Chicago polymath Nnamdi Ogbonnaya has powered brash, adrenalized punk with his ferocious drumming, as well as balanced frisson with vulnerability on knotty postpunk tunes with complicated time signatures—and that’s just a fraction of his guitar-centric catalog, which is still growing as he continues to play in bands such as Monobody, Itto, and Teen Cult. Ogbonnaya’s solo work is just as diverse, including moody, mathletic punk and adventurous pop that’s all over the map—somnolent, chopped-and-screwed ballads, R&B jams speckled with frenetic pinging percussion, and rap that sparkles with the sugar rush of a video game power-up.
Ogbonnaya’s idiosyncrasy, hyperactivity, and disinterest in genre barriers—especially with respect to hip-hop—create an approachable, anything-goes aesthetic space that lends itself to collaboration. On his pop songs, he’s had plenty of pals with more punk bona fides than pop ones make guest appearances—I still love that “Spork” features vocals from Peter Helmis of Dogs on Acid and fourth-wave emo progenitors Algernon Cadwallader. When he makes rap, Ogbonnaya seems to know how to find people whose instincts mesh with his vision. One of his longest-running bands is the Sooper Swag Project, a hip-hop Cerberus that features rappers Luscious Duncan and JD, who makes erratic chiptune songs as Thrash Kitten. Today the Sooper Swag Project drop their first full-length in two years, Badd Timing.
Luscious and JD enable Ogbonnaya’s experimental side on Badd Timing. On the title track, a nervy, shuddering noise-rock breakdown erupts out of a wobbly, skipping funk melody like the Kool-Aid Man bursting through a brick wall. The Sooper Swag Projectuses plenty of alluring, fragmented sounds that make an entire song glow: “Lookin’ Over” features an echoing trumpet that might’ve been ripped from Bitches Brew.
All three MCs match the instrumentals’ freewheeling energy with heated growls, soft coos, and high-pitched squeals. The Sooper Swag Project have a jesterlike sense of whimsy that’s delightful or provocative, depending on your perspective—their gleeful rhymes about, say, Kimmy Gibbler and Ned Flanders on “Mr. Rogers” are bound to ruffle feathers for not fitting a preexisting mold. But what is hip-hop in 2016 if not a challenge to any authoritative sense of what hip-hop should be? Young Thug’s vowel-melting flow has put him on top of the national scene, yet still irks some folks (and that’s not to mention the mixed reactions to upstarts he’s inspired, such as Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert).
The Sooper Swag Project don’t sound like many other rap acts out there now, because they’re dedicated to following their oddest impulses. And that results in some mighty musical moments, like the footwork breakdown and futuristic doo-wop melody on “Girls with Glasses.”