When it’s time to pass the final judgment on rap’s credibility as a form of music, there remains a valid argument traditionalists can make against it. It can’t be played live. Forget for once the memorable moments when you witnessed a really dope hip-hop performance. Because they exist without a doubt, whether it was some small cipher on the corner or the Up In Smoke Tour coming to your town. But try to turn a good hip-hop album into a good live set and in most cases you’ll fail miserably. Even if the soundman knows what he’s doing, even if a DJ is lending a helping hand, even if dancers and hypemen get the crowd excited, even if the rapper is an experienced performer, it still can’t compare to what a band is able to do, from giving a unique rendition of song material to a spontaneous impromptu session. It seems like a cruel joke that hip-hop, who was virtually born live on stage, is increasingly reduced to playback shows with the instrumental running over a sound system it wasn’t designed for and the rapper being supported by studio vocals.
It’s no coincidence that over the years a number of hip-hop acts have booked bands to support them live. Rarely however do bands and rappers team up for a longer lasting relationship, The Roots being the most relevant exception. New York’s P.I.C might be another contender, if they could easily be divided along these lines. But out of three vocalists, only one exclusively raps. Combining the talents of Horny Jeff (sax), J-Bomb (MC), Rice (key), Sulu (MC/tp), Rick Fingers (b), Mark Concerto (guit) and Un-G (MC/DJ), P.I.C displays a rare unity only achieved by playing together as a band. Imagine a steaming pot of gumbo blending funk, jazz, rock and ska, meshed with detailed timing and spiced up with a contagious party vibe and you got “Sexy Picnic”. After their somewhat loose-knit debut “Hiphopunkfunkmamboska”, their second offering finds P.I.C more powerful and more determined, driving each song to the point, without betraying their natural instinct to roam freely among the many styles modern music has to offer.
From the jump P.I.C leave no one in doubt as to the nature of their enterprise. The title of the opening track, “Circus”, is a fairly accurate description of what’s going on, especially considering the breakneck speed and the way the rappers juggle words at a blinding pace. What exactly they are saying can be looked up at the crew’s website. It probably won’t be even their delivery but the different nature of their lyrics that will have most hip-hoppers scratching their heads. Ultimately another reason why you can’t categorize P.I.C, the writing on “Sexy Picnic” differs widely from that on more traditional hip-hop records. Their approach to rap and rhyming could be called basic for its groove-guided pace, but their song structure is anything but.
Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be too hard to grasp which direction a particular song is taking. “Sugar Plan” is about girls and erm… well, it’s about girls, and with lines like “carbohydrates will come in complex chains / guaranteed to make you thirsty for that rhyme exchange,” the three rappers are indeed “fully testing the boundaries of the lyrical license.” Further testifying to their uncomplicated relationship with language is “Ghoti”, a title that makes reference to the nonsense word George Bernard Shaw once created to show the inconsistency of English spelling. Being the playful bunch that they are, Sulu, J-Bomb and Un-G are simply intrigued by the idea: “Alternative phonetics second to none / I spell it all on my own and use a ‘g-h’ in fun.” But as if their own verbosity was starting to overwhelm them, they turn around and dismiss mindless gab in “Talk”, still very aware of “the microphone’s place in the hall of invention as a tool for the talk.”
If this all sounds too pretentious, rest asssured that P.I.C’s wordiness is drowned out by a tightly synchronized, fully blasting band sound backing up the rappers. For a particularly tasteful blend of lyrical concept and instrumentation check the title track, featuring a piano-driven base uplifted by glamourous horns. Always performing as a team, the trio engages in all sorts of double-entendres while inviting you to their peculiar picnic:
“I’m the uncle cheapy like Chapelle on a date
in _Half Baked_; monetary constraint negate
them places of high profile locale
So I entertain thee in the places that are natural
There’s a bunch of things in mind that we know you can spread
like a blanket or the news or peanut butter on bread
Or you can even spread a rumor like the Miracle Whip
that I been spreadin’ on my bread; we got hysterical trips
for esoterical quips, I got maniacal grips
upon a whole wheat bun attached to viable hips
Greasy-ass adobo makes you move in slow mo
like Minmei singing songs in the _Robo_”
P.I.C are seldomly so obvious, as evidenced by the rousing “Laboratory” with its enigmatic hook (“Laboratory hazmats / exploratory labrats / distorted stories have lacked / informatory truth”), the swinging “Nevermore Stories”, or even their ode to “an impecable gal that’ll make you go wild” (“Kimba Lang”). Who knows, it might just be inspired by some real life person, like “Timonium” apparently was inspired by a gig P.I.C played at a bowling alley in Timonium, MA. Out of the ten songs, this one is proably the one that best describes this act. A group of musicians able to entertain any crowd with their balancing of spontaneity and discipline and a trio of rappers that looks at the world through very special glasses:
“People of this place, yo, I call them Timonilites
Always like a party so they’re never alone at night
If you need companionship, they got a bowling alley and they’re fairly
entertaining, but they couldn’t quite prepare me
Do they breathe the same gas that I do?
I try to inhale the atmosphere, it might do”
If you’re the mayor of a city in dire need of exposure, book P.I.C, treat them friendly, and I’m sure they will consider writing a song about your backwater town. Just don’t be surprised if only hip-hop-loving hipsters get it.