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THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS – Droppin’ Science Fiction – 2008 – Album review

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Mighty Underdogs project finds MCs Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Lateef The Truthspeaker (Latyrx) teaming up with producer Headnodic of Crown City Rockers. Not dissimilar to previous Quannum-related stuff and more interesting than (for example) the last Blackalicious LP or Gift Of Gab’s solo LP by dint of the fact that some of the tracks on here are actually memorable, this nevertheless alternates between ‘back-packer hip-hop’ by numbers and soul-hop blandness by numbers a lot of the time. Bear with me till I get to the good stuff though as this isn’t exclusively the case.
So what’s the problem? Well, perhaps it’s familiarity that breeds contempt, but then again maybe it’s just something as minor (no pun intended) as the kids’ voices that kick this LP off. Kids’ voices on a record are never big or clever so why the fuck do I need some kids book-ending a song? Don’t get me wrong – kids are great – but I don’t want to them in my face while I’m trying to enjoy a beer either. Anyway despite the fact that Monster has some of the best cuts and one of the best b-lines on the LP, it’s hard to shake the idea that this first track was an also-ran hip-hop contender for the theme tune to some animated Pixar film. It might be called Hands In The Air but the second track is a crappy lightweight slice of RnB tinged, kettle-drum-fringed cack which would be better titled ‘hands on the skip button’ notwithstanding lyrical queries about does “anyone remember when music still was relevant”. So Sad continues in an RnB-ish vein but fares a lot better, not because it features both Julian and Damien Marley but because DJ/Producer Headnodic has a keen ear for a good break. The lumbering Gunfight will be familiar to many as the video was making internet rounds a while back though, and despite featuring MF Doom, it really does sound like Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. Nevertheless its ‘high noon’ scenario is also the first time the LP has any memorable lyrical impact “I stepped out the saloon at a quarter to noon/ Might as well have been a quarter to doom”. Lyrics Born pops by to do his comedy ‘speed-muttering thing on Ill Vacation but that shit is old now and while it was clever the first time it has become rapidly wearing ever since. Science Fiction is an attempt at cyber hip-hop but Deltron 3030 put that to bed a long time ago and this is a pale shadow (no pun intended no. 2) of the DJ Shadow/ Divine Styler collab. on Quannum’s classic Spectrum LP. Hiero stalwart Casual has been spreading his love widely of late but he’s wasted over the backdrop of Laughing At You, the break of which seems to be compiled from chopped up beatboxing and yelping. Quite unusual but also quite shit. Akrobat and Mr Lif drop by for Escape but make little impact, Folks is an unremarkable slice of hip-hop soul which leaves it to DJ Shadow to be the first guest to light a fire under this LP’s ass with his cuts on the UFC remix…but then it’s back to soul-lite dullness with Want You Back. Surprisingly for an LP it’s the rear-end (normally the album equivalent of the graveyard shift) that provides the quality on Dropping Science Fiction. Aye’s minimal bongo-fuelled beat brings some well-needed head-nod(ic) hip-hop pressure and Lateef and Gift of Gab finally sound like they’ve woken up which is just as well because they’re in time for posse-cut Warwalk which is next up. This is the point where The Mighty Underdogs finally seem to arrive at where they’ve threatened to be heading all LP – i.e. a genuine piece of quality hip-hop. Headnodic lines up a fairly sizeable dancehall reggae bassline and break and some fuzzed up guitars – it’s one of the few occasions where the guests Raashan Ahmad, Tash, Zion and especially Chali 2na sound like they’re more than decoration. Closer Victorious is an upbeat oddity to end the LP on but it’s string-fired loops work and Lateef and Gab still sound awake. In summary – this is a patchy – claims otherwise are fiction – but when it’s good they do drop science.
Out now on Definitive Jux.
Buy Droppin’ Science Fiction @ Amazon.co.uk

Listen to The Mighty Underdogs – Droppin’ Science Fiction

The Mighty Underdogs – Myspace

JAKE ONE – White Van Music – 2008 – Album review

Rating: ★★★★☆

If you’re reading this in the UK you can relax – LP title White Van Music is not a reference to commercial radio stations that play Girls Aloud at speaker-blowing volumes – DJ/Producer Jake One doesn’t roll like that. His homies do however include De La Soul, MF Doom, E40, Nas and Fifty Cent (to name but a few) – in fact – he’s part of the G-Unit production team. ‘What?’ I hear you ask, ‘is this man trying to appeal to both the underground and the mainstream? How does he straddle this divide? Like a colossus – or like a clown with one foot on a roller skate and the other on a banana skin?’ Well, on the evidence of White Van Music, I have to say the answer tends more toward the former.
On this, his debut solo LP, Jake One works with rappers as mainstream as Busta Rhymes and as cult as MF Doom and Slug: as old school as Casual and Posdnuos and as hyphy as Keak Da Sneak. He chamelonically adapts his sound to each MC without attempting to blatantly ape the sound for which each rapper is known. So what is Jake One’s sound? First track I’m Coming pretty much answers that one – fat beats shot through with a heavy dose of seventies soul. A blaxploitation sample about being high on ‘musical dope’ gives way to a chant of ‘Open up I’m coming’ that sounds like a war-party of psycho munchkins before Black Milk and Nottz kick a dope verse. It’s one of the best tracks on the LP, though MOP ‘joint’ Gangsta Boy and Brother Ali vehicle The Truth keep the quality until the first interlude. The D Black and Little Brother cuts which follow aren’t bad but they just aren’t all that distinctive either. Things pick up a bit with the skipping break on the Posdnuos and Slug’s Oh Really and Doom rolls it all abstract on the noirish Trap Door. Freeway gets lively again on How We Ride and is given a suitably upbeat backdrop, Doom gets a second highly satisfactory crack at the whip on Get ‘Er Done and Hiero soldier Casual gets all up in your face with Feelin’ My Shit. As far as lyrical themes go it’s (unsurprisingly) ninety per cent all about how dope each rapper is – though Blueprint obviously felt secure enough about himself to tell a story about the shit that happened when he was seeing some gangsta chick rather than constantly big himself up in Scared. You won’t be at all surprised to learn that the prize for best rhymes goes to the effortless Daniel ‘Doom’ Dumile though.
This isn’t an LP where the quality drops off radically after the first two thirds, in fact there’s nothing wack on here at all – even Busta Rhymes holds back on the cheese and production is warm and full – not unlike my new baby’s nappy – though that stinks and Jake One’s production does not. In fact there’s only two flavours of Jake One in evidence – the not bad and the pretty good. I guess I could’ve done with a little more variety in tempo or style – but there’s variety in MCs instead. It would be cheap to end by punning that everything is pretty much ‘jake’ with White Van Music, but hey – it’s true.
Out now on Rhymesayers
Buy White Van Music: Jake One Presents @ amazon.co.uk

Listen to Jake One – White Van Music

Jake One – Myspace

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