Thursday, 27 February 2003

Album Review: Immobilarity

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is a landmark hip hop LP, and many Wu Tang fans consider it to be the finest Wu Tang solo album. For this reason, Raekwon's second solo LP was greatly anticipated. Sadly, yet again, true fans should be greatly disappointed by what is offered on Immobilarity.

Unlike the previous ten trillion Wu Tang albums, it doesn't begin with a film sample. Raekwon instead chooses to read a few lines, ironically, from Godfather III (perhaps Paramount wouldn't give sample clearance). I say ironic, because like Godfather III, Immobilarity also fails to climb the dizzy heights of its illustrious predecessor.

In a move probably to make himself a more visible entity in his own right as opposed to merely being a member of The Wu Tang Clan, he has distanced himself from many of his fellow clansmen. Perhaps Raekwon deserves credit for refusing the help of the Wu's resident producer the Rza and by not teaming with Ghostface Killah on a single track, it's a brave but ultimately foolhardy move. Raekwon is a most talented MC, but sadly his voice is not the most charismatic and this can leave his work sounding a little bland. Worse, is that he has replaced potential guest spots from the likes of Ghostface Killah and Nas with the untalented American Cream Team.

However, the main problem with Immobilarity is not the MCing but the production. Admittedly, around 1999, the Rza was not the innovative producer he once was, but he has been replaced here by a bunch of untalented, no-name producers. Triflyn is the worst offender. His track Friday is utterly appalling, Power sounds exactly the same, 100 Rounds is a blatant but poor attempt at recreating the eerie string effects that made Cuban Linx so exciting to listen to, the Keith Sweat sampling Forecast is the worst of the lot; it's just so weak. Only the Method Man featuring Fuck Them is a passable piece of work. In a genre packed with unimpressive producers, Triflyn might be the worst I have ever heard.

It's genuinely hard to find anything positive to say about the production. Only the Pete Rock produced Sneakers protrudes beyond mediocre. The song has Raekwon name checking all his favourite trainers from the past, "Prince black Jordans, K-Swiss gear, remember Lottos / stash mad bottles in the fence oooh Diadora", he reminisces during the first verse. For me, it's head and shoulders above any other track on the album.

It's the beats that detract from the album. One might feel a little sorry for Raekwon, because he is as lyrically dextrous as ever. Unfortunately he has been badly let down by his chosen producers. But it's hard to be sympathetic for long, when one is reminded that he picked these producers and chose to release an album so unbelievably below par.

If Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was the Chef cooking up a succulent filet mignon, then Immobilarity is, at best, a greasy doner kebab.

Wednesday, 26 February 2003

Dr Seuss adverts

University of San Diego have scanned an archive of adverts made by Dr Seuss.

Saturday, 22 February 2003

Album Review: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

Every hip hop fan knows the Wu Tang Story, but for the uninformed, here is a brief summary. Circa 1995, 5 MCs release solo albums and they are all fantastic. They wait a few years and they release another group LP, it's a touch self-indulgent and the fans begin to revolt. Then they each release another and they're mostly pretty bad. That's the story so far. Now rewind to 1995, Raekwon (along with substantial help from Ghostface Killah) releases what is critically considered by many Wu Tang fans to be the best album of the lot, and one of the best hip hop albums ever released.

Cuban Linx wasn't particularly sought after upon release. Compared to Ghostface's staccato, Method Man's stoned bassy voice and ODB's crazy shouting, Raekwon seemed to get a little lost in the mix during 36 Chambers. He's certainly the Wu member who performs the least guest spots. A combination of this led to this LP receiving a slightly muted reception when it was initially released. It didn't take long for the hip hop community to realise what a classic LP this is.

With their first solo releases, each of the Wu members adopted different personas, which was part of their appeal. While Gza's gimmick was the interspersed Shogun Assassin samples, ODB's behaved and sounded like he had just escaped the lunatic asylum and Ghostface's inimitable staccato made him sound totally original, Raekwon's persona is that of the urban gangster.

The gangster rap / Mafioso imagery was nothing new in 1995, Kool G Rap (amongst others) had popularised the idea a few years earlier, but it had not reached the saturation point that it currently has. However, there had not been an LP that had so successfully blended such imagery with the music. It is the track Criminology that gives us the first taster. It begins with a sample from the Al Pacino movie Scarface and is a typically brash expose of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah's (who features heavily on many of the tracks) gangster credentials, "Call me dough snatcher / just the brother for the rapture / I hang glide, holding on strong / hard to capture" Raekwon spits. Elsewhere, the Wu anthem, Wu Gambinos has each Wu member (and guest rapper Nas) adopt a gambino persona as a (perhaps typical) story of crime is told. It's one of the most successful posse tracks to find its way onto a solo Wu release. Method Man's opening statement sums the sentiment up perfectly, "Wu come to get you / now they've got guns / I be the first to set off shit, last to run / Wu roll together as one / I call my brothers Sun cos they shine like one."

Rza's production is typically innovative. On Ice Water an odd chant is coupled with some slow scratching to great effect. Meanwhile, the Gladys Knight and The Pips sampling Can It All Be So Simple glistens with emotion and North Star takes Barry White's soul classic Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Baby and turns it into something altogether darker.

Today every new Wu LP is heavily anticipated, but for the wrong reasons - old fans tune in to hear if the group have come anywhere near to close to their old quality. Back in 1995, it seemed like the cycle of quality could never end. Cuban Linx is one of the best cuts the Wu will ever produce, and if Immobilarity is anything to go by, it seems certain to be the best LP carrying the Raekwon name for a long, long time.

Friday, 21 February 2003

Album Review: Wu-Tang Forever

The perceived downfall of the Wu Tang Clan can be traced back to this release.

Before Forever the Wu could do no wrong in the eyes of the critics. Their debut release, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was held to be one of the greatest hip hop albums ever made. The five solo albums that were released after 36 Chambers were each held in equally high regard. Then, however, things went slightly off course for the Wu. Forever was delayed for so long, many fans began to wonder if it would ever appear. Then when it arrived many fans were sceptical of this hip hop double LP that weighs in at over two hours long.

As early as the first track proper prove the doubters wrong, Reunited has the Gza fire an opening salvo on those artists who had been copying the Wu's style while they had been gone, "Reunited, double-LP, the world excited / struck a match to the underground / industry ignited / from metaphorical parables to fertilise the Earth / wicked niggers come try to burglarise my turf / scatting off soft ass beats them niggers rap happily / tragically, that style, deteriorates, rapidly." It's great opener, and one that reassures the listener that whatever they've read about this LP, the Wu-Tang mean business.

Released in 1997, this was the time when Rza was prepared to take a few risks with his production. On Cash Still Rules / Scary Hours, Ghostface Killah is tearing through a typically uncompromising verse when the music simply runs out leaving Ghost to finish his verse acapella. Equally, For Heaven's Sake with its odd high-pitched warble effect is one of Rza's more innovative tracks.

The first disc concludes with It's Yourz, an attempt by the Wu to match some of their earlier anthems. It has Rza, in typically self-appreciating style, shout, "It's yours / the seed and the black woman / it's yours / double LP from Wu Tang Clan." If the first disc had been released alone, the listener could not have too many complaints. Strange then that the second disc contains just as many, if not more, classic Wu-Tang tracks.

The second disc kicks off with the single Triumph. It's a dark affair, with the Wu positioning themselves as soldiers on a battleground ("War of the masses / the outcome disastrous / many of the victims families save their ashes / a million names on walls and graves and plaques / those who went back receive penalty for their acts."). Elsewhere on disc two, Impossible has the Wu in preachy mood, Raekwon tells us, "The murder rate is increasing and we're decreasing / so at the same time that you play with guns... / that causes conflict against your own."

For the most part this is a group effort, but at certain points during disc two, the rappers break off into pairs to differing effect. The MGM has Raekwon and Ghostface Killah trading the microphone line by line over a typically stark backing track. Dog Shit is ODB and Method Man's chance to shine in the absence of the rest of the group. Frankly, the result is a juvenile, misogynistic track that somehow manages to be semi-entertaining. However, for those still in any doubt about the political correctness of the Wu the following track, Duck Seazon is an entirely immature tirade about homosexuality.

Typically the album is highly cinematic. From the sleeve design to the b-movie snippets to the hilarious virtual tour of the Wu Mansion (a CD-ROM extra found on disc one), the album has a Hollywood feel to it.

I've always been of the opinion that the press were unduly savage on Forever. It's not quite the equal of 36 Chambers but it really isn't far away. Criticisms of it being overlong are not unfounded and perhaps one or two of the tracks would have been better left on the production room floor, but album with twenty-nine tracks will have one or two weak ones. Forever should be an essential purchase for any hip hop fan.

Album Review: Beneath The Surface

With the Wu-circa 1999 treading water, it was hoped that the Gza would be the spark to inspire the entire crew to get back to their best. Unfortunately, anyone pinning their hopes on the Gza was wildly disappointed. It only takes a cursory glance at the track list to set off alarm bells - an Intro, an Outro and 4 skits find their way amongst the eighteen tracks.

The opening track on the LP Amplified Sample is one the better tracks, that however, is more a mark of the overall quality of the LP than the track. The production by Mathematics is purely Rza-by-numbers, but worse is that Gza chooses to use the same verse twice. One would like to think that this was done intentionally for some obtuse artistic reason. However, I can only think that it was performed out of laziness. Worse still, on the track Feel Like An Enemy, Gza doesn't appear at all, instead leaving to the Sunz Of Man. It's this kind of cheap filler material that is selling the Wu fans down the river.

Of the positives, the title track is a nod to the master storyteller that Gza used to be, "On a man made lake there's a layer of thin ice / where unskilled skaters cut figure eights twice." Elsewhere Hip Hop Fury is an enchanting mixture of xylophone and bass, which houses some of the best lines on the entire record. Unfortunately there isn't much else worthy of anyone's eardrum.

Overall the problem with this LP is that Gza simply isn't on it enough. On some tracks he actually does nothing, on others he gives his audience one verse and on one he repeats the same verse twice. All in all this is a blueprint for how to go from amazing to amazingly bad.

Thursday, 20 February 2003

Album Review: Golden Arms Redemption

This release really seems to have divided opinion. Much of the music press slated it as yet another below-par Wu release, but many of the Wu faithful suggested that it was an overdue return to form. Unfortunately, I have to side with the press on this one.

In what is sadly becoming something of a trend the majority of the album sounds rushed; the likes of Dat’s Gangsta, Lay Down and Hungry are extremely tepid for a member of the Wu. Despite the LP carrying his name, U-God isn’t solely to blame for this, one of the posse tracks, Rumble, is actually one of the worst. While Leatha Face, Method Man and Inspectah Deck do inject much needed emotion and passion into proceedings, the song possesses a truly awful chorus, “Rage, rock, roll, fight, brawl, fall, RUMBLE.” If the Blazing Squad had written it, you wouldn’t be surprised. It isn’t the last time that U-God is caught short in the lyrics department. Worse still is found on Stay In Your Lane where U-God, in what must be a first for a hip hop record, actually uses the line, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

Fortunately there are moments where U-God shows signs of the talent that brought him to the game in the first place. Turbulence gives the album a good start. True Master does his best impersonation of Rza’s production style mixing heavy bass with trademark Wu strings. Elsewhere, the first single Bizarre is a decent slab of upbeat hip hop and Shell Shock carries the attitude one associates with the Wu.

U-God’s biggest problem is that he seems utterly unemotional on every track. While his contemporaries; Method Man, ODB and Ghostface Killah have managed to carve their own niche within the Wu universe, U-God just doesn’t sound interesting enough for the listener to bother hearing. Sadly it is this coupled with the childish lyrics and uninspired production that make this album completely disappointing.

A lot of people have a lot of good to say about this LP. However, Golden Arms Redemption did not do anything for me. Wu completists should give it a listen, but there are far, far better albums carrying the Wu name out there for the uninitiated.

Album Review: Nigga Please

Russell Jones has always been a loose cannon. But it was the period around this release where the ODB train totally derailed, with Jones ending up in prison (not before leading the FBI a merry dance around the entire United States). I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised, while his peers in the Wu took on gangster or superhero personas, ODB declared in 1999 that he had renamed himself Big Baby Jesus. Somewhere between insanity and incarceration ODB released this, his second solo long player.

The album opener, Recognize, features Chris Rock serving as a master of ceremonies by announcing that, “This ain’t the young DB / this the old DB / this ain’t the embryo DB.” This is followed by the first of many unintelligible verses from ODB himself. I Can’t Wait continues this trend, ODB has never been exactly coherent, but here he is totally crazed, one can only imagine what the recording sessions must have been like. It initially appears that the track will succumb to hip hop cliché as ODB offers shout outs to Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg as well as other rappers, but the fantastic climax actually has ODB offering shout outs to the army, air force, submarines and Eskimos and thanks them for, “playing my music in the submarines and the boats.” Any doubts as to whether or not ODB has lost the plot are answered on this track.

The album’s best known track is undoubtedly Got Your Money: the song that finally brought The Neptunes a mainstream hit. ODB offers a lovely sentiment at the beginning of the track, “This goes out to all the pretty girls in the world and all the ugly girls too / cos to me you’re pretty anyway.” Before going on to slur one of my favourite ever lines, “I don’t have no trouble with you fucking me / but I’ve got a little problem with you not fucking me.”

Elsewhere, ‘You Don’t Want To Fuck With Me’ is as uncompromising as the title suggests. One can’t help but think that if any other artist performed this song it would be utterly dire. Somehow, ODB makes this a really enjoyable track. The lyrics are disgusting, and at times, you get the impression that ODB is just making the stuff up as he goes along, but nevertheless, he is never anything else than entirely entertaining. The track ends, fittingly, with a belch and some screaming. Elsewhere, ODB offers a garbled cover of Rick James’ Cold Blooded and he croaks and murmurs through the Billie Holliday standard, Good Morning Heartache.

ODB is a man wrought with conflicts, the chorus of Rollin Wit You; “Jesus, I’m rolling wit you” is sandwiched between more profanities than nearly any track I’ve ever heard. Meanwhile, on I Want Pussy, ODB denounces prostitutes claiming somewhat unbelievably, “I want pussy for free / I don’t want none of y’all having my money.” Confusingly, on the finale Cracker Jack, ODB exclaims that, “Girls ain’t pretty to me anymore / cos you ain’t being a real whore.” The album closes with ODB offering some salient advise to the listener, “If you wanna die, you gotta drink my sperm / the other way to die, is eat a can of worms.” I guess the sensible thing to do is not to analyse what Jones is saying too closely.

This is unlike any album I have ever heard. It seems increasingly likely that ODB won’t step back into the studio and record another proper long player (his recent release, The Trials & Tribulations of Russell Jones was little more than a series of recycled verses and shoddy guest raps). If he doesn’t make another album it will be a real shame, because on Nigga Please, ODB is never anything less than 100% entertaining. But if he doesn’t at least he has left us with one wonderfully crazy album.

Tuesday, 18 February 2003

Album Review: Hits

Greatest hits collections always divide opinion amongst fans, and surely no two Wu fans will agree on the final track listing. Where for example is the awesome Glaciers Of Ice from Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx LP or Labels from Liquid Swords or Daytona 500 from Ironman? The release of Hits serves a dual purpose. Firstly and most importantly, it reminds long-time fans how good the Wu used to be. An unfortunate by-product of this is that it is a constant reminder of how bad they have become.

The first two tracks, Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit and Protect Ya Neck are two of the most essential hip hop tracks ever released. Both are lifted from the Wu's debut LP Enter The 36 Chambers, which is held up to be one of the finest hip hop LPs ever released. The other group track lifted from Enter The 36 Chambers is unsurprisingly, C.R.E.A.M. These three tracks more than any others highlight the pass the mic urgency that has been missing ever since their debut release.

Elsewhere, each of the mainstay Wu members get two album tracks included, except for some strange reason, the Gza, who's first major LP Liquid Swords is regarded as perhaps the finest solo Wu release. It would've made sense to give two tracks from each album. It also seems odd that Cappadonna and Killah Priest's albums don't get a look in. One Step by Killah Priest was one of the Wu's more commercially successful singles in the UK so it seems odd that it has been omitted. What is left on the collection, however, is pure quality.

ODB's two tracks hold no surprises. The first, Shimmy Shimmy Ya was for a long time the essential ODB track, it's probably safe to say that Got Your Money has now surpassed it in the public conscience. His other addition is Brooklyn Zoo another of the stand out tracks from his wild LP 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. Compared to his later work ODB sounds very sober on these tracks, and he now slurs incoherently, his work on these two tracks is highly impressive.

The Raekwon tracks Incarcerated Scarfaces and Ice Cream hold no major surprises. Wu Gambinos aside, Incarcerated Scarfaces is probably the essential Raekwon track, and is a great demonstration of his rap / Mafioso patter. Ice Cream, meanwhile is Raekwon's salute to women. The Wu don't do romantic, this is about as close as it gets.

Method Man's signature track Method Man is the fourth track lifted from Enter The 36 Chambers. His other two tracks come from his solo debut Tical. The inclusion of both Bring The Pain and All I Need should surprise nobody. It is perhaps Method Man whose style has deteriorated the most over the years - these tracks remind fans of the talent he once held.

Ghostface Killah's included tracks may cause the most controversy. Daytona 500 is widely regarded to be the standout track from Ironman; its exclusion seems strange, certainly when the fairly bland Winter Warz is included instead. All That I Got Is You(featuring Mary J Blige) remains a touching record.

The new track Wu Wear is essentially an advert for the Wu's fashion label and contains the almost subliminal chorus, "Ain't what you want baby / it's what you need baby." It isn't a very good track anyway, but it stands out as particularly poor when in such illustrious company. The notion of the Wu Tang prostituting their clothing label is a million miles away from the days when they sold CDs out of car boots to try to get a deal.

Rza's narrations serve almost as a director's commentary from a DVD, new comers to the Wu might not appreciate them, but I found some insight could be gleaned from his comments. He more than justifies each track's inclusion as well. Particularly interesting is the fact that Wu Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit was originally recorded by Ghostface and Method Man and called Who The F' Are You?

The lack of any tracks from Forever doesn't go unnoticed, although it could simply be that a second Hits collection will eventually be released containing tracks from the second round of albums. It is certain that volume two won't be anywhere near this standard. It's one of the most essential hip hop collections ever. Wu completists will want it for the unreleased track Wu Wear: The Garment Renaissance which sadly is pretty poor. Anyone unfamiliar with the Wu will find Hits an essential starting point for their collection. Every track on this collection (bar the last one) is as essential now as the day it was originally released.

Friday, 14 February 2003

Album Review: Supreme Clientele

While most of the second round of Wu Tang LPs were substandard (Tical 2000, Immobilarity etc), Ghostface Killah was something of a rarity by actually matching and sometimes surpassing the quality of his debut release Ironman on his second long player. While Ghostface has never held the commercial cachet of Method Man or ODB, he's probably the most consistent member of the Wu; Supreme Clientele goes some way to proving his talent.

Unsurprisingly for a Wu Tang album, Supreme Clientele begins with a sample. Ghostface Killah developing his Ironman alter ego chooses to pinch from Marvel Comics to open his second LP. The first track proper is one of the best on the album. Nutmeg, produced by relative unknown Arthur Wilson has Ghostface at his very best. In his inimitable staccato Ghostface brags, "I studied under Bruce Lee / He was on the four, I was on the third."

Rza beats were getting repetitive around 2000 and he is only on hand for 4 of the tracks on Supreme Clientele. However, his Executive Producer credit suggests he may have had a hand in who produced the other tracks. There is a myriad of producers on hand to keep this album sounding fresh. Juju of The Beatnuts is handed production duties on One, it's one of the standout tracks on the album. It contains a sample from Sweet Inspiration's cult soul classic You Roam When You Don't Get It At Home. Another standout track Apollo Kids (which features fellow Wu member Raekwon) is produced by another relative unknown, Hassan.

Again, unsurprising for a Wu release, there are a couple of ensemble tracks. Funnily enough they are two of the weaker tracks. Buck 50 produced by Rza, has Redman and Method Man tread through their usual patter and Wu Banga 101 attempts to rediscover the grainy Wu production of old. It fails miserably. Frankly, it's a boring track.

Meanwhile there is Stroke Of Death a stuttering series of Rza's scratches coupled with a sparse beat, while Ghostface slurs over the top. It's very hard to listen to, the scratching clearly hasn't been looped as it is out of sync at several points, which add to the feeling of unease which this track gives the listener. Credit to Ghostface for trying something different.

There is not a single unfunny skit to be heard. When Ghostface is on the mic, the album is at its best. Ghostface's debut Ironman was a very good album that would be hard to match, Supreme Clientele achieves that at many points and should be considered the essential Ghostface Killah album.

Thursday, 13 February 2003

Album Review: 69 Love Songs

New York songwriter Stephin Merritt set out to record a collection of a hundred love songs. The title of the LP gives away that a snug and not without sexual overtone sixty-nine made the final release making this one of the most ambitious LPs of recent years.

Playing spot the reference, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, Nick Cave, Cole Porter, The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground and Phil Spector all appear to have been paid tribute on this 3 hour collection. By no means is that list exhaustive either, Merritt and his chums are not shy to prove which artists inspired them to record this opus.

Gloomy piano-waltz I Don’t Believe In The Sun is worthy of Nick Cave and is one of the stand out tracks. Elsewhere, Sweet Lovin Man would be a major hit for a more commercial artist. Claudia Gonson’s vocals are near perfect on most of the tracks she sings on, but Washington D.C. has her in particularly fine fettle.

A few tracks are incredibly bad, but these songs are few. Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits is god-awful synth pop and I Shatter is sub-Butthole Surfers nonsense. There aren’t many others, but unfortunately Merritt has included a few too many gimmick tracks to the LP to make it a timeless classic.

As Valentines Day approaches it is a total injustice that more people will be receiving compilations along the lines of Greatest Love Songs In The World Ever 10 rather than this.

There are songs on this album that could change people’s worlds. If only they could hear them.

Monday, 10 February 2003

Curt Hennig found dead at 44

Curt 'Mr Perfect' Hennig has been found dead in a Florida hotel room. He was 44.

Hennig has long been rumoured to have an addiction to cocaine and painkillers. It's unclear at this time whether they contributed to his death.

As Mr Perfect, Hennig was renowned as one of the most technically superior wrestlers of the 1990s and his cocky persona meant he was always a personal favourite of mine.


Album Review: Original Pirate Material

Garage music is supposed to be what British musicians do best. The likes of the So Solid Crew, Ms Dynamite, Craig David and DJ Luck have garnered massive success in this country and are breaking ground across the Atlantic. In light of this it seems strange then that all the aforementioned artists borrow so heavily from the US hip hop scene.

Enter 21-year-old Mike Skinner aka The Streets, the perfect antidote to the US hip hop imitators, and the most original voice in music for years. In Skinner we have an artist more concerned with cups of tea and second hand Vauxhall Nova's than bottles of Kristal and £100,000 Bentleys.

What we're dealing with here is an album that borrows from UK garage and the all-night garage in equal measure. It's dark, heartbreaking and witty at the same time and a near-perfect depiction of inner city life for a twenty-something bloke. Tales of ordinary life (being hopelessly skint, getting drunk and getting dumped) are set to a range of innovative backing tracks. Has It Come To This? the lead single, sets the tone with Mike Skinner narrating on "a day in the life of a geezer" to a two-step garage beat. Meanwhile, Let's Push Things Forward encapsulates Skinner's manifesto perfectly with the line, "This ain't your archetypal street sound."

Elsewhere, we are treated to a mad weekend in Amsterdam on Too Much Brandy and a beguiling assault on the UK Government's stance on cannabis legalisation on The Irony Of It All. Perhaps the standout track though is the incendiary Don't Mug Yourself, not since Kurt Cobain led America's youth in the early nineties has isolation seemed so entertaining.

It isn't all beer and clubbing though. When Skinner wants us to listen he slows the pace and it's hard not to take notice. It's Too Late is a musical highpoint; a tale of lost love, it sounds like a musical update of Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy but includes the line "We first met through a shared view, she loved me and I did too." The album's climax, the aptly titled Stay Positive, finds Skinner in reflective mood and he reveals, "Because you're the same as I am, we all need our fellow man, we all need our Samaritan." It's this vulnerability than makes the album so endearing, Skinner is just like you or me and he's quick to point it out.

It's an album that you can listen to at home to get in the mood for a wild Saturday night, dance to in the club and equally, one that you can wake up to on a Sunday morning with a fry up in your nearby greasy spoon. In an age where manufactured pop stars rule the charts, Mike Skinner stands out as the true voice of the streets.

Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Album Review: Funcrusher Plus

Appearing like a bolt from the blue in 1997, Funcrusher Plus single-handedly reignited my passion for hip hop music. Shying away from the gunz, girlz and dollaz style of gangsta rap and the pop / rap crossover disaster that the likes of Will Smith bring to the table, Company Flow managed to create something entirely new with their debut album.

The LP begins with the promo recording of Bad Touch Example, which was recorded in 1995. To think that the track is nearly ten years old is bewildering, because it sounds like it could be released in a thousand years time. The track highlights the confident wit that Company Flow would exhibit for an all-too-short time, "I practice exposing perfection like Rikki Lake expose white trash." and later, "You wanna battle, it's better to look in the mirror and say Candyman five times." The fact that there are another eighteen tracks following this remarkable opener is a mouth-watering prospect.

For the run-of-mill MC, wit involves some kind of 'hilarious' skit dissing one or more of his peers. Not so for Company Flow, EL-P and Big Juss are genuinely amusing, "Got manners like Bruce Banner when he's stressed", EL-P quips on the awesome 8 Steps To Perfection. Later on Definitive, EL-P tells us, "I'm convinced future MCs are sending robots back in time as we speak / to kill my mother before I'm born."

However, it isn't just the peerless MC performances of EL-P and Big Juss that make this an outstanding album. DJ Mr Len is simply breath taking behind the decks. His cuts on Lune TNS make it one of the stand out tracks, and on an album devoid of anything close to mediocre, that is some achievement. Equally, Len's scratches on Tragedy Of War make the track a haunting piece of hip hop.

The production duties are shared, but EL-P is responsible for the lion share. Despite how good the lyrics and cuts are, it is often the production that stands out. The heavily eastern-influenced, The Fire In Which You Burn with its mangled sitar is remarkable. Meanwhile, Collude / Intrude sounds like it was produced aboard the Mir Space Station. The track is a call to overthrow major record labels, especially Time Warner and EL-P can't resist a dig at Will Smith, "Fuck Time Warner and it's affiliates for running that Big Willie shit / leave those fancy clothes up to the Pope." EL-P doesn't only pick an easy target for his barbs. On the freestyle 89.9 Detrimental he announces to any listening MCs, "I'll ignore you selling crack, killing people and keeping it real / but disrespect me and my adopted fam and die young like veal."

This album won't be for everybody, if your idea of good hip hop is, "corny beats and crowd involved hooks" (EL-P on 8 Steps To Perfection) then this probably won't be for you. If however, you like listening to something entirely innovative and intelligent then you'll find Funcrusher Plus to be a very, very special album.