The Madison hip-hop outfit celebrates a new album on April 30 at the Crystal Corner Bar.
Fringe Character began as a mostly-solo hip-hop and electronic project for Madison producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Sholl, but its debut full-length Mint reflects its evolution into a full-fledged band with a more collaborative spirit. Not only has it expanded into a 10-piece live outfit, which will play April 30 at the Crystal Corner Bar to celebrate the new record, but the band has been spending a lot more time actually writing songs together, even as Sholl continues to play a haf-dozen instruments and helm the production.
That shift is especially pronounced in the rapping. Early on, Fringe Character's two main MCs—Daewong, aka Devin Geary, and Dudu Stinks, aka Laduma Nguyuza (also of Dumate, Stink Tank, and The Billie James Project)—wrote and recorded their parts separately. They started writing together in person and developed a more genuine back-and-forth as the band made Mint. Nguyuza has long been one of the most distinctive rappers in town, and Fringe Character is Geary's first outing as a rapper, but they click nicely on the quick exchanges of “Cherry Bomb.” In addition to riffing off of each other’s words, the two play around a bit with structure here.
“When we started to write those lyrics, I thought it would be cool to treat it like a mathemetical equation, kind of—maybe I’ll do eight bars, you do eight bars, then you do six and I’ll do six, I’ll do four and you do four… slowly pointing to a pinnacle of us bouncing word after word back and forth,” Geary says. “It helps me a lot when [Laduma] writes first, because then I can kind of plan my attack.”
This setup lends itself to chopped-up, slightly cryptic wordplay, but Sholl, Nguyuza, and Geary all think the song is, on some level, about creativity.
“The chorus is interesting because at first glance, it’s talking about dancing maybe with a woman, but sometimes, the three of us talk about the muse as a female form, like texting each other, ‘Hey man, the muse is with me,’” Nguyuza says. "That song kind of tickled that corner for me a little bit. Some of the concepts are, if not contiguous, an attempt to draw some really visual metaphors.”
“That song is a feeling I get when I think about creativity in general,” Sholl adds.
Like much of the rest of the album, “Cherry Bomb” is all over the place in terms of textures and influences—and sometimes Mint stuffs in sonic references in a way that can make it hard to find focus, even though it’s thoughtfully arranged. But this track gives it all enough room to breathe, from the synth lines that skitter around the early verses to the sleek chorus (featuring vocals from Meghan Rose, Michael Cara, and Max Puchalsky) to an expansive two-minute workout from the band’s horn section. Still, it’s that gradually escalating exchange between Nguyuza and Geary—ending with "whose line? / your line / nah, they both mine"—that keeps me returning to the song. Give it a listen here.