Yoni Wolf and David Cohn go by several different names. Over the course of a couple decades, they’ve both dipped their toes into a number of underground hip-hop projects that range from the co-founding of an indie label (Wolf’s Anticon Records) to collaborations with indie rock stalwarts (Cohn’s Sisyphus project, with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux). Individually, they’re best known under their rap stage names—Wolf’s Why? and Cohn’s Serengeti—but their long resumes help track the wide breadth of experience they’re each bringing to the full-length concept album Testarossa, their first release as Yoni & Geti.
Wolf and Cohn have collaborated in the past, particularly on 2011’s Family & Friends (a Serengeti album with Wolf on production), but this official partnership pays off splendidly. Testarossa is said to have come from a script written by the two rappers while on a joint tour, and it chronicles the fictional lives of Davy and Madeline, a couple whose marriage disintegrates over the span of 14 tracks. We jump in and out of perspectives, listening as Davy goes on tour with his band and Maddy stays behind with their children. The tale itself is not particularly remarkable, but the way in which it’s unfolded by our two storytellers certainly is.
The narrative plays out through details, moments intricately woven together and plucked apart again. On “Lunchline,” a song that hones in on the mundane shuffle of life, Geti puts on a mindless tone as Davy, highlighting brief, everyday snapshots like “Get the lo mein, take the F train.” Later on, the track “Lucky Town” puts us in Maddy’s shoes, with Wolf playing the part in his husky voice, ruefully remarking, “Sitting at the dinner table / I saw your face on the cable.” And on “I, Testarossa,” we’re thrown back into Davy’s hurried stream of thoughts, constantly interrupted by the image of his daughter’s newly-cut bangs (“Thinking ‘bout my daughter, how they cutting her locks,” and later, “This chick got bangs like my daughter”).
Stylistic touches place context around the dense rhymes. Musically, the record pulls both from catchy indie rock and avant-garde hip-hop, but it feels less like a juxtaposition and more like a true meeting of minds. Despite hops and skips from one rhythm to the next, the album plays with a distinct dynamic flow. It feels alive, like a theatrical play with backgrounds changing between scenes—suburban, pale-faced houses glide offstage as snow-capped mountains are pulled in. Where “Madeline” is a stomping, lush pop gem led by Wolf’s delicate singing, “Down” is a bare-bones, Brazilian-tinted party that gets spliced midway by a tender string section, like a brief moment of clarity and deep thought in the middle of a drunken night out.
It all comes together gorgeously. The record requires some investment of time and attention, but it’ll reward you in return. With tight rhyming, engaging melodies, and piercingly vivid feeling, Testarossa proves to be a thoroughly great listen, and an enthralling reflection on life.