Phil Crumar

So Unique

There was a time — back in the mid-’90s, after the ascent of Beck — when alt-rockers everywhere were firing up drum machines and throwing down raps. Even the Butthole Surfers, despite being about as far removed from hip-hop as you can get, scored a hit with the raptastic slab “Pepper.” But eventually the trend died out, with alt-rockers reclaiming their lung power.

Only Phil Crumar remains. He came to the Bay Area in 1988, having served as a drummer in the Washington, DC, go-go scene. After teaching himself how to play bass, guitar, and an Italian synth called the Crumar (his given name is McGaughy), he began layering good-natured, marble-mouthed raps over trippy, funk-laced instrumentals, kind of like G. Love fronting Digital Underground. In 2000 Asphodel Records released his As It Goes EP and scheduled the Thinks It’s Cool full-length for January 2001. But the record never came out.

Perhaps it’s lucky the label dropped the ball. Now that the album (renamed So Unique) is finally seeing the light of day, it sounds quaintly nostalgic — not exactly unique, perhaps, but certainly charming and goofy. After all, how many current rappers would rhyme “Garrison Keillor” with “crack dealer,” or place “Sammy Sosa” alongside “mimosa” and “French toast-a”? Even when Crumar is trying to get over on a girl (“I’ll take you to the zoo/You could be my boo”) or boasting about his mackness (“I burn more rubbers than a Goodyear tire”), he plays the part of the lovable dork. And the backing music — built from the rhythms up, with woozing horns, slinky bass, and tipsy synths — enhances the party vibe. If there’s one line that epitomizes So Unique, it’s “You make me want to have fun/Like walking around an art museum with my fly undone.”

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