Thai rapper JUU4E likes marijuana. That is obvious from the very beginning of ‘Crazy World’, his second offering for Japanese label EM Records: it opens with a distorted percussion loop and the sound of a righteous bong rip. As JUU4E piles on the reverb, another thing becomes clear: ‘Crazy World’ is going to be a bit of a trip.
‘Crazy World’ is the creation of an inveterate stoner – one who, from the sounds of it, cruises through YouTube and SoulSeek while in a pleasant haze. JUU4E (the “4E” stands for the “four elements”) turns out dense productions that combine everything from modern-day trap to dub reggae to traditional Asian music, elements mashed together with almost oblivious confidence and charming irreverence.
Over its 43 minutes, ‘Crazy World’ draws on a vast array of genres, integrating everything from Thai luk thung to Japanese min’yō via Indonesian tari kipas and club-grade booming 808 kicks into an intoxicating whole. It’s easy to imagine him giggling all the way through, jumping from sample to sample, all red-eyed, with bong close at hand. One of the best examples of JUU4E’s sound on ‘Crazy World’ is the seventh song, ‘A Message For Your Mind’. On this album standout, the Thai rapper combines manipulated tari kipas percussion with distorted 808 kicks, Bones-esque scream-rap and a surprisingly jaunty hook.
Despite the hard edge to the music, the titular message is one of positivity. ‘A Message For Your Mind’ is something of a call to arms for the youth of Thailand (and, one suspects, world): “We don’t want to be confused anymore / We are the new generation / It’s time to end this mafia era / We’ve had enough”.
These declarations are not particularly profound: rather, they scan as pretty elementary and perhaps awkward. But that’s part of JUU4E’s charm: he’s unafraid of coming across as overly earnest and even a bit cringeworthy.
JUU4E can veer close to being intolerable on occasion, and ‘Thonburi Donburi’ is a perfect example. The main melody – which sounds possibly sampled and reconstructed from a Thai ramwong song – and sing-song chorus make for a remarkably catchy track.
But the song also grates in its eagerness to please. It doesn’t help that the lyrics are generic platitudes about Thonburi and its people: “The new generation of Thonburi are gaining knowledge / But they never forget to pay respect to the elderly / We are young / We do things with our heart”. The upbeat messaging and saccharine-sweet melody make the song somewhat hard to truly like. But JUU4E’s almost boneheaded insistence on going all the way with it does just about enough to keep the listener on his side.
It’s much the same story on the penultimate track, a cover of Teresa Teng’s ‘Tian Mi Mi’ with new lyrics by JUU4E, who unsurprisingly penned a stoner’s lament to the struggles of lighting up.
“I’ve got a knife, but no chopping board / I’ve got a knife and a chopping board, but no lighter”, JUU4E sings to the tune of Teng’s original vocals. “Angel, please have mercy on me / I’ve got everything, but it’s still not legal”, he adds in an Auto-Tuned haze. It’s more than a bit silly; a less-charitable listener would probably call it stupid. But it’s at least the sort of chutzpah one can revel in.
And that’s really the deal here. ‘Crazy World’ is flawed, but JUU4E’s love for his source material and excitement to show the world what he can do with it carries the album through its weaker moments. It doesn’t always gel, but JUU4E’s free-spirited willingness to try things and see if they stick makes ‘Crazy World’ worth checking out.
- Release date: March 19
- Record label: EM Records