Review Summary: A startlingly original album that laid the foundation for underground and alternative hip-hop.
Sean “Puffy” Combs had quite a year in 1997, albums released on his Bad Boy record label that year went on to sell a combined 20 million copies. That year, even Jay-Z and Notorious BIG followed up their classic debuts with more radio friendly albums keeping with Puff’s (who executive produced both albums) “All about the Benjamins” motto. On the other end of the spectrum were Company Flow, they were everything that Bad Boy wasn’t: low budget, uncompromising, intelligent but most of all original. After releasing their EP Funcrusher,
Company Flow got several record deal offers which was what they wanted, provided it was done on their terms: 50% percent of the net profits, maintain ownership of their masters and publishing rights. If you know anything about the music business, you understand how preposterous those demands are, thus only one label agreed to their terms and as a result, Funcrusher Plus
was the first album released on Rawkus, an upstart independent label.
ushered in a new era of underground hip-hop and it exemplifies what the underground is all about
: simple, minimalist beats, low budget production and no regard whatsoever to commercial appeal. MCs El-P and Bigg Jus attack the mic with incredible ferocity and unbelievably intricate rhymes that take several listens to fully digest. Co-Flow tie together references from a seemingly bottomless grab-bag of comic book, pop culture and sci-fi references. Over time, El-P became the better known member but Big Juss is a very capable MC and may have a more fluid style than El-P. Together, El-P and Big Juss cram every bar with as many ideas as possible and it will have you catching more and more on every listen., nearly every line is quotable. With nineteen tracks, Funcrusher Plus
runs a bit long especially since there isn’t much thematic variety, just battle rap punch lines but the highpoints are the stuff classic albums are made of.
Produced mainly by El-P(with some assistance from DJ Mr. Len) Funcrusher Plus
completely defies the mainstream, there is little semblance of hooks or samples, opting instead for simple, sparse beats. The three note bass line on ‘Vital Nerve’ best exemplifies the production on this album, it’s simple yet memorable. You don’t even notice how basic and repetitive the beats are because of how much is going on lyrically, the spaced out production is built for the types of MCs El-P and Bigg Jus are and it allows them room to flex their lyrical muscles, which they do in spectacular fashion. From the sitar loop and stuttering drumbeat on ‘The Fire in Which You Burn’, the clipped horns on ‘Krazy Kings’ to the acid-drenched, psychedelic guitar of ‘8 Steps to Perfection’, there is outstanding production work, a foreshadowing of what was to come from El-P.
In 1997, Funcrusher Plus
was like nothing else at the time and years after its release it remains a refreshing listen proving just how far ahead of their time Co-Flow actually were. With this release, Co-Flow revitalized the hip-hop underground and Rawkus became the most respected indie hip-hop label, proving El-P’s words to be prophetic when he said “The independent representation of what MC's can and should be”. Will Smith’s 1997 album Big Willie Style
ended up going 9x platinum and even though Funcrusher Plus
didn’t reach as many people, it had a much greater impact on those who it did
reach something Company Flow knew all along: When sales control stats, I place no faith in the majority.
Shortly after the release of this album, Co-Flow broke up and El-P went on to create his own label, Definitive Jux, providing a home for similarly minded artists interested in further pushing the boundaries of hip-hop.
8 Steps to Perfection
(note: album was re-released in 2009 on Definitive Jux)