Captain Murphy’s Duality is not your average rap mixtape. Its first single was released by Comedy Central’s Adult Swim channel, the album was initially released as a hallucinogenic 35-minute video montage, and its 15 songs are separated by instructions to aspiring cult leaders on how to recruit followers. Captain Murphy, the rapper at the center of the project, is portrayed in videos and pictures as a laughing cartoon figure that looks something like Rick Ross.
In the time between the July release of the album’s first single, a collaboration with Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt called “Between Friends,” and the album’s release last month, speculation among music bloggers and rap fans centered on the identity of the mysterious Captain Murphy. Much of this speculation focus on his menacing voice, which is pitch-shifted, looped, and manipulated to give the appearance of two or three voices rapping in unison.
At times, the speculation over Captain Murphy’s identity threatened to overwhelm coverage of his music itself. So when he performed in an LA concert two weeks ago and revealed himself to be experimental music producer Flying Lotus, who also released this year’s critically acclaimed electronic jazz album Until the Quiet Comes, many critics dismissed the musical experiment as finished. But Captain Murphy’s Duality deserves more than that, because regardless of its background, it is one of the best rap albums of the year.
The album’s greatness starts with the production, coming from Flying Lotus himself as well as hip-hop greats Just Blaze and Madlib. Other than the furious club beat of TGHNT-produced “Shake Weight,” the album has a consistently dark and dreamy feel, with murky samples and bass lines giving each song a sinister atmosphere. The album is filled with vocal samples from 1950s apocalyptic movies, anime, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.
Captain Murphy’s raps, though at times hard to understand due to his manipulated voice, are filled with multi-syllabic wordplay that any hip-hop fan will enjoy, as when he raps “It’s been marvelous, starving artist at heart/I went harder than all the war between Martin, Marvin and Pauly Shore” on “Mighty Morphin Foreskin.” His subject matter ranges from the psychedelic (“So unorthodox/Chillin’ with a shaman, eating ramen in a parking lot” on “Between Friends”) to the dark and philosophical (“Been a long time coming, been lost in the night/Learned how to do the dougie with the devil in the moonlight” on “The Ritual”).
While the mystery surrounding the Captain Murphy character certainly makes Duality a more intriguing album, the music holds up on its own, as the dark production and Captain Murphy’s raps combine to form a menacing sonic landscape that demands repeated listening. We can only hope that Captain Murphy does not disappear now that his identity has been revealed.
Watch the Duality video and download the free mixtape here.