A few years ago the Hieroglyphics finally came together for a collaborative effort, 1998’s “3rd Eye Vision”. On it was a joint called “Mics of the Roundtable”, which sent the Souls Of Mischief on a symbolic quest for the Holy Mic they believed to be abducted and abused by negative forces. A couple of years before that three hip-hop heads from San Diego, CA embarked on a similar journey. Roundtable MCs is a name that has been spinning in my head for some time now, especially in connection with their 1999 “SD Chargers EP”. But this is actually the first time I get to hear anything by them. First times are always something special when it comes to taking notice of certain MC’s. I know you can relate, unless you’ve made it your hobby to be a hater in the name of hip-hop, not a very fulfilling pasttime, in my opinion. Sure, you can dislike rappers for how they sound or what they say, but the fact remains that the new jack always will get at least a “who dat?” – and that’s much better than a “not again!”
That said, I really appreciate that the three Roundtable MCs Mike Czech, Wick and Unite One all differ in voice and flow, relieving the monotony of today’s one-rhyme-style-rockin’ rap releaes. But then their beats are as barebone as can be. Rhythmically, there’s a lot going on, percussion, kick and bass drums, snares, hi-hats and basslines all jamming together to get a tight groove going, but melodies are nearly absent from these tracks. Everything’s happening in the low frequency range. And when say a guitar adds some effects, it’s basically to the same effect. While the beats may be as dry as a drought in the desert, they’re nonetheless entertaining. What makes for a especially entertaining listen here is that the Roundtable MCs have their own way of making their way through the tracks. If you envision the recording process as some type of journey where the beats and the rhymes hopefully will be on the same path, then imagine them joining hands throughout “Table Manners”, but at the same time tearing at each other and jumping up and down at different intervals. Smart guys will think I’m trying to justify the proverbial off-beat underground rapper with what I’m saying. Not really. Because the Roundtable MCs never once sound completely off-track. To put it short, these guys can rock. They just don’t do it all the time. With one foot in experimental, the other in traditional hip-hop, the Roundtable MCs have me scratching and nodding my head at the same time. Their philosophy is best exemplified in “Break 234” where Unite tells us: “suck my diction,” while he busies himself with “translating the Martian phonebook” and other equally surreal activities. But then they switch it up and end off the song with old school and stage routines.
The same respect for those that came before them shows in the various scratched snippets that Mike Czech throws into the mix. As well when he makes reference to Melle Mel and WC (in is Low Pro days) in “Table Manners Pt. 2”: “Chaka-Khan-rock you, I feel for you / everybody wanna rap but they ain’t paid dues.” That these knights of the Roundtable have paid theirs, is evidenced by the hook for “Left 2 Right”: “When I write / the pen moves left to right / In the cipher the mic circles left to right / Every tape, every show Roundtable rock right / Mike Czech, Wick and Unite.” Too bad only the “Steady Rockin'” remix really revives the ancient art of rocking. The rest of the tracks lack that peculiar hip-hop excitement. It might very well turn out that Mike Czech is right when he warns in “Table Manners Pt. 1”: “Click and hold / freeze your operating system with beats so cold,” especially if you’re used to samples or keyboards to heat things up. But I don’t think that ‘heat’ is the keyword here. There’s a warmth to this album that only the Californian sun could generate. So don’t expect heartless and hardened hardcore hip-hop a la Company Flow from the Roundtable MCs. One element to prevent that from happening is rapper Unite, who serves as the voice of conscience throughout “Table Manners”. He even gets a solo cut to share his wisdom with us, “Dread Baron”. His portrayal of “a international terrorist” and subsequent painting of an all-too familiar scenery (“Hot ball of fire, smokin’ the planet in my glassy / leavin’ city streets charred and ashy / blasted by the sharpnel, suckers are shielding / my mind so explosive I’m banned from federal buildings”) may be excused as the track surely has been recorded before September 11th. However, their anti-system stance in “The Big Picture” should remind you that in the United States not everybody is content with how things are going:
“We wage war on the system where authorities ain’t proper
like Philly coppers droppin’ firebombs out of helicopters
You wonder why these piglets rockin’ fighting jackets?
cause their targets are the impoverished of the lower tax bracket
You invest in prosperity and lend a hand to charity
or are you filling a role in this democratic parody?
Change don’t come easy, it’s a burden hard to carry
In a capitalist world we need more revolutionaries
Decent education before the land is scorched
Feed wisdom to the youth so we can pass this torch
I wear a crown of knots and my throne is the soil
I plant a righteous seed which is more valuable than oil.”
That’s what you can expect from “Table Manners”: 1 political joint, 1 party starter. The rest may not be easily accessible, but it isn’t overly complicated either. Oh yeah, they got an ‘underground manifesto’ too. It’s called “Underground”. Falling right into the trap. Still, I think they can expand beyond their core audience that they say “consists of weirdos that don’t wear hoods.” What about weirdos that wear hoods? What about those who just wear hoods? And what about all the others?