Half-Assed Men’s ‘Half-Assed Mixtape’ might look like a bit of a joke at first glance. Between the name and sub-10-minute runtime, you’d be forgiven for thinking it had nothing to offer beyond garden variety irony and outdated-in-a-flash pop culture references.
But you’d be dead wrong. The songs may barely last longer than a minute, but this isn’t a throwaway collection of half-baked sketches. Behind the jokey facade lies some of the most incisive and outright enjoyable Malaysian hip-hop releases of recent years.
Half-Assed Men aren’t much for the style du jour of booming 808 kicks, Auto-Tuned vocals, and repetitive one-word hooks. Instead, the duo have their feet planted firmly in the worlds of Madlib and MF DOOM. IMANIAC’s flow owes a lot to the dearly departed rapper – he even makes an overt reference to Doom on ‘Kool Aib’ – while RAPKOT’s intricate, sample-heavy, and playful productions follow in the footsteps of Madlib’s genre-defining work.
The duo nail their colours to the mast from the get-go: opener ‘The Alpha’ marries a bitcrushed piano loop to an audacious snippet of Islamic poem “Tala’ al-Badru’ Alaina”. There’s a logic to the sample, too: the poem, which translates to “the full moon rose over us”, was written to welcome the Prophet Muhammad to Medina. Here it, in turn, welcomes listeners to the world of the Half-Assed Men. It’s an oblique reference, but wonderfully on-brand.
‘The Alpha’ segues perfectly into the second song, ‘Dia Datang’. It’s built on depth charge bass and rapid-fire interpolations of S. Fauziah and Fadzil Ahmad’s classic ’70s pop song of the same name. It’s one of the best productions on the mixtape. IMANIAC starts warming up here, too. He follows a memorable opening couplet – “I go mad man, Don Draper style / I’ll sell ashtrays to some vapin guys” –with a steady stream of taunting and self-aggrandisement that nails the right balance between playful and deadly serious.
Mixtape highlight ‘Stank & Broke’ combines a jagged, see-saw melody loop, vocal snippet, and bass synth stabs to support some of IMANIAC’s most relatable lyrics. “When I wake up ‘John Putih’ for breakfast / Still lying down on my Toto mattress … I wanna be rich tapi tak dapat / Duduk condo sewa rumah pak guard” (“I wanna be rich but I can’t make it / Staying in a condo renting the guardhouse”) is remarkably evocative of being broke in the city, laced with endearingly self-aware humour.
The whole song is an entertaining, self-deprecating trip through being “normally cashless”, including memorable nuggets such as “ignoring my debt sampai korang segan mintak / plan a road trip tapi tanak bayar minyak”. (“Ignoring my debt until you guys are too ashamed to ask for it / Plan a road trip but ain’t paying for petrol”.)
The inverted braggadocio of ‘Stank & Broke’ stands out because it’s the only sustained break from IMANIAC’s single-minded mission of flexing his superiority over lesser rappers. It’s hard to argue with him: whether it’s the sing-song lyrical barbs of ‘Drill Ke Tu?’ or his disdain for “mainstream feeders” on closer ‘The Omega’, IMANIAC is on top form on the ‘Half-Assed Mixtape’.
But it’s producer RAPKOT who steals the show here. His ear for a killer sample is evident all over the mixtape, plundering everything from classic Malay pop to children’s toys to a Converge riff that’ll send hardcore kids of a certain age into reverie. It’s all deftly woven together with top-notch production sensibilities to create some of the most characterful and cheeky beats you’ll hear on a hip-hop mixtape this year.
Combine the two, and what you get is a mixtape that goes by in a flash but offers more delights than many albums running 10 times as long. In an age of overblown hip-hop releases designed to dominate streaming charts, the concision on display here is worth celebrating. “No hooks, no features, just beats & bars”, as the duo put it, might seem restrictive, but Half-Assed Men prove that such a pared-down approach can bear genuinely brilliant fruit.
- Release date: February 7
- Record label: Rapkot Distro