Review Summary: While it may not seem outwardly incredible, digging deeper reveals a well executed album with buckets of spirit.
While the prominent southern rappers on the radio today have led many who don't know any better to believe that rap has nothing substantive to offer, great records still come from the region today. The rap group Cunninlynguists, at the time comprised of Deacon the Villain, Kno, and Mr. SOS, comes out of the south but shares little in common with its mainstream counterparts.
The MCs are all in good form, exhibiting lyrical skill that puts them far above their peers. They’re all armed with an extensive arsenal of good punch-lines which seems to have dwindled in the rap game recently. The album carries a spirit not often found in music of any genre; you can tell they actually love hip-hop. You can feel their determination to make a great album, and it does a lot in making the album as enjoyable as it is. Even if you just read a lyrics sheet for many of these songs, it would still be enjoyable. They have a taste for making fun music, and much of that comes from their lyrical abilities. Of particular note is Mr. SOS, who was only part of the group for this album, but contributes a lot of the fun atmosphere on the upbeat songs. That being said, the ‘Lynguists also display their serious side multiple times throughout the album, balancing out the more over-the-top songs. “Love Aint” featuring Tonedeff is a song about trying to understand love. While it has the problem of the guest completely sweeping the song, the verse is so good with the perfect sparse but sad backing it doesn’t even bother me. It leads directly into “Rain” in which the Mr. SOS handles the entire song, rhyming about a crumbling relationship over another sad beat. He gets engaged to a woman but she begins to act differently and he realizes that she has been cheating on him. It's a song that may not have worked very well if it weren't for the production and a growing intensity as SOS goes more and more crazy. It then transitions into “Doin Alright”, which features a simple but incredibly effective beat. The placement of the song in the album is perfect because the song sounds as though it is trying to be hopeful after the sadness of “Rain”, and the bittersweet beat makes it just sound even sadder. These three songs are what I would describe as the holy trinity of this album. The following songs run through even more topics, and range from excellent to just good, varying between describing the changing climate of rap, a tragic story about a man killed on 9/11, and even a song containing three different stories of people going crazy. Unfortunately, a couple of the songs are essentially unremarkable, and don't warrant many listens.
The production on the album is consistently excellent. Kno would create an ultimate display of his talent three years later, on 2006’s “A Piece of Strange”, but the production is certainly not slacking here. He shows his ability to create both somber and fun beats, with a real talent for utilizing vocal samples to enhance the mood of the songs. It isn’t uniquely Southern, or particularly reminiscent of any established style, Kno is completely versatile. He runs through different styles like a knife through hot butter. He keeps every song chugging along, and draws you in on every song. You could pay absolutely no attention to the lyrics and still enjoy this album. I could do without the beat on "Old School" though.
This album is truly great. Everything about it at its highest points is exemplary of what is good about so called “underground hip-hop”. The art of crafting great (and fun) lyrics is never forgotten, and it falls into none of holes commonly found in this type of music. A lot of times, these kinds of artists forget about making the music enjoyable, only focusing on their lyrical prowess. This is never a problem with CL and the reason I love them so much. I could listen to them forever, and they never get old, because while you only hear a punchline for the first time once, the songs remain enjoyable regardless of the lyrical content. This album is certainly worthy of a listen from anyone, and while it may not seem outwardly incredible, digging deeper reveals a well executed album with buckets of spirit.