Nicknamed the Humble Magnificent, Edan is a multifaceted hip-hop artist whose music is equally reverential to old-school rap and '60s acid rock, yet sounds utterly fresh and innovative.
Delivering sharp, witty lyrics with gusto over echo-slathered beats, his music is willfully eccentric without sacrificing an ounce of funkiness. A triple threat on the microphone, as a producer, and behind the wheels of steel, his music work caught on first among the progressive cognoscenti of London, but had such exuberance and appeal that it was only a matter of time before it staked out territory on its home turf as well. His proper albums Primitive Plus (2002) and Beauty and the Beat (2005) are hailed as underground cult classics, and his mixes (including 2009's inventive Echo Party) and performances have similarly received high praise. While less active as a solo artist during the 2010s, he has collaborated with numerous artists throughout the decade, including Cut Chemist, Your Old Droog, and Homeboy Sandman (as on 2018's Humble Pi).
Edan Portnoy grew up a musically inclined loner in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. Inspired from an early age by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and psychedelic rock, he picked up the guitar and bass during his adolescent years, but when N.W.A. dropped Straight Outta Compton in 1988, it instantly captured the ten-year-old's imagination and altered his musical path. By the time he was a teenager, Edan had begun to dig up and collect rare LPs and try his hand at making elementary beats inspired by the likes of Main Source, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, and the Native Tongues family, as well as old-school heroes both famous (Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Ultramagnetic MC's) and obscure (DJ Cash Money, Percee P). After graduation from high school, he moved to Boston to study guitar at the Berklee College of Music, ultimately dropping out before taking a degree but not before delving into production and engineering. His newfound technical facility helped as he began creating his own tracks and, due to lack of an MC, rhyming on them as well. It resulted in a series of CD-Rs (including an unofficial debut album called Artchitecture and an early version of Primitive Plus), sold mostly at live gigs around Boston, and now-classic 12" singles, culminating with the much sought-after "Sing It, Shitface," released by Boston indie Biscuithead Records in 1999.
Very much an acquired taste, Edan's popularity began to spread slowly throughout England. Due to its built-in fan base of vintage hip-hop, the rapper was given a measure of respect in England that was difficult to come by in his home country, and British promoters took the opportunity to fly him over for well-received live shows. Following the 2001 mix CD Fast Rap, British label Lewis Recordings released a proper edition of Primitive Plus in early 2002. The album received rapturous reviews both in America and overseas. He followed it several months later with an EP, Sprain Your Tape Deck, also on Lewis, as well as outside production for and collaborations with Count Bass D ("How We Met") and Mr. Lif ("Live from the Plantation"), among others.
Several more singles and a James Brown-nodding 2004 mix (Sound of the Funky Drummer) preceded Edan's second full-length, 2005's Beauty and the Beat. A psychedelic rap masterpiece, the album was met with heavy acclaim as well as U.K. chart placings. Edan seemed to vanish from the scene shortly afterwards, but he returned with 2009's Echo Party, a dense 29-minute megamix of tracks from Traffic Entertainment Group's vaults, painstakingly assembled and enhanced with additional instrumentation from Edan himself. Since then, the reclusive musician has kept busy behind the scenes, producing or contributing guest verses to Blu, Memory Man, Mr. Lif, and several others. After producing "Talking (Bleep)" on Homeboy Sandman's 2016 album Kindness for Weakness, the duo teamed up for 2018's Humble Pi. ~ Stanton Swihart & Paul Simpson, Rovi