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Not even expatriation amongst soft Parisian cafes can diminish the Bronxian swagger of Mike Ladd, as his frank style and combative new album Bedford Park demonstrate. The record is a homecoming in several senses of the word; finally capping the trilogy of albums in the Infesticons project which the MC and producer started a decade ago, and the title references Ladd's old neighbourhood in the Bronx where he returned for its recording. When asked about how he ended up under the radar in France, and why it's taken so long to conclude the Infesticons saga, his reply is pointed: "Wife. I've been being a French Bill Cosby, building a family, learning how to be an expat, a good husband and a dad for two awesome kids. That also meant taking a lot of jobs to pay bills."
Ladd's long-running project revolves around the concept of two warring hip-hop crews- the Infesticons and the Majesticons- who represent the battle between credibility and commerciality. Ladd's first effort portrayed the former: hardy underground saviours of the Bronx, or "regular cats like you and me" in his words. He then (convincingly) tried his hand at a slick mainstream hip-hop counter in the guise of the Majesticons with 2003's Beauty Party, an album inundated with smooth party vibes. As the cover art of Bedford Park depicts, the story resumes with the Infesticons marching band emerging from an isolated bunker (miniature figures carrying a banner with the slogan 'Fu*k the Majesticons') to find the war fought and no-one remembering what the fuss was about.
It seems Ladd's renewed commitment to the underground is comprehensive, with the MC collecting his crew (which has included Roots Manuva and Saul Williams) about him according to the values he's set: "Everyone on this record is there because they a dedicated to the cause, deep. They are down to tour; down to be down from beginning to end. I have always worked with friends- I have never worked with anyone just 'cuz they had a name. Not even for Majesticons. They were all good peoples first. This is the extreme core of that group".
Furthermore, Ladd isn't issuing Bedford Park on CD and is jaded about online sales. "Whenever I walk around cities in the US or UK, all the CD stores are closed but all the vinyl shops that I have been going to since the 80's are still open. They aren't rich but they are still selling vinyl. As for getting it online for free: yup you can, go ahead and download it with the rest. If things get tight I'll come and rob your house, and when you wake up and find me in your living room, you'll be like "oh, right, fair enough, thanks for the music, go ahead, take the TV" and everybody leaves happy (until I try and sell the TV)"
When pushed for insight into the future format of music, Ladd's reply is even more blasé: "In 2068, in 'The Great Book of Music' there will be a footnote on recorded music in the 20th century mentioning that for about 80 years people were required to "actually pay for recorded music!". In about five to 10 years you will be able to walk into a 'lifestyle salon' where you will get a full package of music, film and random facts implanted in your brain, along with the outfit that is part of that week's subscription package. As content providers for that service, we- the musicians- will get a small fee from GoogleZONSoftSonyStyles Inc."
Despite his animosity towards the state of the industry, Ladd has huge enthusiasm for the release of Bedford Park, having played to his strengths to produce a gritty, brawling record with little thought for detractors: "It is ridiculously good. If you have ever heard someone trying to do rugged soul music (in a broad sense) but it never sounded right, this will answer why. It needs to stay low-fi and dirty. Easy on the compression, keep it raw."
With Ladd comfortably self-assured and the Infesticons project finally back in the mire of the underground, it's clear that's right where they belong.