A Blow to the State
label: Coup D'etat
our score: 3.5 out of 5.0
"Conscious" Hip-Hop, But not Quite Fun Enough
I used to be all about the underground
"conscious" hip-hop thing, but it wasn't always like
that. When I first started getting into it, back more than 15
years ago, I didn't care what kind of messages or implications
it had—I just liked fun songs, big fat beats, and deft and/or
scary and/or humorous lyrical skills. But hip-hop became fragmented
into different camps in the 90's, and somewhere along the line
(like a lot of other white guys) I convinced myself that I had
to come down in one camp or another, and I chose to disdain all
that "chart rap" "radio-friendly" "bling-bling"
I thought I was a better person for this,
until a very curious thing happened—a hip-hop station sprung
up in my area. I started listening to what was on the air, and
realized that I was missing a lot of great stuff. Now I'm pretty
much all over the place with what I like and listen to and praise
in reviews, and I feel a lot better about that.
The best song on this disc from Coup D'Etat
Entertainment is exactly about this kind of reconciliation; Akrobatik's
"Balance." I had already heard this bangin' joint on
his album, which I reviewed for Music-critic a few months ago,
but it's very much where I'm feeling right now. In it, Akro talks
about finding the in-between place between fun thug stuff and
uplifting high-score-on-the-vocabulary-test stuff. It's a great
way to start things off here.
If only some of the other acts on Coup
D'Etat would heed Akro's advice. I'm not saying this is all choirboy
uplift-the-race seriousness; indeed, some of the better acts nail
it. Underground legend Rasco busts off a couple of slugs here—the
harsh street-life story "Snakes in the Grass (The Jon Sexton
Story)" has its heart in the right place AND sounds tough
and real, and his "We Get Live" isn't afraid of grit
(or swearing) either.
The most uplifting dude in rap, J Live,
busts out two distinctly great songs that find that balance too.
"How Real It Is" calls out everyone who thinks thug
life is glamorous: "Life could take a turn for the worse
/ And have you switching from the Coupe to the hearse / You better
keep this verse / The streets ain't no joke / But man, the sidewalks
might get you first." This heroic dude, a schoolteacher in
Brooklyn who has finally burst onto the scene, has a tendency
to show off a little, but it's all good, especially on "One
for the Griot." This hilarious sex-rap has several false
endings, all caused by J refusing to take the easy way out; at
first, the dude in the song blunders into a murder scenario, but
then he gets called on it and redoes the story so it turns into
a threesome. (I'm not gonna give away the final ending, though.
It's too hilarious.)
And hey, a lot more comps should end with
a sixteen-minute "mixtape" where all of the other songs
are cobbled together. If you don't have 45 minutes to listen to
all 11 songs, just bust up track 12 and hear capsule versions
of them all! It's brilliant! It's fun!
But too many artists here ignore the "fun"
part, unwisely choosing brain over ass. You might like the oh-I'm-so-clever
wordplay of MC Paul Barman, and I guess I can understand that;
he's almost as funny as an undisciplined thesaurus-obsessed Eminem,
and he's certainly much safer because he's not really talking
about anything important. But he works too hard at being wacky,
and "Bleeding Brain Grow" just sounds like beating off
to me—it stands out on this comp like a sore third nipple.
Soul Purpose is okay, I guess, but they sound too indebted to
Blackalicious and Latyrx. And Fakts One gets no points for the
sickeningly sweet "Life Music," which would be Exhibit
A if conscious rap ever went on trial.
I like this comp, but too many beats are
the same and a few of these groups need to stop bumping Common
and the Roots and start getting down to Ludacris and 50 Cent for
real. Mix it up! Live a little! Find the BALANCE!
liked A Blow to the State...
2. How Real It Is/J-Live
3. We Get Live/Rasco
4. Dry Spells/Soul Purpose
5. Life Music/Fakts One
6. Snakes in the Grass/Rasco
7. One For the Griot/J-Live
8. Strictly For the DJs/Akrobatik
9. Take Cover/Soul Purpose
10. Bleeding Brain Grow/MC Paul Barman
11. We Gonna.../Fakts One