kind of aural sadism.
The similarly-dedicated “Amelia’s Theme” is even more aggressively chopped. Lucy Rose’s “Watch Over” proves fertile ground for Snow’s scalpel; the song’s indie folk gallivanting is reduced to:
It’s a long time
Heard it all before
It’s a long time
Tell me is this what you’re looking for?
Guided along by a halting, stuttering bass line and Snow’s trademark hit-you-over-the-head treble, you could conceivably enjoy this track using half a dozen tweeters and one very large subwoofer.
Other work dives even deeper into the verbal abyss; “All Night” consists of two minutes of simply the title words, recited in sets of four:
All night, all night, all night, all night
It hypnotizes you into a depression or drug-like daze, pining for love and life lost.
If “All Night” is hypnosis, Snow’s standalone single “Sleep” is downright indoctrination. A stuttered, domineering male voice marches over the kind of droning reverberations you only hear at four in the morning:
Over and over, flowing one into the next.
I can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night.
“Cameras (Part II)” is so chopped and screwed that the words themselves break down, the verbalizations becoming mere phonemes, notes on a mephistophelian electronic keyboard.
It’s tempting to lump Adam Snow into the obscure genre of “Sad Rap,” perhaps assigning him an honorary place among the Sad Boy Nation. But the emotions of Adam Snow have a rawness, a realness, and a ruggedness missing in other examinations of darkness, depression, loss, and unrequited longing. If The Story So Far makes you cry after you’ve had a few too many drinks (and trust me, it will), you won’t be feeling one bit ironic about it. Plus, he’s not a rapper, remember?
The Story So Far is the most groundbreaking and masterful sixteen minutes and three seconds of hip-hop / electronic fusion you’ll find this side of the twentieth century. It’s also free to download. What’s he fusing his hip-hop heart with? Love, loss, maybe some “Drugs and Mirrors,” and the software soul that was brush and canvas to his emotional palette.
Adam Snow has promised a return in 2017, teasing a follow-up album, tentatively titled “So Far, So Good” — an apt title indeed.