Eat Your Food, the full-length debut from Brooklyn transplants Smitty! and witSmusic, is distinguished by its pockets. Sometimes these pockets are a function of the production duo’s syncopated drums, which lay the framework for witS’s breakneck raps. More often, witS takes advantage of negative space and creates his own, dicing bars into whipsawing rhyme patterns with a surgeon’s precision. He Eat Your Food‘s more expansive tracks, the instrumentals dissolve into discrete elements, allowing witS’s vocals to take on a percussive quality. The result is like a trusty pair of cargo shorts: ductile and utilitarian, if not the flashiest piece in the wardrobe.

An accomplished drummer in addition to his vocal and production work, witS tackles complex flows with mathematical rigor. “Numbin” alternates rhymes on the one and four, with bass and clap drums emphasizing the upbeats. On “Seat 4 Da Cause,” witS’s triple-time flow mirrors the accented snare, maintaining sharp enunciation through a series of tempo shifts. His low, resounding voice pairs with the soft keyboard synths of “Respek,” his percussionist’s instincts evident in transitional pauses and rapid-fire syllabic fills alike.

There’s a whiff of the avant-garde in the duo’s arrangements, yet Eat Your Food feels deeply conscious of its lineage. “God’s Child” layers Rhodes keys over crunchy drums with an SP-1200’s warmth, evoking the treble-heavy sonics of Breaking Atoms and A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. From there, you can trace a line through the alt-rap milestones of the ’90s and 2000s. On the title track, witS’s righteous affect recalls the turn-of-the-century backpack scene, whereas “Try Again” resembles the moodier digressions of Binary Star and Diamond District. The album’s sparer productions have an industrial, found-elements quality reminiscent of New York’s Karma Kids and Backwoodz Studioz crews.

The formal discursions throughout the project make for some of Eat Your Food‘s most compelling moments, even if the duo’s weirder impulses are only visible in glimpses. “Fall Off” and “Numbin” are buoyed by their tricky melodies, while the instrumental breakdown on “Try Again” features a stand-up bass and accordion synth. The juxtaposition of these abstract methods with old-fashioned ethic makes for an offbeat charm. With its state-of-the-rap-union concept, “Co Exist” might have been a drag, but the song’s structural pivots are thrilling. The title track’s social commentary is similarly upbeat without being overly pedantic: “Every day above ground is a good day / Lemons into lemonade, that’s the Black way / Separate the bullshit, and now we happy.”

On occasion, Eat Your Food feels tethered to tradition in a way that prevents witS and Smitty! from making a bolder statement, but there’s something fairly radical about a pair of earnest rap nerds so devoted to the nuts and bolts. The album’s two big-ticket guest appearances are instructctive. Quelle Chris, who appears on “Hurry Up,” is a looser performer than witS, able to convey more in fewer words; Bruiser Wolf’s flamboyance on “Modern Day” renders his collaborators humble by comparison. Yet witS punches his weight on both tracks, flashing mechanics where Wolf and Quelle opt for stylistic grandeur. As a duo, witS and Smitty! are painstaking students who’ve clearly studied the right texts.

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