Big Quarters: Cost of Living

Big Quarters
Cost of Living
Self Released

All times are hard, and these are harder than some, so one looks for linings of silver or just good, non-itchy wool. This music, made by two Scandinavian-Chicano brothers in bedroom studios positioned without glamour in inner-ring Twin Cities suburbs, is a modest reminder of the deferred dream of hip hop as phalanx for democracy. Everyman MC Medium Zach assembles most of the beats, using little more than a laundry basket full of bargain-bin vinyl and a sampler that wounds fascists. The snares do (snare); the horns blare like Friday night traffic on East Lake Street; the bass, providing Jeep beats for bicyclists, spends four horrible days in a well but then climbs up a long strand of dental floss and tells the news crew to fuck off.

Hard and space-y—as in stark—is the rule; but the exception, mellow and spacey—as in Mars, not Kevin—isn't condemned to stepchild status. The best from the latter camp is "How to Kill Your Rap Career," featuring an I Self Devine cameo, disjointed trash-can drums, and Zapp synths played by blubbering doves.

Zach's older brother Brandon Allday adds occasional beats and raps with a low, sleepy, pissed-off voice that I'd call ursine if non-cartoon bears could talk. The brothers trade verses about family history and rap-biz, and write protest songs—sometimes about family history and rap-biz, sometimes about injustice and revolution, usually peppered with deadpan jokes. The revolutionary stuff sounds a bit perfunctory to these ears, and a bit more narrative or philosophical cohesion might vivify the tales of injustice. But if clarity isn't abundant, neither is bullshit, and when Brandon raps, "Whitey love us, still headline above us," half-joking about that "whitey," one hopes that the group's warm-up status is temporary.