Ronnie Vega was a lot of things to a lot of people, but it was primarily a vehicle through which Philly hip hopper and punk Curan Cottman could speak truth to power. Cottman died in July of this year, leaving behind an evocative catalog of work and a hole in the heart of Philadelphia’s underground music scene.
In the words of his friend and bandmate, Ian Winter, who backed Cottman on bass for many years:
[Cottman] will be remembered as a light in the life of everyone that knew him, but his music talks vividly about the trauma of racism and capitalism that he experienced as a Black person in America.
Able to move fluidly between the various tribes who thrive in the dives of Philidelphia’s post-industrial landscape and post-prosperity psychic wild-fire, Cottman was able to create a fertile and unique sound that allowed angular, smoky post-punk guitars and slamming hardcore grooves to act as a seedbed of beats for his sometimes chewy, othertimes keen and cutting, but always assertive and enigmatic flow.
On the dissociative, grunge varnished “Therapy” there are times when Cottman sounds like a young Ghostface fronting a midperiod Black Flag, while Guy Picciotto air guitars stage left. Even when the beats turn up the bpm and the dissonance of the guitars becomes a swelling wall of hateful hale, Cottman’s confident, consummate lyrical and vocal presence cuts through the fray of tracks like “Strange” like a lighthouse’s beam in a storm, lighting the passage for the listener, providing they’re willing to be led.
Punk is a big part of how Cottman made his lo-fi hip hop punch well above its own weight class, but where the real muscle and power of his catalog can be found, is in the patient, bone-chomping funk that backs his vital assault, like on the blitzing slide and cold-clocking swipe of “Anarchy In PA,” where the intensity of his flow rises with equal ferocity to the fiery flush of the guitars during the chorus parts, as he declares “take a look at my life / tell me what do you see? / We fuck a label, we stay / It’s anarchy in PA / We fear no god, or the DEA.”
Where Cottman sounds the strongest though, is on tracks like “Lieutenant Dan,” where he drops bars methodically like he was counting up society’s debts to its people, and in finding payments on these ledgers well past due, he seeks to rectify the failure with a searing rebuke on behalf of people of color, working-class people, and anyone else who is systematically disenfranchised by a system that doesn’t work for them.
Cottman was a force of reckoning in life and his artistic output is peerless in the worlds of hip hop, punk, and DIY, generally. To celebrate his life Don Giovanni Records has reissued his entire discography in the form of a single EP, titled Two EPs. All proceeds from the sale of the album will go to the Oshun Family Center, a Philidelphia based nonprofit that seeks to finance access to free mental health services for the Black community. A necessary service in this era of isolation and unrestrained police violence.
You can stream the entirety of Two EPs via Bandcamp below.
Rest in Power Curan Cottman (1991-2020)