We’ve all had the impulse while listening to a Monster Rally record. “He should collaborate with a rapper.” Names are thrown out constantly. Some are conceivable, like perhaps Blu or an indie fixture in the Los Angeles scene where Monster Rally now lives, while others are our wildest dreams like MF Doom. But Gold Robot founder Hunter Mack was the only one who heard Oakland rapper Jay Stone’s 2012 EP, Melodious Miscreant, as the missing link.
“It’s a somewhat tough fit, as Ted’s production style is a bit abnormal to the bulk of rap tracks out there,” Mack writes in an email. He’s been releasing Monster Rally albums since the Coral LP in 2011, and in that time never truly found the proper fit for the elusive collaborative record. Rightfully so, Ted Feighan’s Monster Rally project originated in an unconventional manner of sampling tropicalia with the intent of curating a project that sounds as though it was conceived from a distant and exotic world foreign to our own. Feighan’s unorthodox loop-structure, in Mack’s estimation, would require a collaborator that could operate beyond the standard realm, likening his abstract vision of the ideal candidate to someone who could exist on MF Doom’s alter-ego record: King Geedorah, Take Me To Your Leader. Perhaps it was fate or a cosmic connection to Doom’s villainy that Jay Stone’s Melodious Miscreant opens with “Embrace The Villain”.
“That record is so weird,” Feighan says on a call from his home in Los Angeles. But it’s that comfort with being weird that gave Feighan his first hunch that the collaborative album—eventually known as Foreign Pedestrians—could work. He heard what Hunter heard; Melodious had a natural inclination towards nonconformist production.
“A lot of the Monster Rally stuff isn’t super complicated, but also it doesn’t make the most sense for vocals,” Feighan said. “I wasn’t trying to change that because I thought it might change the sound of the whole thing. So it was about finding someone who could get into that sort of vibe.”
Hunter Mack tracked down Jay Stone through a mutual friend in Max Klineman, co-owner of the fashion shop Oakland Surf Club, who had hosted the Melodious Miscreant release party. With the connection made the two men went out for drinks at a sports bar, discussed music, and watched a basketball game. Jay Stone went home with a stack of Monster Rally records to ingest until further notice.
“I had never heard of Gold Robot or Monster Rally,” Stone said. “But they both just had their ears open and randomly came across me. It’s interesting because really none of the beats on my first album sound like something Monster Rally would make. But people with good ears, they can just tell and Hunter’s got a good ear.”
Sensing a call from the universe, Jay Stone theorizes that Monster Rally production might have been the sound he was waiting for and even preparing himself for. And even before he met or traded emails with Monster Rally, he spun the records at home to prepare further in freestyle sessions with his friends. In those sessions it was agreed upon that the collaboration was the right direction for him, but productivity plodded along for several years. Around the time of meeting with Hunter, Jay was also making plans with Trippy Swaggert for a project that became the 16th & Adeline EP (2013).
People with good ears, they can just tell. And Hunter’s got a good ear.
He would work on it, while trading emails with Monster Rally and waiting for new production to be specially curated for this collaboration. Hunter arranged for Jay Stone to visit Feighan in Los Angeles on February of 2014 to get the disruption of distance out of their system. Stone went to Feighan’s home where they exchanged influences by pulling up tracks on iTunes until eventually Feighan began creating beats while Jay sat quietly in the room.
“He wasn’t really saying much but I think he was just putting stuff together in his head,” Feighan recalls. Later, when Jay Stone sent back the “No Cilantro” portion of the track that would become “Permeate / No Cilantro”, Feighan was certain they’d made the right decision in selecting Jay Stone.
The impulse in listening to Monster Rally production amounts to utopian association through the sampling of obscure lounge and tropicalia records. Monster Rally, through his sound and art design, is guiding us away from our taupe-walled apartments and polar vortex into remote lands untraceable on Google maps. But that wasn’t what Jay Stone heard. He barely left his neighborhood in Oakland.
“I’m always trying to make something that’s unique and familiar to you, but it’s real,” Feighan said. “But for Jay Stone this is very real. This is this guy’s life in Oakland.”
The record opens with the effervescent “Lake Merritt”, named after the lagoon southeast of downtown Oakland. By the latter vignette of “Permeate / No Cilantro”, Jay Stone is at a taco truck threatening a cook named Eduardo to leave off the cilantro if he wants a tip. From the way he pronounces “increments” to the details in his diet, Jay Stone was never looking past his habitat as a small slice of paradise suitable for a Monster Rally soundtrack. He says the music put colors in his mind, bright ones like tangerine, seafoam, and kiwi. Like browsing a farmer’s market, Jay Stone’s colors on record include the deep purple of raspberries and blood orange juice, coconut and lime, cantaloupe, and avocado. The people he meets sport crocodile suspenders, sip absinthe through German chocolate licorice, and come from broken homes in a city full of demons. But, much like his photography—black and white portraits celebrating his family and community—it’s clear Jay Stones sees deeper than a passing glance on the bus or on a stroll around the lake.
“A lot of the album was inspired by being out in my environment observing the people around me and the way they move and the things they say. I combined that with my own imagination,” he says. “When it comes to my imagination I never put restrictions on it. I execute my perception and a lot of it is in Oakland.”
So what’s to be plucked from the title, Foreign Pedestrians? An homage to the melting pot that is Oakland, perhaps? Or is it a reference to each members seemingly weird take on hip hop traditions? Jay said the meaning is not singular. Much like Feighan has always seen his project as exotic but familiar, Jay Stone feels their combined efforts expand upon that subverting expectation in hip hop. But he notes in Oakland he’s not a difficult person to find. “I’m on foot, literally a pedestrian.”
When it comes to my imagination I never put restrictions on it.
“You’ll see me walking down the streets listening to Monster Rally, listening to the album,” Jay says. “It encompasses me and him and the feeling the music gave me. Just listen some more and you’ll understand how the title makes sense.”
Ultimately Foreign Pedestrians in its vinyl side split is constructed like one story written from two perspectives. The B-side is instrumental, for those that want the traditional Monster Rally record, while the A-side is a brand new interpretation of Monster Rally production. It’s commentary that paradise is not necessarily reserved for international flights, resort getaways, and private beaches. Paradise is also outside your doorstep if you have the right eye for it.
Jay Stone & Monster Rally’s Foreign Pedestrians is out January 27 on Gold Robot.