You have to hand it to The Camp, they sure know how to go against the grain. They pretty much buck all current trends in hip-hop. The crew is made up of three rappers and a DJ, they unabashedly indulge in battle rapping and they proclaim nothing less than the rebirth of the boom bap. Having shared stages on the local battle circuit, MC’s Dese, Grime Tha MC, Excetera and DJ Hevan drop their debut album co-signed by none other than underground dignitary Apathy, who executive-produces “The Campaign.” He helps out on the fetching lead single “Gentleman Needs.” Creating the same feelgood vibe as a popular track in the DipSet catalog (and possibly using the same sample), it celebrates the three essential needs in a rapper’s life (booze, hoes, and shows). Ap endorses his protÃ©gÃ©s while demonstrating them how to rock his beat:
“It’s bugged out, haters take the thug route
and try to set up the Camp like they were Cub Scouts
I check the clip and hit your face till my pistol break
cause I’m deadly with the Camp like Crystal Lake
You could push powder like Crystal Light
move snow like Christmas night –
none of that means that you can rip the mic”
It is also the Eastern Philosopher’s tight performance which shows that The Camp still have some way to go to truly excel at their core competency. Listening to “The Campaign” is akin to watching a boxing match where each opponent is able to land a few blows and keeps his defense up, but at each sound of the bell the possibility of a knock-out punch becomes less likely. For every “Watch your old heffer cause I’m a homewrecker” there’s a “We some master rhymers, y’all some fat vaginas.” They show an inclination towards sex-related references, to the point where Dese even has to put a sufficiently cool metaphor like “I been scorin’ crazy / I been Jordan, baby / you Ben Gordon – maybe” into a sexual context. Which gives much of “The Campaign” a frat boy touch, indicating that their college days at UMass probably aren’t that far behind yet.
“The Campaign” veers between advanced and limited, expert and amateur. If you absolutely have to jack a highly puprposeful title from the KRS-One discography, the result shouldn’t be as bland as The Camp’s “Return of the Boom Bap,” whose string section just doesn’t fit into the term “real hard beats.” Much better is “Little Story,” where the trio and guest Slaine recall classic rap songs from “Go See the Doctor” to “Givin’ up the Nappy Dug Out” as they spin a cautionary tale about venereal diseases. Likewise, the excessively extravagant “1 Million” makes little sense from a penmanship point of view, whereas the self-accusing “Lazy as Hell” keeps it real despite riding the trademark hip-hop hyperbole.
Not wanting to be mistaken for “MySpace rappers,” the trio can obviously rely on live experience, and their debut equips them with some choice cuts to take on tour with, starting with the opening title track, where producer Teddy Roxpin provides them with a rumbling and tumbling beat that is both tongue-in-cheek and armed for combat. Combined with the mosh pit antics of the MC’s, it’s reminiscent of a classic Beatnuts track minus perhaps the element of surprise. Lyrically, there’s the standard multisyllabic rhyming for rhyming’s sake, some of it more compelling, some of it less (“Get it cuttin’ like a kitchen knife / Aiyo my kicks are white / I got the gift like Christmas night / And don’t be pissed, aight / I only hit your sister twice”). Props to Grime for the line “Latin rapper, I spit it for Christopher Rios / iller with each quote,” if only for paying tribute to the late great Big Pun (and not for actually getting iller with each quote).
But as he says on the Apathy-produced “Cruise Control” – “Fuck critics, I’m just havin’ some fun with it.” And that’s what they indeed seem to have, dealing a hearty dose of party & bullshit, effectively shutting haters and naysayers down on their rendition of “Walk on By,” or alternatively starting and crashing parties on “Number 1” and “Get Gone.” It is also part of The Camp’s relatively basic understanding of rap music that “So High,” their smoke break, is stereotypically clad in Jamaican national colors.
Seeing as how their name apparently once was an acronym for Challenging All Mutha Phukaz, further battle arsenal like “Like it or Not” and “Moving Up” doesn’t come as a surprise. “Forgot What it Was” mixes in a bit of criticism as the three not only liken themselves to Celtics stars Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett but also label competition as out of touch with the essentials, to have forgotten “how to spit clean to a beat,” “how to just be an MC.” The closing “Why” takes the sentiment a step further as they cite hits like “Party Like a Rockstar” and “Lip Gloss” as a sign that “hip-hop’s dead, this the afterlife.”
There will be the fans who think that The Camp are just the guys to resurrect hip-hop. To them the Boston Mass quartet may indeed be “a breath of fresh air,” as Dese claims. Personally I don’t think they’re a current strong enough to cool down the hot air even remotely. They are, after all, “just havin’ some fun with it.” That’s perfectly okay and without a doubt immensely important for their own well-being and anybody they can infect with their spirit. But to have a broader impact they will have to step their lyrical game up, simple and plain. Less “You like a plain burger, you got no cheddar,” more “I mess around and get Donald Trump cash / all you chumps have is a McDonald’s lunchbag.” It is hard for three MC’s to find a common denominator, but if that denominator ever so often ends up being battling, ideally they would go for broke competing for quotables. Luckily, since that isn’t quite working out just yet, the trio has been able to sit down and come up with “Grab the One,” a heartfelt love song that is equally lovingly orchestrated by the UK’s Jaguar Skillz and makes expert use of multis (“You my soulmate, baby / Got you in the kitchen cookin’ homemade gravy / Gonna be with you till we go gray, lady / You the reason why I’m bumpin’ Coldplay lately”) and “Calm Down,” a comparatively dark study about dealing with pressure, which in Grime’s case for instance consisted of growing up bi-racial.
In the end you can’t be too mad at The Camp. They try, and they succeed more often than not. Now if they would try other things more often, that would present them with the creative challenge battling is not always able to offer. As it is, “The Campaign” is a fun album with a solid musical background that ranges from Teddy Roxpin’s soulful RZA impression “Forgot What it Was” to J Cardim’s Diplomats-ready “Like it or Not.” The record is devoid of the n word (for apparent reasons) but still nasty enough to achieve its mission to bring hip-hop back to the battle ground (Excetera even evokes Chino XL with his scorching flow). Personally, I don’t just approve of the idea of three MC’s loving rap so much that they decide to give it a try against all odds, I also agree with what The Camp made of it. But it is because I quite like this album that I wish it would fully rise to the challenge. Rebirth and resurrection are known to take that extra effort.