Hip-Hop Record Swap: Joe vs. Simon
It’s time for another Record Swap! Our Toilet Texan Kommadant Joe Thrashinkill is battling intergalactic criminal Simon Phoenix. The genre: Hip Hop. We can already see you wieners crying “RAP IS CRAP.” For those folks we say: go find a bucket, fill it with water, submerge your head in it and hold for 10 minutes. Will Joe prevail with the sickest beats? Or will Simon destroy with hot fire? The rules are simple. No research. No foreknowledge. No mercy.
Joe’s Assignment: Bedlam Brethren – Black Feather Messengers (2012)
While I generally try to have an open mind when it comes to metal, I am definitely an elitist when it comes to Hip-Hop. How deep does it go, you ask? I was one of those people who got offended when heads used the word “backpacker” as an insult back in the day. My favorite label was Rawkus Records while everyone jocked Bad Boy or Death Row. I think “trap music” is roughly the equivalent of stabbing yourself in the balls with a straightened coat hanger and then shoving it further in slowly. Or maybe being forced to watch “The Big Bang Theory” and nothing else for a week straight. I honestly can’t imagine which is worse. Basically, the era most would now call “old school” (1999-2005) I call “The era when rap started to decline in quality.” Though there are a scant few rappers from then and now that I genuinely enjoy, this duo being one of them.
Bedlam Brethren hail from the NY and are named after the famous insane asylum in London. Bedlam Brethren’s two emcees, Udi the Erratic Assassin and Cheating Death, blend street rhymes with macabre fare that coincides well with the hospital’s infamy for horrifying cruelty towards its residents. Added to the mix is a large dose of apocalyptic ranting. Seeing as how Papa Joe and I share a love of the Wu Tang Clan, I imagine he would come to enjoy this group, as they carry a large Wu influence including the RZA inspired beats of their main producer du-jour Spearman. They have a couple of EPs and a mix-tape, and for now one full-length called Black Feather Messengers, which is what Joe will be listening to. Another full-length is currently on the way called Instruments of Cruelty. Happy listening Joe. —Simon Phoenix
I’ve loved rap since I was 12. Hello Nasty was the first CD I ever bought. I’ll probably bump Sean Price when I’m in the nursing home. I got a giant “W” tattooed on my leg a few years back because I like Wu-Tang Clan so much. I regret the tattoo, not because I’ve come to love the Wu any less, but because I’ve realized it makes me look like a bigger, whiter, tryhard than I already am. I was stoked when Simon suggested a hip hop record swap, especially when I realized my assignment would be a crew of dudes that also love Wu-Tang.
Pressing play on Black Feather Messengers, I was immediately greeted by a vintage soul sample that let me know this album would be mining comfortable 90s rap territory. A spooky voiceover informed that “The Bethlehem Hospital is a psychiatric hospital located in London, United Kingdom. It was notorious for cruelty and treatment. The epitome of ‘madhouse’ or ‘insane asylum’ might mean to the modern reader,” the first of four superfluous place-setting skits on this 14-track album. Black Feather Messengers begins proper with “Black Feather Messengers”. The eponymous song sits atop a barely-there beat. The word “sparse” might be a bit generous for the skeleton drum and piano that hold together the track like a spiderweb for wordplay to dance across it.
Moving into “Zip Gun”, it’s clear that the MC’s in Bedlam Brethren are well-versed in classic hip hop and ready, willing, and able to throw down hard gun n’ drug rhymes. But it isn’t until “Kevlaar Vest” that the record becomes exciting. This is the album’s “Triumph”, an immediate celebration of knucklehead rap that Wu-Tang aficionados will appreciate. “State your claim/Get it off of your chest/I never take it to the heart/I rock a kevlar vest,” boastfully proclaims the chorus. The track goes so hard that Bedlam Brethren decided I needed to cool down with another skit track afterwards.
“The Fallen” is a smooth, lyrically thrilling cut built around a sped-up sample of “Whoop De Doo” by Mark Knopfler. Opening up strong with “You in the club ballin’/ to the blood of the fallen/it fell from heaven like Apollo 11/Buzz Aldren”, and not letting up throughout, this is one of the highlights of Black Feather Messengers. “A Murder of Crows” follows with a stark tale of poverty and drug addiction that relies on heavy imagery and an emotionally bleak beat. (Seriously. It was ripped from Silent Hill 4’s “Room of Angel“) Unfortunately, the track lacks the deft wordplay and vivid detail of storytelling songs that Raekwon and Ghostface Killah can put out in their sleep.
After a handful of do-nothing skit tracks and consistently slow tempo soul samples, Black Feather Messengers begins to feel like a slog. Thankfully, “Supernova Architects” presents some of the best lyrics of the album. “You a fake crook on Facebook in pictures with guns,” is the kind of punch that livens up an otherwise anemic second half. Following YET ANOTHER skit track, “Genocidal Genesis” jumps in to break up the sluggish tempo and measured lyrical delivery. Every rapper on this track is trying to rap better, harder, and faster than the last guy, and everyone benefits for the effort. “Purgatory Article” presents yet another welcome shift. Emmylou Harris’ heartbreaking “Rollin’ On” gets sampled to provide the Brethren with another opportunity for wild, conscience-stricken boasts. “Apocalypto” is the final track on Black Feather Messengers. It is a song. When it comes on, I treat it as a cue to click play on “Purgatory Article” again.
Ultimately, the album is dense with wordplay but few lines that grip me, and the final product is weighed down with filler skit tracks. Combined with the album’s sluggish tempo, I feel that Black Feather Messengers would be much stronger if pared down to an EP. Buy the album, then create your own playlist with “Kevlaar Vest”, “The Fallen”, “Supernova Architects”, “Genocidal Genesis”, and “Purgatory Article”. — Joe Thrashnkill
Simon’s Assignment: Lakutis – 3 Seashells (2014)
Lakutis, along with his buddy Despot, are two New York rappers that are so fucking talented that it’s a crime they haven’t released more material. I’m not sure how I found this album, but I’m glad I did. It’s weird, and non-sensical, and I listen to it all the time. PLUS, I literally cannot think of a more appropriate album to present to Demolition Man villain Simon Phoenix than 3 Seashells. It’s like this record swap was meant to be. — Joe Thrashnkill
Well here we go again. I’m minding my own business and it gets into my damn head that I should do a Record Swap with Papa Joe. The theme this time, we should cover hip-hop albums. Our tastes in this much maligned genre of music are fairly different. But I had a bit of hope that Papa Joe knows me well enough to gauge my particulars in the art of the boom bap. I give him my choice, he gives me this nearly hour long record from 2014 from some local Brooklyn guy named Lakutis. Which I had almost mistook for Lakitu and made me “triggered” for a minute by remembering how much I hated those fucking cloud-riding bastards that would always drop a Spiny right when I’m trying to jump for a coin or fire flower. Fuck those things forever. Sorry I was rambling for a moment, back to this record. Has a simple cover of some dude’s back. No real opinion about that. I do appreciate the album being called “Three Seashells” though. Flattering.
I put it on and opening track “What the Fuck” greets me with a cartoon speed up sound effect, then a beat with a low tuned string (but not bass) instrument and a simple keyboard loop that sounds very haunting and well put together. Almost immediately Lakutis comes in swinging “9-6 put the dutchie in the color chain/Triceratops in the freezer/never was the same put shades gold on/ melt face when you see em” Raw, aggressive, and more than a little strange. Especially since he gets to talking about grape bowls and blood in his dick. Yeah alright.
Next up is “Animal”. Organ chords and a simple drum loop. A few choice words from our bro Lakutis “Stomp you out with some Now & Later shoes/Now I later choose/Violator proof. And a sung bridge of These hoes is all on me/ these thirsty bitches OD. Yup.
The fuck did I get myself into? I don’t know, but my interest is piqued all the same.
The rest of the album alternates between raw sampled beats that are very old school Wu-Tang like, and electronic loops that are reminiscent of mid period to current Kayne production. On top is this guy stuck between spitting out odd nonsensical rhymes that barely stay to the beat, and chanting SKELETON like every 4th bar. The closest modern emcee I can compare Lakutis to is Danny Brown; same type of stuttered flow and sudden changes in pitch and temperament, as well as bars that stand somewhere on the fence between “What the actual fuck is you saying, bruh?” and “This dude is kind of catchy.” This combines with an obsession with random vulgar shit. Interesting to say the least. The whole first half of the record, up until the second skit, is compelling with some moments that are bordering on great, such as the track “Too Ill for the Law”. A great beat that Latukis’s spastic flow matches perfectly to, and that hook/Annie sample combo is sticky in my head like the best molasses. There is also “Chinese Slippers”; a nice little guitar squeal over a creepy synth line and so much bass, and Lakutis spitting things like “Hawkgirl rocking the Chinese slippers/ Iron Mike tooth/ with the brand up leather.” Does that make any sense to you? No? Me neither. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t catchy as fuck, and that all of the elements come together in these two songs to make some kind of strange rhyming wonderland where all of the mics are painted pink and very obese women in skimpy outfits are your backup dancers.
Unfortunately this album falters immensely on its second half and teeters between that bliss and NOPE way too often. “Skeleton” has a cringey beat and even worse background noises that sound like something out of those batshit insane Japanese game shows. And the less I say about “Body Scream” the better. But just when I feel a migraine coming on from the flip-flopping in quality, he comes with another oddball track like “Dope as Fuck” to close the record off strong.
I’m gonna be honest, I’m still not sure whether I genuinely like this dude or just too in awe of his unhinged flow and words to actively dislike him. I’m going to call it “boundless potential”. There are times where he has some viper bite sharp punchlines, but most of them are buried under absolute nonsense. Like if I were to walk up to some random meth head, give him a mic and a cheese sandwich, and told him to say the first thing that comes to his mind. I give Lakutis credit for trying something different within the wasteland of current hip hop, and essentially not sounding as annoying about it as say Hopsin who may be one of the most overrated wieners out there. I listened this record for a week or so after Joe gave it to me and put it down afterwards trying to figure out how to write this review. Then a couple of weeks ago I picked it up again and really dug into it. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t find myself nodding my head to those first six songs. If dude reigns in his loopiness just a tad, works more on his actual rhymes and references (his flow is just fine, but damn son get some more good words for it), and gets enough producers to have an entire album full of hot beats instead of just 3/4ths of an album, his next offering will be a banger. But for now, to those hip hop heads that like their rhymes a little off-kilter, Simon says cop this record. –Simon Phoenix
This Record Swap is far too close to call, so the judges mark it a draw. Want to get involved in Record Swap? Email me at email@example.com.