Ears Wide Open: Rhys Langston

Rhys Langston

There is no tidy way, without being reductive, to introduce Rhys Langston, who released his new album “Language Arts Unit” this week. But let’s start with: The 26-year-old L.A. native is a rapper, a poet, an essayist, a visual artist, a former high school basketball star (and beans-spiller), a Wesleyan University graduate and an outsider in the pop culture maelstrom that his art inevitably places him inside.

He’s the “poet laureate of my living room,” as the half-black Jewish artist — full name, Rhys Langston Podell — has proclaimed. He apparently has one hell of a vertical leap, too.

He’s also selling a 104-page book on rap theory, complete with his lyrics, with the new album. It is not for intellectual pilgrims.

The album, with its predominantly off-kilter song structures and Langston’s DIY (though astute) production, is not for fans of assembly-line rap, trap-clappers, hip-pop sprites or anybody who worships at “the church of clicks.” Low End Theory heroes such as Busdriver and Milo come to mind (Langston himself cites Talib Kweli, Saul Williams and the Pharcyde as early influences, to no surprise), along with erudite voices such as Open Mike Eagle. 

Langston’s wordplay comes fast and furious, a vortex of abstractions (acknowledged on “Big Rhys”), memorandums on “race as form and content” (“Megabytes Per Second Cousin,” as well as the book) and left-field cultural references (from “Antifa farmers market” to Sandy Koufax in “Nebbish Frederick Douglass”).

The latter song — and its wild video directed by Sammy Bass — is as good a place to start as any with “Language Arts Unit,” which is the follow-up to Langston’s 2017 album “Aggressively Ethnically Ambiguous” and features contributions from Chester Watson and Serengeti. In total, it’s the work of an eccentric already being called the next great L.A. art-rapper. As he suggests in the lyrics, it’s not for anybody who sticks to the “predetermined 31 flavors.”

The album is available on cassette via POW Recordings.

||| Watch: The video for “Nebbish Fredrick Douglass”

||| Also: Stream “Eyes Dyed in Saturated Retinas (feat. Chester Watson)”

||| Live: Rhys Langston performs March 12 at the Virgil. Info.

||| Also: Stream the whole album via Spotify