Review Summary: Livin' Rugged
If there was one criticism to be made of Orange County (New York that is) hip-hop duo Matter ov Fact and EP, it would be that they have scarcely deviated from their signature sound in the 5 years since their impressive debut, 2012: The New Beginning
. In that time, the Ghastly Duo has released, rather prolifically, five albums (two of them instrumental) of excellently produced boom-bap inspired hip-hop along with a couple of EPs. Eventually, there comes a point in an artist's career where a once refreshing sound starts to give way to staleness and stagnation. This is not to say they have reached that point in such a short space of time, but they have been getting close to it, while also straying dangerously close to gimmicky territory. Fortunately it seems the duo have realized this, and have tried to shake things up with 2013’s HARK
. While ultimately not doing enough to properly distinguish itself from the rest of their discography, it was at the very least a step in the right direction and a very enjoyable listen. Less than a year after HARK’s
release the Gang has returned to craft a release full of summer bangers that manages to freshen and streamline their sound with subtle tweaks across the board, while still maintaining their signature sound.
What is immediately noticeable from the first track in earnest and lead single, "Holla x2", is the slight shift in production style. Peace Kehd
sees Matter ov Fact and EP (who both produce) go for a more laid back approach to the beats. Much more synthesizer heavy this time around as opposed to the mostly guitar or piano sample based grooves from previous endeavors, the production on Peace Kehd
gives off a nonchalant, almost somber atmosphere. Whereas before there was urgency to the beats as they accompanied the tongue-in-cheek storytelling, they are now more relaxed as they mirror the carefree sentiments found in the lyrics. This transition to a more tranquil atmosphere is perhaps best encapsulated by “What’s Your 20”, a slow tempo cut, backed by a heavily reverb-laden guitar sample that harks back to the debut, and pulsating synthesizer swells. Incredibly serene and laid back, “What’s Your 20” is the soundtrack to carefree, warm summer afternoons spent chilling with friends (which may or may not be accompanied by the use of a certain herb). Overall, the production is more polished and smooth, moving away from the fuzzier, more organic style found on HARK
. The drums have more bite, the samples are more poignant and there’s a certain crispness and sheen to the production that previous releases have lacked.
Now while “Holla x2” gave the first glimpse of the duo’s evolution, it was simply that; a glimpse. Almost stuck in a crossroads between the increments, Peace Kehd
eases into The Doppelgangaz’ stylistic accretion as opposed to diving headfirst into it. Lyrically it picks up right where HARK
left off, depicting a string of robberies the Gang try to pull off while interspersing details of some of their recent dietary choices. It’s a bit of a departure from their usual dumpster-diving, brothel-hopping antics, while still not straying too far and retaining their light-heartedness and sense of humour. The following track “Sh*t Rock” is a hilarious recount of potential sexual encounters that were averted by erectile dysfunction issues. “KnowntchooTahLie” sees the duo treading the familiar waters of detailing their encounters with prostitutes. As Matter ov Fact describes of his fleeting rendezvous with an 80 year old lady of the night: “She’s an old freak on a cold streak/’til we started speaking at Jones Beach/Stay at phones reach, she got four teeth/And her curtains looking like roast beef”. There are similarly vivid descriptions of the Gang’s appreciation for women of unconventional beauty scattered across the album. On “Live Rugged”, EP proudly describes “Peep the mami next to me, on ecstasy/ Lactatin’ with the left breast mastectomy/A pity whiles I trade midi files with this one titty chick/Real gritty wit’ the city miles on her”. Later in the song, Matter ov Fact narrates the trials of kayaking (and almost capsizing) with a bigger girl who “know[s] where the gelato at/that's why her inner thighs darker than her outer thighs/ that shadow cat”. But the lyrics on Peace Kehd
truly shine when they personify the atmosphere of the production. Tracks like “Live Rugged”, “Ungodly”, “What’s Your 20” and “Fall Thru” all embody the breezy, “live life to the fullest” attitude The Doppelgangaz seemed to have adopted of late.
Another area of The Doppelgangaz’ sound that has undergone a subtle refinement is the delivery of the two MCs. Their signature complex rhyming schemes and clever use of double entendre have largely been eschewed in favour of a more casual flow to match the album’s atmosphere. Also making way is any rigidity in their delivery. Not content with sticking with the same flow on every song, the duo’s delivery has become malleable, showing their continued growth as MCs. The two most notable examples of their ability to adapt their flow are on the songs “KnowntchooTahLie” and “Come Down Awn Eht”. On the former, they sport a flow reminiscent of classic UGK
while the latter sees them try their hand at the flow popularized by Atlanta group Migos
over a bangin’ trap beat. It adds an extra dimension to their impressive repertoire, and some much needed variety not only to the album but to their catalogue as well.
There is a buoyancy and vibrancy to Peace Kehd
that perhaps reflects where The Doppelgangaz are in life. This is in stark contrast to the grittier almost regretful tone to albums like Lone Sharks
that echoed a more unglamorous lifestyle (however fictitious), which saw MoF once lament, “this black cloak lifestyle ain’t nothing to write home about”. Now they defiantly proclaim “***** it, I live rugged. Do what I want, ‘til I kick the bucket”, and it’s precisely because of this aloof mindset that Peace Kehd
is such a refreshing listen.