If you think about it, man would be lost in a world without names. We give things names. We give places names. We give actions names. We give feelings names. We give people names. We don’t all know each other by our names, but we can learn the other’s name and remember him by that name if we consider him important enough to warrant such a treatment. Even though names are rarely what we remember people or places for, a name can sum up everything we associate with them or remember about them. Having a name and having that name used by other people means respect. It means recognition. That’s why Destiny’s Child demanded: “Say my name, say my name!” Why Cassidy (by way of Jay-Z) could claim: “I’ma hustla… axe about me.” Why Pharoahe Monch was able to say: “Y’all know the name / Pharoahe-fuckin-Monch, ain’t a damn thang changed.”
In hip-hop, the name game is at an especially elaborate level. Everybody’s got some kind of handle. And even with some notoriety, you have to keep working on that name recognition. That’s why Snoop’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” and Em’s “My Name Is” were perfect debut singles, even though technically both had already introduced themselves to the world. To get that name out there remains one of the fundamental stages in any entertainer’s career. Yell it out. Spell it out. And if you are at a level where your audience mainly consists of unsuspecting concert goers who came to see the headliner, of music industry scouts who’ve heard too much bad music to remain optimistic, of kind journalists pondering the possibility of a review, slap these fools so hard you leave your name imprinted on their foreheads.
So when I get an otherwise exhaustingly labelled promo CD that fails to display the artist’s name, I can only shake my head. Now sometimes you have label compilations whose goal it is to build a name for the label itself. But when, as is the case with ILL Universal Entertainment, your roster basically consists of one act and the mixtape exclusively features said act, guess who the focus will be on? The label? No. The artist? Yes. I know everybody wants to be an entrepreneur, and owning a label (even if that was really the only option to put out any music at all) is kinda cool, but the legendary labels only established themselves as a brand on the back of noteworthy artists with noteworthy music.
To bring this rant to an end, the group that presents itself on the “4 the Block Mixtape Volume One” is called The Threat. The trio apparently used to go by the name Triple Threat, as evidenced by several songs here. Arguably, having to find out your name is already taken by someone else gets seriously in the way of proper name-building. But once you’ve decided on a name, you gotta make sure it sticks. You wanna become a household name? Stop being a face in the crowd. The oldest trick in the book is to mention your name. So if you’re prowling some stage giving your little showcase, let me know who’s on. If you’re in a cipher, on air, on a posse cut, on a mixtape, state your name.
After all this it is only fair that I introduce the members of The Threat. We got PyInfamous, The Front Man, we got Joey Bunns, The Hitman, and we got L., The Muscle. That’s a lot of AKA’s, PKA’s and DBA’s, so don’t you forget that collectively these three gentlemen go by the name of The Threat. If it seems like I’m repeating myself, that’s exactly what I want aspiring rappers to do when it comes to their stage names. I could also tell you their real names, but the point can be made quicker. The Threat are three brothers, roughly in the same age group. They were born and bred in Clarksdale, MS and now reside in Crystal Springs, MS. I personally wouldn’t want to miss this information derived from their fact sheet because The Threat obviously make music “4 the Block,” but they somehow forget to tell us WHICH block. You know, there are so many blocks around the world that I’d have a hard time picking the right one if I had to take a guess. Especially since The Threat pride themselves in “boasting a style that is a far cry from what traditionally has been known to come from the Dirty South” (as the promotional write-up puts it.)
Indeed The Threat is not easy to categorize. One of them refers to himself as a “Down South nigga with an East Coast flow, West Coast demeanor,” and he’s not far off the mark. Channeling the Hot Boys and The LOX at the same time, their raps are laced with gun- and wordplay and multisyllable rhymes. Needless to say, like so many similarly set up crews, The Threat have rhymes in their repertoire that sound extremely forced. Or just plain played out. Still, they take the lyrical approach, which should count for something. But if you decide to compare your lyrics to the butterfly effect or to label yourself a “hip, young Cornel West” who’s “way smarter than Cornell’s best graduate,” you should go beyond the cool references and at some point begin to live up to your own hype.
At this point, the few full songs that they have are live and club material, enhanced by memorable, often melodic hooks. The anthemic “Get Up,” with which they intend to make “the whole South (get up),” is East Coast-tinged, “We Roll Deep” with its stuttering keyoard stabs relies on a southern sound, but the type that’s begun to travel north lately. “Let’s Get Started” (featuring singer Rashard Johnson) shows the South’s influence on dance music (Timbaland, Lil’ Jon, but also Three 6 Mafia), while the smoky “Ride With Me” slows things down to a mid-90s Rap-A-Lot level (think Do Or Die). The Threat get slightly more experimental with “Light Up and L.,” fusing subtle percussion and low-key acoustic strings, and the sashaying, soulful “Posted on the Block Midtro,” which despite its title is a full track, and possibly the mixtape’s best.
Confidence should not be a problem for the finalists in the Free Agent competition at Vibe’s Musicfest. “It’s like Madden, every year we changin’ the game,” L. claims, who also envisions himself to be “the monkey wrench that’ll fix up the industry.” As a toolbox to right what is wrong about the industry, the “4 the Block Mixtape” is far from complete. As a promotional tool for The Threat it is sufficient, if not completely efficient. That they occasionally opt to rap over other people’s beats is an indication that the three brothers still have some homework to do.