Jenn Phan

Ramon Norwood, known online as Radius Etc., creates hip-hop beats with few to no words, but his presence, both online and in interviews, is effusive. He is introspective and measured in his tone, but eager to talk about his work as an artist and a label manager. Uncompromising in his feelings toward the obtrusiveness of “mainstream” culture, he wants to create a space for like-minded creators and listeners to coexist, more focused on working outside the mainstream than against it.

Norwood has spent the last few years developing his presence in Chicago, both musically and commercially, in an effort to promote his new label, Etc. Records. Before this month, Etc. Records had only released two records, from Norwood’s own Radius persona. But on October 14 the label produced its first album by another artist, DJ FreezRock, and will soon release projects from the members of Beyond Luck, the experimental hip-hop group of which Norwood is also a member. Norwood also has plans for multiple collaborations, including a split cassette with Chicago-native Lanzo, a more ethereal and melodic producer, and New York singer and rapper Black Betty, an artist whose location and style helps to diversify Norwood’s current network.

Norwood describes the music he hopes to release under Radius Etc. as “post-genre,” a somewhat arbitrary buzzword that has become associated in recent years with such artists as Grimes and Haim. There’s nothing to connect Norwood with those artists besides their use of hip-hop beats and their Internet savvy, perhaps, but the descriptor is more about the attitude than the music. With Etc. Records, Norwood hopes to bring together people with an interest in seemingly disparate genres, doing away with the exclusionary principles that govern a given “music scene” to create something exciting and new.

The Radius Etc. project realizes the post-genre ethos through many different means, but the most interesting and effective might be the way it unifies the Chicago house and hip-hop worlds: specifically, track speed. While hip-hop usually runs at speeds below 100 BPM, and house goes anywhere between 118 and 135 BPM, Radius Etc. tracks usually fit neatly between 108 and 117, never committing completely to either genre’s aesthetic. In doing this, Norwood wants to create tracks that can cross genre boundaries, but in ways more subdued or thought-provoking than the usual electro-rap hybrid found on modern pop radio.

Jazz and dub, two of Norwood’s childhood musical loves, also play heavily into the potpourri of influences on Radius Etc., making up most of the instrumental framework for the tracks through sampling, and acting as an abstract view into Norwood’s thoughts. While Radius risks becoming somewhat soulless and technical, a meaningless exercise in genre-mixing, Norwood’s enthusiasm and passion translate into a unstable (read: exciting) beat structure that, while grooving and soulful, never feels content to stay in one place.

While mostly instrumental and abstract, the music of Norwood’s second release on the Etc. Records Bandcamp site, Time Travel is Real (A Prelude to Japan), reflects this feeling in Norwood’s own off-kilter fashion.

One of the more immediately noticeable tracks is “Aquatic Sunset Sirens,” a reference to the warning sirens that go off in Hawaii in the event of an emergency. Whereas the majority of the track is a stuttering bass line over a clacking hip-hop beat, a sample of the titular, high-pitched siren eventually fades in to replace the bass-heavy song.

“One For Ferguson (Healing Factor)”, the third track off of Time Travel, is another revelation in sampling as art: the track moves through jazzy bass, ethereal horns, and a shuffling beat that all recall a less hyperactive Flying Lotus, but eventually it all falls away to leave a monologue on the opportunities black men will never have in America as a result of their race.

It’s hard not to be a little skeptical of Norwood’s ambitions, both in terms of his label and his post-genre aims. He couchsurfs in friends’ apartments while on tour, and his upcoming trip to Japan for the Beats for Change organization (the “prelude” anticipated by the title of Time Travel) has all but emptied his bank account. And while elements of his music are transcendent, others fall flat, relying too much on repetition and too little on a melodic base.

Yet Norwood is committed to his music, his label, and his post-genre ideology (all of which he feels feed into each other), and he senses that many of his peers and musical collaborators share this commitment. His focus on such collaborative possibilities makes him just as much a musician among musicians as a manager or label head.

Not only that, but Norwood has heard that his records have ended up in European stores and have been picked up by curious shoppers there, giving him hope for a European tour within the next year. The impending entrance of Etc. Records and Radius Etc. into the international music world, along with Norwood’s own heavily booked schedule, are encouraging signs of a developing artist and label.

Correction October 23, 2014: An earlier version of this article misidentified New York artist Black Betty as Pittsburgh trap artist Black Daddy. In addition, this article has also been edited to accurately identify the music being released on Etc. Records, in distinction to musicians who are personally collaborating with Norwood.

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