By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Underground rap is a breeding ground for outlandish narratives like Mike Ladd's. Gun Hill Road, the urban sci-fi concept album Ladd released under the Infesticons moniker, envisioned jiggy robot Majesticons on a mission to turn hip hop into a plaything for rich elitists. While most of the CD defended the NYC b-boy purists who fight the evil of bling rap, Ladd allowed the Majesticons themselves one track to do their thing. "Shampoo Theme" was their onanistic ode to all things glitter, rhymed in a breathily effeminate flow over Hello Kitty beats--a lighthearted highlight of an otherwise densely cerebral album.
Gun Hill Road was merely the start of a trilogy--a Star Wars for backpackers. Beauty Party is The Pimpire Strikes Back. On Ladd's latest, the Majesticons learn that the best way to combat old-school uprockers is to act...like Republicans. "Piranha Party" builds a chorus out of gentrification threats: "We keep the goods/ We suburb the hood/We'll buy you out/Or kick you out/ Tear down your block/It's condos now." Def Jux's finest don rich-folks costumes on "Suburb Party": El-P becomes the first MC ever to mention both Ikea and "apricot exfoliator" while Vast Aire claims he smells "like the Atlanta Braves," Ted Turner-style. And no "MajestWest Party" would be complete without an upper-class gangsta poseur (played here by Murs) bragging about the prisoners who give him secondhand crime stories to rap about.
But while Beauty Party is an obvious assault on hip hop's hypercapitalist tendencies, the production--meant to parrot the dominant Gotti/Neptunes/Timbaland sound--actually feels more exhilarating than any artist it could possibly parody. "Helicopter Party" pulses with ColecoVision electro and billowing electric piano, the death bounce of "Game Party" blasts psychotic thug-funk that would do Dre proud, and "Prom Night Party" is a hot-in-herre-so-take-off-your-tracksuit jam to headspin butt-naked to. Most significant, the Pet Shop Boys satire of "Brains Party" may mock the current Diddyish '80s pop appropriation, but it also sounds like heaven, with stringlike background vocals coloring the beats with a gleaming Delfonics atmosphere.
Ladd sets out to condemn chart rap by highlighting the way incredible production seduces listeners into obnoxious avarice. But when the trilogy's final installment drops and the Majesticons face their final clash with the Infesticons, beat junkies might not know whom to root for.