Straight from the mean streets of Flint, MI come the Playmakaz. That’s not an understatement – ever hung around Flint for a long time? It’s not a fun place. Matter of fact there are probably fewer more economically depressed cities in the U.S.A. than Flint. Sure there are some famous neighborhoods, projects, and inner-city locales where the shit gets rough every single day but this entire city (population approximately 130K) is an urban nightmare. When General Motors closed their facilities in the 1980’s, an already tough town got even tougher as unemployement and poverty skyrocketed. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that a tough-as-nails rap scene flourished in the community, producing artists like the world famous MC Breed and some well-credentialed locals who have gotten national explosure like The Dayton Family.
If you were to judge from their MySpace page and their website you might think the Playmakaz have already blown up to that level and become Flint’s next big thing. Not yet. While they do have a new album coming out soon entitled “Outta Boundz,” the focus here is on the self-titled CD which got dropped in the RapReviews mailbox. As stated before I’m a little personally biased towards the Michigan scene, as I lived within a half-hour’s drive of Detroit for many years and still feel a lot of loyalty towards supporting the constant hustle of MI to be recognized as a hip-hop state on the level of New York, Texas or California. That being said even with a certain amount of favoritism and bias in their favor, the Playmakaz are a mixed bag.
D-Raz and TMD are polished to be sure, as they’ve no doubt been plying their craft in Flint and throughout Michigan ever since first coming together back in 2000. That said trying to find something that distinguishes the Playmakaz from a hundred other similar groups OTHER than the fact they come from Flint is a little hard to do. “Caliente” is your typical song about drinking Hennessy, smoking marijuana and flossing like a big baller. Speaking of marijuana, the duo remake Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The PiÃ±a Colada Song)” into an ode to ganja, but the idea doesn’t strike me as either creative or innovative. In fact I’m a little surprised at how much they seem to borrow from other people’s sounds instead of representing the Michigan sound. “I’m a Playmaka” sounds like a lesser version of “Pass the Courvoisier.” If you’re looking for a Dr. Dre style song lyrically and musically, “This Me” would fit the bill. “Bump 2 This” is an infectious swinging track, but at some point you’ll start expecting to hear Nelly sing over it. I think you see what I mean.
I wish there was something definitive I could show you that would describe the lyrical stylings of the Playmakaz, but the fact there isn’t makes the point in itself. If there’s one thing I miss about MC Breed being a full-time force in hip-hop, besides his gravelly voice and funky beats, it’s the sheer amount of pride he took in his hometown. In his first big hit “Ain’t No Future in Yo’ Frontin'” he went out of his way to spell out his hometown letter by letter and proclaim “We are strictly business and we also got our pride/And if you don’t like it, I suggest you break wide.” Being from Flint you would think the Playmakaz would have some distinctive personality and style all their own, but I’m sorry to say that they don’t. TMD’s beats are smooth enough, their raps are functional if unimpressive, but they’ve spent so much time on this self-titled album trying to sound like everybody else one can’t properly ascertain if they have their own style or not. Perhaps “Outta Boundz” will rectify that problem but as it stands right now it’s hard to recommend anybody in or out of Flint spend their hard-earned dollars on this disc. A few singles like “Back Again” might blow them up locally, but even if you heard it on WJLB you would just think they were another random artist that Universal or Interscope signed out of Cali or New York and threw at a wall to see if they’d stick.