Once you move from the safely subjective position of a consumer to that of a hopefully fair reviewer, you inevitably start wondering about target groups. With the myriad of styles presented in our music today, you can’t examine a rap record with just the average hip-hop fan in mind, because the average hip-hop fan became extinct a long time ago. Just like the record you review, you have to cater to a certain audience who expects to be informed about the latest addition to their genre.
Call me foolish, but I’m out to change that. So now I’m all the more feverishly thinking about how I can convince you to buy (that’s right, I said ‘buy’) “Stop the Music” by New Breed. Giving it the highest rating possible would be too obvious, and besides, it doesn’t deserve that. But it deserves to be heard by you. So what can I possibly say to make you go out and buy this record, especially since you might have to go a little out of your way to find it?
Well, why not start with the facts? New Breed is comprised of siblings Elsie Ortega and Rosario ‘Macho’ Ortega. Born in Brooklyn and bred in Boston, they apparently shared the same interest, one that got them now sharing the microphone: hip-hop. Clearly rocking an East Coast steelo and drawing influence from their Puerto Rican heritage, New Breed spit hard rhymes over hard beats. Yet at the same time you’ll hardly get to hear a rap album as elegant as “Stop the Music” this year. Sounds contradictory? Well it isn’t. While New Breed is a multi-faceted rap group, they never contradict themselves. That’s how convincing this album is.
Highly professional on all levels, “Stop the Music” is based on the stable chemistry this brother/sister duo has developped over the years. Beatwise, the album is a testament to the days of the boom bap, with every drum beat and every bassline falling into place, producing the sonic boom that your speakers love. Instead of raiding other people’s sound libraries, prducer Dert comes up with his very own line of sound effects, presenting them in a fashion that is guaranteed to provoke all kinds of body movements, from a reluctant nod to joyous jumping – which both fall in line with the strongly felt physical presence of the music itself.
And no, it’s not at all always the same. Combining soulful sound bits with powerful beats, “Breathless” offers Macho the opportunity to loosen up and fulfill the role of the humble speaker he assigned himself to. “Verse of the City” and “Stand”, on the other hand, vibrate with energy as Macho and Elsie drop their rhymes in anmiated fashion. The title track translates the urgence felt in the lyrics (“I hear the sound of a young nation / they lift their voices in frustration”) into a continuous forward rush. As the sophisticated smooth bump of “Papi” progresses, you realize that this is not some mindless club joint exploiting Boricua flavor but a heartfelt song about their father. And the one time they really opt for a strong Latin ‘sabor’ they make sure that the effort is dedicated to all Latin Americans. Arguably the album’s highlight (the other contender being Elsie’s lesson on love, “Don’t Listen”), “My People” contains the token Latin instruments, rhythms and melodies that have permeated contemporary pop music, but it sounds incredibly raw and real. Further flavor is added by singer Dax Reynosa, who shares some of his passion for his people with us (with Macho right behind him translating).
On the dark side of the particularly alluring full moon that is this album, you have songs like the spooky “Think” or the hardrocking “Headlock”. On the other end of the sound spectrum, you got “Live This” which evokes memories of the happier moments we had with The Ummah-produced A Tribe Called Quest albums. Even where the beats are not 100% bulletproof (“Dry Bones”, “Runaway”), they are always interesting, not in an “it’s… interesting” but in a “this is interesting!” kind of way.
If there really is some kind of ‘hip-hop spirit’, New Breed live it and breathe it. Living by example, they pass on their knowledge, seeking to share their experience with all of us. Going far beyond the simplistic survivalist message of most rappers, New Breed show us what it means to choose life over death. Believe that these two live life to the fullest. And that’s what hip-hop, kinda, is about.
New Breed got a particular message for you, and I wish I could say: which one is for you to find out. But being the fair reviewer that I aim to be, I have to mention the what some may consider bitter that comes along with the sweet. As it becomes evident only well into the second half of “Stop the Music”, New Breed may well fall into the Christian rap category. Macho:
“As I catch my breath… I continue to glorify
for life, the Lord and I, share
regardless of who or how many care
I stay aware that he’s near
If there never was a beat to box
block party to rock, Floor Lore to pop
a spraycan to stop – and then run
a DJ to drop on the one
it’s all good, life is more than a drum
I live my life as a son through the Son
so y’all never have to guess from which Kingdom I come from”
That’s why I thought I shouldn’t make you guess either. New Breed have a message, and it’s got something to do with Christ. But let me say they get props for incorporating it so wisely. As Elsie says: “Search what you want, but integrity’s what you’ll find.”
So think of “Stop the Music” as an album free of petty beefs, with music tight like that, think of that historic album that never got its due props, an album Bob Marley would nod his head to, an album that spreads wealth instead of hoarding it, an album that is, in its own way, ‘bigger than hip-hop’. Your future favorite album?