A new release from local hip-hop merrymaker Marv Ellis has been in the works for the better part of two years, and it’s finally made a splashy drop onto the scene. Oh yeah, it’s also fuckin’ dope. Let’s just note, right quick, that the native Ellis is already well known for his lyricism — be it socially conscious, comical or literary — but his new LP, Shadows Mean Light, makes it abundantly clear that he’s decided to definitively flex those versatile, multi-syllabic, lyrical muscles. Admirable, too, is Ellis’ blatant sense of community — a phenomenon that, in my opinion, is occasionally taken for granted in Eugene. The album is littered with samples and locally-based collaborations, among them Portland-based Shook Twins, appearances by Metric and Aniana Hough (of Philly Phunkestra), and the track “Love is Medicine” contains a rather comically placed Eagle Park Slim shout out designed to make any Eugenean smile.
Shadows Mean Light picks deeper than the scab of hype and shit-talk; many of the tracks take on a pensive, lugubrious tone akin to St. Paul Slim, Murs or Atmosphere, and these songs attempt to goad listeners away from hate toward a higher understanding of peace. As generic as that sounds, Ellis has made the anti-hate concept into an idiosyncratic dispatch that would be utterly confusing to duplicate. Interior monologues of self-denial, admittance of chameleonic evolution and the like are found hidden within a bounty of organic verses. The title track’s message is enigmatic at first, before becoming quickly recognizable as a reverie of hope. After all: even the darkest shadows find their genesis in bright light, and this is a fact often forgotten in the gray of the Northwest. It’s the rain and the clouds and the evergreens that Marv Ellis relates to, and Shadows Mean Light is inherently Northwestern by way of this fact.
The album’s production has an air of dissonance and grime that manages only to teeter at the surface, above the otherwise crisp, clean selection of beats, drops and refrains. This furthers the Northwestern feel, reminiscent of our schizophrenic climate. Dark and dirty in the winter, light and clean in the summer.
Marv Ellis has dropped what is perhaps his best collection of tracks yet; it’s got the soul, the solemnity, the sensitivity and, through it all, the swag that we’ve all grown to expect. Shadows Mean Light forces the listener to stop expecting and start respecting, and that’s all there is to it.