Review Summary: My top hip-hop release of 2009.
The older I get, the more music I listen to, the more stagnant the hip-hop/rap genre becomes to me. Not that there isn’t good stuff out there, it’s just that isn’t enough of it. Commercial rap is the bane of music’s existence. No matter how many times you tell me you are hot, I will not believe you, because saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true. It’s sad, but that is what rap has become, a collection of catch phrases repeated over and over again until your brain turns to mush and runs out of your ears. Going underground helps to get away from the crap on the radio, but it’s really hard to find an artist or group that can fire on all cylinders. Maybe the have the production down but the flow is awful (Jedi Mind Tricks). Maybe it’s the other way around. Then, after all of your searching, a gem randomly gets dropped to you like you life was Bejeweled 2. In 2009, this is that release, a breath of fresh air and a a great listen almost the entire way through.
For those who don’t know, The Grouch & Eligh are members of the hip-hop collective known as the Living Legends. The California-based group has all sorts of different spin offs and solo releases and this one might be one of the best. The Grouch is a very laid back rapper, rarely raising his voice to a yell and always speaking consciously. Eligh is the polar opposite. His flow sounds like it’s been influenced by the caffeine from 10 Mountain Dews. He is fast and he is tongue twisting, but always in control at the same time. We have all heard the saying the opposites attract and that is the case here. Both artists play off one another perfectly, so well that they remind me of what Outkast once was. The Grouch is to Andre 3000 as Eligh is to Big Boi. The contrast keeps everything flowing and everything interesting at all times.
So we got two talented rappers in the fold, now we just need some good production. Thankfully this album delivers in this area as well. For the most part the beats are slightly laid back, slightly chill. It’s rare that the beat is picked up and that’s OK, the Cali vibe this album’s production gives off plays perfectly into the vocals of G&E’s. I can’t quite call the production groundbreaking, but it is different enough to separate these 2 from all of their commercial brethren and a lot of their fellow underground counterparts. The most original part of the production are the little touches that you might not even notice on your first listen. The opening track, Say G&E!, has the laid back vibe that is so prevalent on the album, but during the chorus you get a touch of a bubbling synth in the background that I might expect to hear in something more dancey or even something industrial. The synth takes the song to another level and helps to make it feel original.
Other great touches are prevalent throughout the album. On Do It Again the track opens with a female chorus of “Ba Ba Babba Ba’s” that you might have heard in a commercial from the 50’s. It sounds like it might be odd but it matches the track perfectly. Sign of the Times has a vocal backing the entire song that reminds me of something you might have heard on Bjork’s Medula. Mark Bell is featured on the track and uses various throat sounds and some Do Be Da Be Do that is so laid back it just blends into the track. So many touches like this take what might otherwise be average and turns it into something more.
Lyrically the album further reminds me of Outkast in that it’s not about bitches or switches. It’s about the world around us. The thoughts inside us. The important things. Take a track like Rivers Run Dry and you will hear about global warming in a clever way that comes across as neither elitism or preaching, it feels like genuine concern for the earth we all live on. Sign Of the Times is a commentary just on that, the signs all around us. The false importance put into objects and money, forgetting what’s really important.
It isn’t all peaches & cream however, which keeps this from being a great release and turns it into just a very good one. There are some guests featured and some do not work well. Atmosphere is featured on the track Boom which is an awful track you would expect to hear from someone like Solja Boy (or however the eff that’s spelled). All In is a bizarre poppy track with a live drum beat that feels cheesy, not chill. Thankfully the mis-steps are at a minimum so the disc as a whole still ends up as one of the years best.
It isn’t perfect, but what is? It’s just a God send to hear something fresh this year. While the radios pump out sonic garbage into the ears of the mainstream, greatness isn’t too far away. Just say G&E!