WHY?: Mumps, Etc.
Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf has intimated that Mumps, Etc. has some deeply personal songs, and the best lines on the album are self aware. While “Strawberries” has the obvious nod to infirmity (“And I am not okay, boys”), the clearer and perfectly unique description falls somewhere toward the end: “Your mom, she sits while her hair is in curlers/Smokes weed and listens to that Garrison Keillor/That’s how I’ll live when I quit my rap career,” noble aspirations, and a nod to NPR’s own one-man campaign for keeping old time radio on the air.
WHY?, for those who haven’t yet heard a song, is a folk-rap band that blends original instrumentation with poetic rhymes that are almost, but not quite, sung. “Strawberries” is a great lead-in for the uninitiated as it offers more traditional pop music structure. The lyrics are sung, the instruments are lighthearted and jolly. Mumps, Etc. though never hits anything that isn’t a band-constructed beat; it’s fresh and creative. Where Childish Gambino, another more popular rapper who has described his use of instrumentation in hip hop as revolutionary, tries to be innovative, WHY? constructs narrative structures over cellos, acoustic guitars, bells, and drums that aren’t forcing the form, but blending the dead pan cadence of rap with the ebb and flow of folk instruments.
Mumps, Etc. is melancholic exploration of problems. “Distance” chronicles Wolf’s realistic expectations of approach by fans, and keeping a distance (presumably both emotional and physical). “Thirst,” immediately after “Distance,” strips the spiritual and fantastic from those who are desperate for something grand and instead admits, “Know you will always thirst for something/You will always thirst like that.”
Mumps, Etc. is deeply personal when the artist inserts himself into the situation and the scenes described seem constructed from real happenings, but also because names are used, people are cited. “Kevin’s Cancer,” “Strawberries,” and “Jonathan’s Hope” all insert character names. The instrumentation pairs well with the rap matter – it’s oddly depressed, subdued and resigned. Personal, emotional, and sharing thoughts that resonate are why Mumps, Etc. captures attention.
WHY? isn’t a question has to ask, because the answer is because they have to exist. It’s arguable that the closest they get to true rap is “Paper Hearts,” which is poetry slam over sparse electronic beats, but that’s a good thing. Underground rap, white rap, indie rap, folk rap – it should pay attention to what’s innovative, and WHY? is being innovative.