As a music critic, it is my earnest duty to listen to whatever album comes across my desk objectively, fending off any preconceptions. It is an ongoing internal struggle. So when the latest from the alternative hip-hop label Loonatix Productions, Professor Fresh’s “Fresh Files,” was next in my queue, I felt like I knew what I was already in for.
I first scanned the cover which references the “X-Files” TV show by utilizing the same font type and attention drawn to the “F Files.” It also borrows the image of a man being beamed from outer space from the feature film “Fire in the Sky.” Then, in the corner, a picture of the artist, Fresh, who rocks a Mohawk hairdo. Science fiction is probably the most fanatical genre in media and kind of bypassed by much of the general public. Similarly, Fresh’s music caters to those that feel alienated by the conformity of pop culture. Comparisons can be drawn to the most notable groups within this niche of rap music, that being, Kottonmouth Kingz and ICP.
The cinematic theme continues at the beginning of the disc with a sample of Universal’s trademark trumpets, which has been done before on Sticky Fingaz’s debut solo, to open the disc before diving head first into Professor Fresh’s abrasive guitar-driven production and even more forceful lyrics. The album is completely produced by Fresh, aside from some scratches and live instrumentals on various tracks. His rhymes are not terribly substantive here, which is not uncommon of opening tracks that are often implemented to simply unveil the featured artist. But, within seconds, the listener will know whether they will enjoy “Fresh Files.” The backdrop, screaming emphasis on the end of each bar (think Beastie Boys on some serious narcotics), and coinciding rhyme scheme are completely indicative of where this 16-song journey will take you.
When it is not guitars, it is usually smashing drums that overtake the tracks, making “Fresh Files” nearly as rock-influenced as it is rap-based from a production standpoint. Both “D.P.O. (Professor Fresh Bitch)” and “Make Way” are prime examples of this.
“Make Way,” featuring Phatty McGee, is a dictating song that tells the listener that Loonatix are here, so to make a place for them. They spit an unadulterated chorus and verses, too. Check the words:
“I might be the Fresh
But yo, I’m the cleanest
Y’know I’m such a dick
You got me rhyming through my penis
I got the genius through my jeans
You can lean and you can feel it
So surreal I make you need it
I’m not conceited I just know where I stand
Cuz I’m a man goddamnit I got my balls in my hand
I gotta plan to stand tall
Plant the backbone
Screaming at the top of my lungs the ‘Tix are back y’all
I got the casting call
And everlasting and bounce em like a basketball
A fucking classical
Never hit a chick until I know where she been”
It is obvious that Fresh attempts to at least partially attract shock value to his material but it is not being used for any positive gain. For instance, the underground classic track, “Dance with the Devil” by Immortal Technique can be construed as pretty harsh, but it is all building to a certain necessary relevance within the context of the lyrics. Too often, it feels as if Fresh is just putting random thoughts over beats.
At first, the LP seems full of meaningless tough talk, but Fresh does start reaching for concepts as you dig deeper. “Sho Nough III,” at least has the Asian gongs to pay homage to the martial arts from which the name of the track is derived. Then, “Post-Modern Prometheus,” is probably the pinnacle of the disc as Fresh relates the figure from Greek mythology with himself. Prometheus was an intelligent titan that stole the power of fire and shared it with mortals. He was eternally punished as an outcast (in a very disturbing way). Fresh’s chorus grasps a believable understanding of the story, as he repeats the phrase, “loneliness is the cloak we wear.” Unfortunately, it is one of the few times that he exerts his intelligence in his content, settling mostly for some serious shit talking and yelling.
The guests on the album all come courtesy of Loonatix Productions and follow a similar narrative as Fresh, himself. None of the emcees particularly standout from the crowd, not Ill P.O.E., Ill E. Gal (though the female voice is strange amongst other rough voices), or MC Rentz.
So, I sit here at the conclusion of “Fresh Files,” very much hearing the album I thought I would. The one that it does not fit my blueprint for a great hip-hop release; rather it fits squarely in the subgenre of counter-culture rap. I guess that is the point. Not everyone is going to like Professor Fresh, some might not even get him, but those that are attracted to this type of rap may find something to like about it. You will know.