The only thing more dangerous than going from a career in a top indie rock band to a rap project is going from a career in a top indie rock band to a rap project after recently achieved ubiquitous meme status due to a particularly colorful performance on Letterman. In 2014, seeing a .GIF of Islands of the future‘Samuel T. Herring doing something surprising with his body on stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater totally removed from his source was on par with the equally viral snippets of freaking Nic Cage in vampire kiss-a great movie who is a victim of the ruthless decontextualization inherent in social networks. Incidentally, its source was an incredibly vulnerable song about an unhappy relationship that Herring was struggling to process when the track premiered.
But despite the hurt he felt with the reaction to his band’s network television debut, his next move was another shocking display of vulnerability that could easily come across as top-notch food: he became a rapper. In 2015 alone, his name – well, his nickname Hemlock Ernst, which I guess isn’t immediately recognizable as belonging to Herring unless you know about his blackout gig – appeared on two LPs by the artist currently known as RAP Ferreira. (a under his former pseudonym Milo, the second like his rhythm-focused alter-ego, the Scallops Hotel), a bus driver mixtapeand the only one collaboration between Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti. While these four rappers all have a reputation for being pranksters, this latest release in particular tackles the dark subject matter that Mike Eagle and Geti tend to let seep into their music, with Ernst matching their mood with surprising ease.
And the dude totally held his own between giddy guest verses from POS and Busdriver on this Cavanaugh track. I think that at the time – in particular in a post –I’m still here world – it’s just because it seemed so hard to believe that this guy was actually taking a rap project seriously that I had a hard time accepting it as anything other than a gimmick, as a Know Your entry Even in second grade, or a more committed version of the rap of Paul Banks bit a decade earlier. But over the next two years, his name kept popping up on the albums I listened to, from the next OME collaboration with Paul White at an apocalyptic Single with the then mostly unknown JPEGMAFIA in a gesture of support for its local Baltimore music scene. His raspy flow even made an appearance on a massive recording unload from Anticon OG Passage – marking the first time I’ve heard him outside of the context of his buddies in Hellfyre Club or on a project with local ties – and later that year you could hear him on a Billy Woods cowardly preceding this rapper’s cultural takeover with and outside of Armand Hammer.
And almost every year since then I’ve come across Hemlock on an album that I’ve been listening to, like running into one of those guys who travels in the same social circles as you, whose reputation makes him a little too intimidating to ever really talk . In 2018, he nailed a verse on a Track another up-and-coming Baltimore rapper, Butch Dawson; in 2019, he joined Aesop Rock collaborator Blockhead for a verse on his solo album; in 2020, it was featured on a Track by cult West Coast rappers Fatlip and Blu; and most recently he closed a cut on the new AJ Suede LPfollowing a Ceschi verse with a heartbreaking meditation on the twin solitudes of touring life and pandemic isolation.
Going through this long list of guest verses, there’s no indication he’s hoping to land a spot that will propel “Hemlock Ernst” to name recognition for his wobbly new wave band, though that band clearly provides him with the means to grasp. the attention of someone like, say, Danny Brown. Instead, there’s a curiously strong and probably intentional overlap between the artists he works with and those who fill his own Band Camp collectionwhich, alongside a profile photo of Herring’s face photoshopped onto a tattooed Ryan Gosling in Place beyond the pines counting money – casually lists as its mission statement: “Support the music because I’m a fan.”
And there’s a certain modesty in avoiding verses on A-list releases, which seems to go hand in hand with the subtlety of his guest spots, many of which have crept in and slowly become my favorite part of many of these songs. listed. above. It may seem ironic that when Ernst finally revealed his first album (and to date, his only release) under the moniker in 2019, the only collaborator on the project was Kenny Segal, who produced it – but again, that seems to fit the moniker’s personality of flying under the radar , forgoing any further attention to this rather bedroom-sounding LP in which the songwriter can finally spread his wings as a wordsmith outside the tearful choirs of Future Islands.
I guess it all came full circle earlier this week when Future Islands income to the Last show scene – with Stephen Colbert filling in as many less enthusiastic cheerleader for retiree David “I’ll take everything you’ve got” Letterman – to strut with even more confidence than nearly a decade ago. Maybe that bodes well for Hemlock Ernst’s future too – I’d love to see Sam Herring play a rap set with plenty of guests after hitting the stage in that Paddington-style peacoat. Florida