Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I come through swervin'

Rap music is just as much about the image as the substance. Everyone likes to talk about the shirtless thugs that have supposedly ruined hip hop, but collectives like the Native Tongues are just as guilty of using their image and public persona to get their message across. Think about a group like Slum Village: if it were not for beats that sounded like the next phase Tribe and their matching hobo dress, would anyone on Okayplayer seriously defend an album that has the chorus, "Fellatio interference, promiscuous Homo sapiens?" The granola gang was tricked by the way the group marketed itself. The Dungeon Family took advantage of each member's unique/foolish sense of style to craft albums that could range from misogynist or violent to highly spiritual. And the listener would never really be made uncomfortable by the change. Of course, the production of Organized Noize (like Slum's Dilla) had a lot to do with this. And this brings us to Mr. Fat Face 100, Backbone.

It is hard to say why I felt Concrete Law was a bit underwhelming. I am hesitant to say that it was the production. I know if a lot of these beats had been for Goodie Mob or OutKast, I'd say that this was at least a really great listen end to end. It's not that Backbone is particularly bad at rapping, either. Quite contrary, he is rather competent. Instead, his image and the approach he takes to his songs simply do not match. Watch something like the "5 Deuce 4 Tre" video, and he seems like someone who is focused on his grind and "on the come up," as they say. And if you were to simply read his lyrics, you would get that same impression. Like fellow DF member Cool Breeze (who Noz did an XXL post on a long time ago), Backbone's lyrical focus is the trap and it's effects on how he views the world. If the album had quite a few songs like "Slump" or "I Refuse Limitation," this would be absolutely wonderful news. Sadly, there is only one song like that here, "Lord Have Mercy," with Cee-Lo. It is truly a great song. Elsewhere, the emotional weight of the verses gets lost amongst inappropriate beats, meaning they convey a sense that the trap is a refuge, or Backbone's very annoying habit of emphasizing the wrong syllable and raising the pitch on that syllable. It can make for an awkward listen, especially if he is trying to be serious. A party song? Sure, go ahead. Why none of DF told him this, I will never understand.

Besides the single and the aforementioned song with Cee-Lo, there are some other highlights. "Believe That," which features the beat from the opening skit on Aquemini, is pretty great. I guess it doesn't hurt that Gipp and Slimm Calhoun are there to help him out. It's also odd that neither Daddy Fatsacks nor Chamelio Salamander make any sort of appearance. A damn shame, really. The Youngbloodz make an appearance, though they are the only Attic Crew members to do so. It would have been really interesting to hear Backbone and Jim Crow go back and forth, as I think they have a lot in common in terms of how they approach their songs and their personal styles. I can dream I guess.

Here's Noz's DF retrospective/overview, though his Cool Breeze piece is lost (forever?).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It goes oak, leather, rims and tires.

You'll never hear or read me claim that Backbone is actually a good rapper. His voice is weird and off-putting in large chunks, to call him a writer would be a cruel joke to many rappers and other musicians, and his sense of rhythm when he's rapping is just bizarre, what with all the odd pauses and non sequitur lines that come in the middle and end of his verses. For this reason, it's not hard to imagine why I have never really checked for Concrete Law, his 2001 solo debut. He also has an inane obsession with the phrase "5 deuce, 4 tre" (good song though, check it out). Given all my problems with Mr. Fat Face 100, he seems like an odd choice for a blog post. But like I mentioned on No Trivia, Backbone is like the Superb of the Dungeon Family. It's easy to confuse his voice with other, better rappers, but his verses can such great fantastic moments, but I would never be able to tolerate a full length from him. That said, Backbone is twice the rapper Superb wishes he could be, even if Yayo thinks he wrote Supreme Clientele. With all that said, here are my favorite songs that feature Backbone:

Big Boi feat. Backbone- Dubbz

This recent link from Sir Lucious Left Foot is the first we've heard from Backbone since... what, Even in Darkness? Lines like, "the whip super stupid, it ain't got no brains" are the very reason I both love and loathe him at the same time. When I first heard the song, I couldn't believe Backbone was on the track, as he sounds even more nasal than normal. I've never really expected him to blow me away with his rapping skills, and this is a car song, so he just has fun with it, making his style so easy to soak in.

Goodie Mob feat. Backbone & Big Boi- Get Rich to This

I am sure some people think I am a moron for liking anything on World Party, but this one came out right after those great videos for Aquemini and Cool Breeze's "Watch for the Hook," so any Dungeon Family was all right with me. Again, Backbone doesn't really have a point to get across, and neither does the song, so you can enjoy your champagne campaign with it. And his mention of E-40 got me tangenially thinking of the reason why he never really blew up, besides the obvious characteristic of his pretty mediocre rapping. Everyone in DF had some weird personal style that came across in their videos, but Mr. Fat Face was always pretty conservative in his dress (40 Water, on the other hand, always stands out). Maybe he just seemed like some random Southern rapper, rather than a member of the A's premier rap collective.

OutKast feat. Backbone & Big Gipp- We Luv Deez Hoes

Don't lie you love it, and if you don't, you like this song a whole lot. Honestly, his style would have worked very well with Jim Crow on their first album. He and Cutty Cartel both have thick accents and exude style, as that's all they've got. Again with the awkward pauses in the middle of his verses, but the laziness works here. Hoes don't deserve great verses, do they?

OutKast feat. Backbone & Cool Breeze- Slump

Easily one of his best verses, and one of the first where he mentions "5 deuce, 4 tre." His accent and slow pace makes him sound world weary here, and it works great within the context of this song. It's like his verse is sort of a prologue for the other two verses: Backbone explains what he's doing and going through and the reasons for that choice (if it was one), Big Boi offering a note of caution about the lifestyle (sort of like that "next to the hood" concept Brandon Soderberg talked about), and then in the final verse, Cool Breeze takes us back to the trap to the mind of someone looking to get out. Great way to structure a song, and Backbone really delivers in the first song that's not a sort of rowdy party starter.

Goodie Mob feat. Backbone- I Refuse Limitation (Sadly, there's no link for this song. Your loss, sorry.)

His best verse by far. It's like "Slump," but he sounds even more tired from selling drugs and living a dangerous life. It's really short, now that I think about it, so there may be a tie, but something got into him back in '98 that seems to give these verses a sense of urgency and claustrophobia, even though he raps so slowly. Good to have him back after almost ten years. Here's hoping he gets back into the mix, though I may be the only person who decides to pay attention.

NOTE: I found Concrete Law, there will be more Backone to speak of shortly.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Boston.

Sorry I've been gone so long. I've been moving (to Boston), and in the stress of moving with the help of my parents and starting a new (and my first!) job, it seems I've come down with shingles. Which, as you might imagine, is very pleasant. Getting a condition that normally affects people over 60 when you're 22 is a great way to start post-college life. This time, I absolutely promise a post very soon on music. But nothing really current, as it just goes back to the old stuff eventually. And I'm out.