Marcum Core (aka MIDIMarc), the ne plus ultra of Columbia’s beatmakers, is pushing 40. So it’s tempting to view Thirty Seven, which Core named after and released on his 37th birthday and is, following last year’s Thirty6ix, the second such birthday retrospective, as a treatise on aging or as some referendum on the 22-plus years he’s been making beats.
There are no such motifs at play here. To hear Core tell it, there wasn’t much to the genesis of the 10 cuts that make up Thirty Seven. He’s constantly churning out beats, mostly to give himself something to listen to while he’s whiling away time in his car, and he just happened to stumble on a sequence that pleased him. If there are any emotional insinuations here, they’re perceptible maybe only to those who know Core best.
In that way, it’s hard to take Thirty Seven at anything more than surface value. Core largely sticks to a distinct formula here: cut sample from dusty soul or R&B deep cut, embellish with synths and strings, gird with head-nodding beats, repeat. He’s been deploying this formula for years to great success, and it yields mostly engaging results here. “Average Guy” mixes up a sample from Masquerades’ “I’m Just an Average Guy.” “Can’t You See” chops up the vocal hook of Barry White’s “You’re the One I Need.” “Here I Go Again” mines the Miracles song of the same name. “Easy to Forget” samples a sample, cribbing a bit from Joe Budden’s “Forget,” which speeds up The Stylistics “Your Love’s Too Good to be Forgotten.”
There’s great value in these beats, to be sure. They are uniformly excellent — sleek and propulsive tasteful and organic and seamless as Core’s beats almost always are. But they’re each maybe a bit overlong, and maybe a little less gold and a little more pyrite. Only “Will You Be Making a Payment Today” really bucks the formula, working in a slightly stretched verse-chorus framework that emphasizes different collage’s component parts — a howling soul wail here, some eight-bit bloops there, some chilling organ chords over there. It seems tailor-made for a cadre of rappers, each section fashioned to suit distinct voices — except there are none. “The Time,” too, deploys attention-grabbing dynamics and meticulous layering.
But those smoothly cruising stunners highlight all the time spent revving in low gear. Indeed, zone out with Thirty Seven in the background, and the experience seems only a step or two removed from one of YouTube’s Lo-Fi Beats to Study To playlists.
But then again, that Thirty Seven is so casual indicates its success. If Core’s aim here really is the vibe, the whole vibe and nothing but the vibe, then mission accomplished. That this particular project — a totally thrown-together f#!k-around that Core threw together to have some driving-around music — hangs together as cogently and coherently as it does is a testament to Core’s preternatural skill. If it’s a reflection of anything, it’s a reflection not of MIDIMarc, the artist, but of Marcum, the person, in the abstract.
More to the point, perhaps, Thirty Seven’s biggest triumph is its sole concrete conceit: that the joy of music is often in the making. Sometimes an active listen isn’t the point. Sometimes a piece of music is just meant to be window dressing. How does that diminish it?