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Quadeca’s SCRAPYARD: A Colourful Collage of Genre-Bending Experiments





In the current landscape of experimental hip hop and indie folk, there are very few artists that are delivering mind-bending genre cocktails as exciting and outlandish as Benjamin Lasky, a.k.a. Quadeca. 


For the unfamiliar, this man has his roots in mid 2010s YouTube rap – an arena that very rarely yields musical progressions that deviate much from the standard lyrical miracle formula. Indeed, Quadeca’s mixtape era very much reflected the demands of his audience at the time, with Ben mostly having fun with rapid, carefree rap flows and freestyles, gaining him considerable virality. 


The 2021 follow-up to his Voice Memos mixtape, however, saw him take some unexpected detours, featuring expansive sonic experiments like ‘Sisyphus’ that demonstrated Quadeca’s ambitions to escape the confines of YouTube rap and grow into a more unique, well-defined artist. That leads us to his 2022 release, I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You – an album whose harsh and maximalist production, otherworldly soundscapes and conceptuality completely blew me and many others away. The album builds on ideas that were teased on 2021’s From Me To You and is ultimately garnering him an entirely new, passionate following among more alternative crowds. 


This huge risk may just be one of the most insane artistic pivots I have ever witnessed, especially in the endless sea of KSIs and Jake Pauls that inhabit the same space.


 The musical genius Ben showcased here is nothing short of incredible, seeing him masterfully craft an entire world of sound with the aim of depicting this purgatory-esque place of grief, claustrophobia and crippling loneliness which the ghost-like protagonist inhabits post-suicide. The record scratched a similar itch for me to seminal albums like The Glow, Pt. 2 by The Microphones – a cited influence of Ben’s – while nonetheless refusing to corner itself into that lane exclusively, sprinkling in some Death Grips-adjacent noise rock, blood-curdling and eerie Swans sound palettes, while also giving an entirely original spin to all these styles and pairing them with wildly creative storytelling. 


Given this bold new trajectory, I was beyond excited when Ben announced a new project in 2023. 


This came in the form of the SCRAPYARD series, which involved several consecutive EP releases that seemed to semi-haphazardly collate various experiments Quadeca conducted over the years, whether it be album extras or songs created at various time points of his artistic evolution. 


With each bunch of tracks coming out, I was increasingly taken aback by Ben’s production abilities and the amount of care that went into polishing all of these afterthoughts to perfection. The versatility was impressive too, with Ben embracing his hip hop roots and blending them with this newly patented, glitchy style, a case in point being the track ‘GUESS WHO?’ – a rage banger that sees Ben tapping into the same confident energy his older stuff exuded, while also colouring it with a much stranger brush, incorporating these disorienting hi hats and distorted 808s that are very “new Quadeca” in how entrancing and odd they sound. 


Therefore, in spite of the EPs clearly being a pinhole into different artistic stages, they undeniably embodied an idiosyncratic evolution in its own right, with an effort to reimagine past work through this new, more artistically mature lens. Another track in the same vein was ‘EVEN IF I TRIED’, featuring some synth and percussive work that sounds truly fresh and unlike anything he’s made prior. Although not my favourite from the bunch, it was still quite cool to see Quadeca celebrating his craft in such a braggadocious capacity (“Even if I tried, I couldn’t miss”) and riding the beat so confidently. 


An even weirder moment on the track list is ‘U DON’T KNOW ME LIKE THAT’, which sees Ben doing a Playboy Carti baby voice impression over one of the strangest, most enveloping beats I’ve heard in his catalogue, assembling an overwhelming cocktail of distorted synths, drums and piano lines into an end result that sounds simultaneously broken, ugly and grating, but also stunningly beautiful at the same time in a way which is surprisingly hard to reconcile.

 

Then there are the I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You-style songs like ‘DUSTCUTTER’ and ‘UNDER MY SKIN’ which, albeit incorporating similar soundscapes, demonstrate an impressive mastery of detail that may be a notch or two above some of his previous experimentation in that arena. 


The former is an actual 2022 leftover, featuring some beautifully alluring vocal chops that keep rapid firing in the background and adding a lot of tension to Ben’s intentionally imperfect, shaky delivery, reminiscent of Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. The song’s lyrical themes deal with the ghost character’s loneliness and the fear of being forgotten and “left out in the cold to dry”, but even when considered in isolation from the originally intended concept, the expressions of pain stand on their own very admirably. 


The latter is an even more touching ballad I immediately fell in love with, standing as an amazing example of the beauty Quadeca is capable of evoking with his maximalist, experimental formula, layering these numerous disjointed fragments into a messy, but weirdly compelling song structure.

 

There is also the song ‘WAY TOO MANY FRIENDS’, which is perhaps what feels like the most synergistic fusion between Quadeca’s hip hop and experimental indie folk sides. It is a quirky, tongue-in-cheek, boom bap bop that starts off with a simple piano loop, brought to life by lots of fun, space-filling percussion and drums. As the song progresses, however, the piano becomes almost neurotic, getting increasingly flooded by haunting vocal harmonies and generating this slightly anxious vibe that complements the song’s themes of “struggling to keep up with friends” incredibly well. 

 

The thing that by far impressed me the most on SCRAPYARD, however, is Quadeca’s increasing mastery of simplicity and more minimalist production. 


Albeit hugely impressive, the one occasional downfall of Ben’s approach on I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You was slightly excessive over-layering of elements that sometimes just didn’t end up mixing that well. The genius behind tracks like ‘BEING YOURSELF’ and ‘U TRIED THAT THING WHERE YOU’RE HUMAN’ lies in the decision to strip them back a bit more, allowing every single sonic element to really shine through. Here, we get some weirdly abstract, linear and ambient-style progressions that are paired with devastating lyrics and delivery, making for some of my favourite Quadeca tracks to date. 

 

‘EASIER’ is another example of a simpler approach working wonders, featuring this fuzzy, acoustic guitar melody embedded in a mix that feels like the sounds of a relaxing hot spring; with Ben introspecting over the reason he’s drawn to this person, asking himself whether it’s just “easier” to want them rather than having nothing to desire at all – an all-too-familiar feeling that resonated with me deeply.


 ‘GUIDE DOG’ is a similarly raw, rather concise and stripped back exercise in folk balladry, with the sweet, touching lyricism completely stealing the show.


 Meanwhile, ‘A LA CARTE’ featuring Brakence, although relatively straight-forward in its premise, nonetheless showcases some exquisitely skilful curation, with lots of subtle and quirky embellishments splashed into the mix – from jittery bass-lines, to floaty, tension-building synths – all of which manage to vastly elevate what would otherwise be a rather typical art pop experience.

 

This finally leads me to perhaps my favourite song on here, ‘TEXAS BLUE’, featuring Kevin Abstract. This country-inspired, heart-shattering masterpiece evokes such an incredible mixture of bliss, nostalgia and wistful sadness inside me that is completely overpowering.


 Whether it is the intimate, despondent delivery by Kevin Abstract, the lovely piano elevated by these slightly confused string sections, the subtle tempo changes throughout or the beautiful vocal harmonies and lyrics, I don’t quite know, but the end result is truly special. ‘TEXAS BLUE’ makes for the perfect album closer that wraps up all the loose fragments presented, making them coalesce into a strangely cohesive whole, in spite of the project having no explicit pretensions to achieve such cohesion.


 I really did not think I would love a messy collection of Quadeca leftovers as much as the conceptual giant that is I Didn’t Mean To Haunt You, but I do. In fact, I’m absolutely enamoured with nearly every single idea that is on here. 


Ben’s creative ventures remain as captivating as ever to witness what will likely be one of my favourite projects of 2024, making me well and truly strapped in for his next conceptual piece. 


Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor

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