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?).