The title of Jason Braun's latest release, Made This for You: The Mix Tape as Literature smacks of a term paper's heading, but that's very much the point. Braun, who performs as Jason & the Beast and teaches creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, has long been set on mixing hip-hop and higher ed, quoting from the canon while staying rooted in non-sampled, live-instrument beats. This mix was assembled at Will Jones' Yellow Hat Studios with help from members of Humdrum as well as DJ Uptown (a.k.a. Jerry Hill). But the musicians take a back seat to the less musically inclined guests; Braun gives various writers and his SIUE comrades chances to wax both eloquent and ridiculous.
In keeping with standard mixtape etiquette, Jason & the Beast pairs songs with interludes and spoken-word bits. But instead of hokey skits, this one is long on literary ephemera of varying sonic fidelity — there are snippets from Braun's on-air interview's from KDHX's (88.1 FM) Literature for the Halibut, snatches of late-night bar talk and pieces of professors' lectures. Early on in Made This for You, we hear name-checks to Odysseus, Dr. Faust and Macbeth's Weird Sisters. But Braun is a pop-culture junkie as well, so riffs on Bob Dylan's selling out, Crocodile Dundee's hero's journey and Ryan Adams' girlfriend-stealing get airing in the interludes. Some offer passing profundities, though a few too many have the had-to-be-there feel of an inside joke.
The more straight-ahead songs on the mix are various versions of indie-friendly hip-hop, and most are less than two minutes in length. "The Thermodynamics of Laundromats" rides on a clicky beat and some circular acoustic guitar picking by Humdrum's Dan Meehan. The bohemian bongo jam "Giant Man, After Matt Kindt" shows Braun's Beat aspirations while Adam Sirgany's baritone sax offers breathy counterpoint. One of the best is the moody, thumping "Basquiat," which recalls Stevie Wonder's "They Won't Go When I Go" while praising the late graffiti artist. Taken all in one piece, Made condenses the high points (and some of the fluff) of an Intro to Literary Studies course into 30 entertaining minutes. But like any good teacher, Braun leaves you a little hungry for more knowledge.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.