Howard Griffen: The Artist Formerly Known As Atychi
Howard Griffen: The Artist Formerly Known as Atychi
By Greg Grunzel
“Something’s missing.” This was the first thought that escaped my brain from the first listen of OCD, the venerable album from Memphis hip-hop artist Howard Griffen. “Where are the beats?” Instead of relying on 808s or blistering bass, Griffen sports an acoustic guitar (sometimes electric) for the majority of these tracks. That isn’t to say it isn’t completely devoid of drum sounds, they are just scarcely the rhythmic foundation of any of the songs. Griffen was formerly known as Atychi, taken from atychiphobia, or the fear of failure, a moniker that influences him and his lyrics. He was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, a fact that bleeds through every pore of his songs. Musically, he builds an etherial space with synth pads and reverb, not unlike The Weeknd’s early work. His words paint a portrait of a “young black soldier, boots on the ground” coming-of-age story searching for love, success, pleasure, and peace.
The experience of this album reels you in from the first bar. The title track “OCD” opens with a sweet finger-picked guitar lick under Griffen declaring “No, I’m not what you want me to be. No, I don’t fit in,” a fitting start from such a unique artist and a theme that rests easy in this album.
“Life’s to die for, wish I could say I was alive more.” Griffen cries out in “To Die,” his darkest song leaning towards real anger, a double-edged sword that urges one toward redemption. “Birth” rattles about with a jungle beat one can’t help but bounce to, but bounces heavy with “How can I feed a baby if I can’t feed myself” through the hook. “Reflection” best showcases his bluesy, guitar skills while he delivers his lyrics from a smokey slam-poetry club. “26,” my personal favorite, hits home with lyrics about finding his place in the world in his mid-20s. “Dub,” opens with Griffen pondering, “Twenty dollars in my pocket, will I smoke it away? Or will I eat today?” a love song disguised as a drug anthem, one of the album’s few weak points, if only because of its indulgence in mainstream themes. Prelude is an epic nine minute jaunt, the epitome of Griffen’s vocal talent for keeping the rhythm without percussion, relying instead in speedy arpeggiator, that then erupts into a dancey hook with a clanging drum machine, insisting “to be continued.” The album closes much like it opens: Griffen plucking away at his guitar, a sweet serenade to a significant other, real or fictional, called “Best Friend.” Throughout the album, he delivers with the chops of Kanye and the realness of Lupe Fiasco.
Overall, the feeling is otherworldly. The production is tight, save for an over-indulgence on reverberation. Griffen manages to create a spacey electronica atmosphere set behind gritty, earthy blues-infused guitar licks, hand drums, and themes of passion and struggle in the modern world. The mood is generally something to vibe to but intensity shifts into gear when need be. He frees himself of the confines of traditional (and even modern) beat-centric hip-hop and pulls out his Memphis roots and proudly waves them on display. On second thought, nothing’s missing. Listen and hear for your yourself.
Greg Grunzel grew up in Erie, PA and started his musical career by obtaining a hand-me-down drum kit at the age of 14, picked up sticks, took lessons and never looked back. Greg is Vice President of Alchemical Records, graduate of George Mason University with degrees in Communication and Media Production and Criticism, and Music Technology. He started performing with an Alt-Rock garage band called Nightshift in high school, with which he independently produced 2 EPs. Follow him on Twitter at @GG_BabyDuck