The Rawkus compilation “Soundbombing” has in a very short time become synonymous with the highest caliber quality underground hip-hop. The first edition was a veritable “greatest hits” album of Rawkus Records best 12″s to date, and “Soundbombing II” upped the ante by having the Beat Junkies mix a selection of brand new songs from the likes of Eminem, The High & Mighty, Mos Def and Common. Easily it was one of 1999’s most important and most influential hip-hop CD’s, and spearheaded a new wave of popularity for indie rap that seemed poised to take over hip-hop.
Unfortunately the tide came in after the year 2000, and a waning gravitational pull made a rising tsunami suddenly feel like splashing in the kiddie pool. Too many cooks spoil the soup, and in some ways too many wannabe Rawkus Records labels spoiled the flavor of the underground. Hundreds of upstarts looked to cash in, flooding the market with a lot of material – some good, most mediocre. Either way Rawkus seemed less relevant to most people, and their sales have flagged as a result. With the very public departure of El-Producto and the dissolution of his group Company Flow, indie cred at Rawkus seemed to be going down the toilet. Observers were only further confused when Rawkus released “Lyricist Lounge 2” – a compilation that had more in common with Soundbombing than the rhyming cypher or the TV show the cypher inspired. More in common anyway, except that suddenly a Rawkus album was filled with well known thug rappers like Beanie Sigel and Trick Daddy.
For all intents and purposes, the once mighty vanguard of rap music that was “independent as fuck” now seemed to be responding to competition by commercializing their content. Perhaps realizing they’ve gone too far afield and lost touch with what made them popular, “Soundbombing 3” tries to go back to the roots. The majority of the album is dominated by hip-hop’s hardcore spitters like (Mad) Skillz, Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli and Cocoa Brovaz. Apparently not content to give up making a move to commercial popularity, the album borrows a page from “Lyricist Lounge 2” by having big names like Missy Elliott, DJ Quik, and Styles P from The LOX make guest appearances.
The one place where this move really could have succeeded was the Styles and Pharoahe Monch duet “The Life” – one of the most unusual and surprisingly good combinations to be forged this year. Unfortunately, the original version of this hit that made the mixtape circuit has now been revamped, and not for the better. The high pitched vocal sample that used to fuse together Ayatollah’s beat while Styles rapped is taken out throughout, while a weak singer fills in by harmonizing to the bassline. If you didn’t catch the first version it’s probably going to be hard to understand, but the urgency and energy the song had is sucked away as a result; leaving even Pharoahe Monch’s surprisingly good singing on the hook sounding listless as a result.
In other places, you almost get the feeling the once mighty Rawkus affiliated rappers are going through the motions. The rock guitars of the Rockwilder produced “Freak Daddy” for Mos Def are interesting, but his formidable talents are reduced to uttering tired cliches like “hands high, everybody move – yes motherfucker, that means you!” This is definitely not the man who was “Universal Magnetic” in the 90’s – in this song he just sounds like a typical tough-talking NYC braggart. “Crew Deep” is an interesting update on “Rappers Delight” musically, but the loquacious Skillz reigns in his vocal tone and puchlines too much, failing to deliver the comedy of “Ghostwriter” style classics the VA wordsmith is known for. A remix of Kool G Rap’s “My Life” is not a change in the beat or structure of the song at all, but just an insertion of NYC’s macho maestros Capone-N-Noreaga. While N.O.R.E. pays tribute proper tribute to the legendary veteran in the intro, let’s face facts – he’s not in G Rap’s league and Capone really isn’t doing him any favors either. “Fuck who criticize my verses,” is Capone’s only response to being outclassed, and the weak simile “+Menace II Society+ like O-Dog and Caine” only proves him to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately G. Rap does not help matters – instead of spitting new bars they just recycle one of his verses from the original song. Tired, tired, tired.
Speaking of G Rap, he, Method Man and Pharoahe Monch appear on the “Round & Round Remix” by Jonell. To make one thing perfectly clear though, this song was already on Hi-Tek’s (somewhat) underrated “Hi-Teknology” album and there was ALREADY a remix with Method Man available in stores as a CD-single before “Soundbombing 3.” In other words, like the “My Life” remix it follows, they just took an old song and stuck in some new verses. If you can get past that, it’s still a good urban contemporary groove that blends well into the song “Yelling Away” by Zap Mama that follows, a spartan and sparkling groove where Talib and Common drop gems – particularly the latter:
“Sorta sent to let the people know they time spent
is precious and we can’t keep our minds bent
on just the pleasures of sex, trucks, wine and bread
In essence, we one with the environment
Though I’ve been here, less than a year
Bein so close to God, guess I haven’t learned to fear
When I heard nature tellin me, time to come home
Told my moms it’s just a path for you to walk, not to run on”
Q-Tip sounds a little more like the Q-Tip of old on “What Lies Beneath,” but many of the skeptical will try to skip over it given how long it’s been since a good Tribe Called Quest album was in stores. If you give this one a try though you might be surprised by a nice self-produced gem, just like The Beanuts track “The Trouble Is…” that follows it. What may flip people out the most though is hearing Talib Kweli flow like water to the West coast funk of DJ Quik on “Put it in the Air.” These are the kind of shocks that a Soundbombing album SHOULD provide – mixing things that nobody would have tried before.
As the album draws to a close though, the only important tracks left to hear are “Rhymes and Ammo” by The Roots featuring Kweli (and by now you’ve heard him enough to wonder where his new solo album is) or “Spit Again” by the Cocoa Brovaz, produced by CURT GOWDY of all people and featuring reggae chatta by Dawn Penn. R.A. the Rugged Man will probably still make some people happy with his tribute to rap greats “On the Block (Golden Era),” but Jocko’s beat is weak and doesn’t really meld with the self-proclaimed “fat hairy unshaven” dirty white boy of rap. R.A.’s line “See rap is corporate now, it’s all about endorsements,” seems somewhat ironic too, given the sound of the album as a whole. Cipha Sounds and Mr. Choc attempt to host the album in the Beat Junkies fashion of volume 2, but don’t seem to have the magic touch of their predecessors. The ultimate feeling of the album is that although it has some dope songs here and there, it’s not the comprehensive album “Soundbombing 1” was or the must-have seminal LP “Soundbombing 2” was. If Rawkus was out to prove they could recapture the heady glory days of their success in the 90’s they failed, but enough decent if not overwhelming cuts make this a good compilation that’s still worth buying –it’s just not the sound BOMB it could have been.