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
Eeyeaya "Ready 2 Play"
Lazyeye Entertainment/Wild Side Records
The Local Mixtape
Beets & Produce/The Professionals
Red Star Fist
The local hip-hop success story of the year was P.O.S., a screaming political rapper who paid in sweat for every break he got--the City Pages cover, a spot on the Warped Tour, a deal on the nationally connected Minneapolis label Rhymesayers Entertainment (which also signed MF Doom this fall). Yet even as the re-release of P.O.S.'s Ipecac Neat reinforced our scene's bohemian image, the party albums kept coming. Pulling the best from my stack, I see three releases that might not otherwise get noticed: Contac's Eeyeaya "Ready 2 Play" is for sale on Amazon.com, but otherwise finds distribution out of the rapper's living room. The Local Mixtape is a promo that Golden started selling to fans after Black Eyed Peas recruited the rapper for their Midwest tour. And Los Nativos' Red Star Fist is a between-album EP fix for fans, similarly meant for shows.
The music represents the state of the art in Twin Cities hip-hop music--if by art you mean something you can do the Eagle to. Contac is the most unabashed hedonist of the bunch. A Red Sea breakout who jets between north Minneapolis, Cali, and Georgia, he apparently got a sizeable studio budget (and not much else) from his local label WildSide, and spent enough to nab national guests such as Kurupt, Badazz, and Lil Jon--who shows up to shout, "Put that pussy nigga in the motherfucking trunk" on "Do Something" (the only song that feels obliged to act the thug). Otherwise, "Smeezy Weezy" (as he also calls himself) just wants a peaceful party. His voice is the kind dance floors love--an even more crunked-out version of Cameo's Larry Blackmon than Andre 3000's. "We don't need no war/We don't need to kill nobody," he squawks, and rhymes "kill nobody" with "move your body." This is the kind of album where the main lyrical innovation is the coinage "V.I.Peezy."
Eeyeaya's helium funk sound is light on its feet, heavy on the beats that count. (Contac also got his money's worth from producers D.B.K., Fingazz, Oronde, Techknowledge, and local rapper Sandman, who mixed down the masters.) Synth sighs, guitar plinks, and breathy female backups combine without colliding on the pole-dancing "Jangalang Jangalang," which sounds to me like Tom Zé at the Player's Club. Our protagonist raps that he has his "fam" up in this jam, which might explain why his clubby naughtiness stops short of utter sleaze. "Co-contact high/when you walk on by/when you touch my thigh/unzip my fly," teases California rapper Diamonique. But she cuts Contac off just as he's about to propose the losing of pants all around: "Brah, watch your mouth."
Contac could use the contacts that former S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S. rapper Golden has found in the Black Eyed Peas. Golden recently signed a production contract with the group's musical director, and BEP vocalist Taboo drops by The Local via voice mail to tell us how dope the CD is. The dirtiest Golden gets on his solo outing is with the animated cartoon character Smurfette, who commits Smurf incest with Papa Smurf. Otherwise, Golden wants to freak the mass audience, and finds fresh metaphors to rap his desire. After listing all the white rappers he is not (by way of introduction), the pale male goes pell-mell on "GNC," which at first sounds like an "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General"-style listing of his biological makeup, set to a rock-funk beat lifted from Jay-Z's "99 Problems." Soon, you realize that "Ocular supplementation in moderation leads to modification in a SoundScan-distributed nation" actually translates as "My career could use a music video." Golden needs to look up the apparently little-known Music Industry Rule No. 4,081: Stop rapping about the music industry.
That said, the rapper never panders to his ambitions--you get the sense he'd be writing hook-filled jams even if he were hopelessly broke and stranded back on the mean streets of his native Reading, Pennsylvania. When Golden's fellow S.U.S.P.E.C.T. Jayechs drops by for a funky reunion on "A Typical Saturday Night," the old PA duo's disappointment in their lack of instant success seems to have liberated them. "Been living like a communist to my clique since I got my first paycheck," spits Jayechs, fluid with resignation. "Running for my contract/Life gave a rain check."
As a team, Los Nativos are as wound together as the S.U.S.P.E.C.T.S. once were, and their newest songs are nearly as pop: The dirty beat of "Black Flag Red Star" convinces even if you doubt the lyrics--the last time the anarchist-communist front was championed this memorably was on the Clash's "Spanish Bombs," which mourned the European left's pathetic descent into terrorism. "Los Na" are stronger lyrically when they're talking about red and black as skin colors on Red Star Fist: Amid the sawed-off shotgun-cocking of "What's the Crew's Name," Chilam Balam raps about giving "this city back to traditional grass dances."
On the same track, Felipe Cuauhtli makes a useful distinction: "The difference between a warrior and a soldier is/a soldier fights a war with no consciousness," he raps forcefully. "A warrior fights battles through common sense/So when I come to the battle with my feathers all stunning/we'll have a conversation in this language I'm drumming."
Here are two Spanish-speaking men of indigenous background savvy enough to provide their audience a lowrider anthem ("Slow and Low") as well as an all-Spanish jam ("No Puedo Explicar"), yet wise enough to admit that the weightiest confrontations facing their nation are on the tip of the tongue, not out of the barrel of a gun. They're also ballsy enough to wear traditional feathers while making their case. "Stunning" is right.