SURE, LOCAL HIP hop needs venues, which is why the crowded showcases at Bon Appetit and First Avenue are so vital. But it also needs albums, something to fill your headphones after the show, to soundtrack the cityscape, to let the international underground know we exist. On that tip, Abstract Pack set a new standard this summer with Bousta Set it (For the Record), a "Shots Paul" (read: St. Paul) joint brimming with crafty fusion samples and energetic microphone grabs. And now Self One, co-founder of the Pack's acknowledged heroes the Micranots, has teamed with three MCs from the Rhyme Sayers stable to drop an album that's both darker and less commercial, but no less seductive than the St. Paul crew's debut.
Despite his elder-statesman status, Self One in no way dominates Dynospectrum (Rhyme Sayers Entertainment) by the group of the same name; mic duties are equally shared. But his dollops of dense and dead-serious poetry seem to have brought out the best in his partners: Beyond, Slug, and Swift. All four operate under Dyno-titles here: Self One is Pat Juba, Beyond is General Woundwart (Watership Down reference alert), Atmosphere's Slug is Sev, and Phull Surkle's Swift is Mr. Gene Poole. Each track gets moodier and grittier, as dark jams build around various brooding emotional vibes rather than specific topics.
Take the flute-looped "Breath of Fresh," which has Self One beginning his abstract poetry blast with "Camouflage dreams sabotage me," and ending on the line "Delusional snakes ever/Staggering back peddler," with nary a clarifying verse in between. Here and elsewhere, he sets the anguished tone for the other MCs and their widely diverging styles. Slug is characteristically hyperreflective, dropping oddball hip-hop coinages like "defense mech," and holds his rap peers up to the DIY ethic he champions: "Everybody crying that their label does 'em wrong," he fires off on "Decompression." "To me that's like complaining when your pimp beats you."
Swift is drawn to bloodier imagery, contemplating a suicide jump on "Tenfold," after boasting that "Every word's intended to slash tendons," on "Southside Myth." That title is a metaphor for everything hectic and corrupt in their world, and Slug's spoken chorus could be the group's credo: "Everywhere you go, there's a South Side/Travel with your flow, life is alright." Of the four, Beyond most embodies the group's confrontational mix of confidence and stoicism. "If you say goodbye to me tonight/There would still be mad fucking music left to write," he raps on "Breath of Fresh."
The sophisticated word-washes should come as no surprise to Rhyme Sayers' fans. But the sound here deepens the minimalism of last year's Rhyme Sayers releases from Beyond and Atmosphere. The Dynospectrum loses the big, dirty snare drum and sets its eerie jazz and junk samples against low-end kick beats that more than make up for the strange absence of bass lines. And if the Dynos don't shy away from awkwardness in their choruses or lyrics, they can still drop you with a good line.
"I'm not racist, but the action's sublim," reflects Self One on "The Evidence of Things Not Seen," before adding, "Nice you're Minnesota, but it's still about skin/Should I: A) bomb the place C-4 for my cousin, the aura buzzin'?/Or B) terrorize the plumbin'?" OK, such murky, heavily metaphorical wordplay doesn't always make sense, but it captures the mind-games we play with our racist selves. Self One's more blunt remark that "Niggas is cold-blooded like fascists," from "Winter Moon" reveals an entirely more sophisticated set of reference points than anything Mistikal would touch. This stuff taps a hip-hop tradition of bookish street smarts well worth reviving.
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