Keem the Cipher, “[Exploration LP.].”

There’s an immediacy to the work of Chattanooga musician Keem the Cipher, a sudden revelation that instrumental hip-hop has just as much relevance as the music of more verbose artists working within its boundaries. His tracks tend to be short, focusing on a single idea before fading back into the shadows. And while this brevity keeps everything lean and sinewy, there are times when I wish the song would keep going for many minutes more.

His last release, “[Cosmos EP.],” was built from a large stretch of craggy influences: jazz, soul, old-school hip-hop and various electronic impulses. He calls it his “coming-of-age album,” since it was created in his senior year of high school. He sees his latest record, “[Exploration LP.],” as “simply the next step in the narrative.”

Whereas his prior work was fairly sample-heavy, this new collection is relatively sample-free. It wasn’t always intended as such, but about halfway through the recording sessions, he decided that the emotions and experiences he was exploring would benefit from original sounds that sprang from somewhere deep in his subconscious. The resulting tracks leap from one bout of rhythmic tenacity to the next without pausing to check their surroundings—they simply strive to imprint on your brain as quickly as possible in the short time they have.


Produced by Keem and Pete Nebula, these 20 vignettes dance around their inspirations, touching lightly on small details before moving on to something else. The light shuffle of a jazz progression may stand out before suddenly shifting to the clatter and clang common to some beat tape techniques. And while he commands a deliberate awareness regarding these numerous sounds, he never loses his identity among these visceral noises. They’re only there to provide solid support for the echoes coming from his creativity.

Experimental without feeling overtly difficult, these songs find the talented noisemaker creating a torrent of sounds while making each segment shake with a personal perspective. According to Keem, his goal was to make an album full of ballads that you could play for your special girl/guy, and he’s done just that on “[Exploration LP.],” a vast statement of beat-driven love that shows just how universal these sentiments truly are, in spite of its wordless arrangements.

Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on FacebookTwitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.