On “The Genesis Was Strummer,” Virginia rapper/producer Rob A raps about coming up in the 80s:
“These were the Reagan years
Cold War aggression
Social issues our direction
That’s I how I got down with this culture of music
I hate how you abuse it
That’s why we look stupid”
Those lines tell you three important things about Rob A: he got into hip hop before a Lil Wayne was born, he was attracted to hip hop by its social message, and he hates how hip hop has degenerated into mindless celebrations of false wealth, dance songs, and gangsterism. His antidote is 13 songs of old-school hip hop, all served up on his EMU SP 1200 (with the exception of the MF DOOM-produced “She Still Got Dimples”). That’s a twenty-year-old sampler, by the way. Pete Rock, EPMD, and Ultramagnetic MC’s, and Geto Boys all used SPs, as does Madlib. Rob A balances out the relentless mid-tempo drums with melodic samples, and the result is a familiar, steady boom-bap that sounds like it could have been released twenty years ago.
Rob A’s battle rhyming adds to the flashback effect, reminding me of Guru or Big Daddy Kane. He spends a lot of the album schooling other MC’s, and complaining about the state of hip hop. “That shit you call hip hop is like 80s cock rock,” he raps on “Swarm ‘Em,” “Instead of phallic guitars you’d rather crouch in your car.” His lines are delivered with skill, and he makes good points, but ironically, few of the kids he’s taking out in his rhymes will be listening to his record. Old timers like myself might think that it’s a throwback to a better time, but anyone under the age of thirty who isn’t commited to golden age hip hop might find this dated.
That’s a shame, because Rob A’s SP rocks harder beats than a whole warehouse of synthesizers. After listening to a whole mess of synth beats with no low ends, the kick drums on the SP are like coming home. One of the best tracks is “City of God,” which features a stand-up bass sample, and a harrowing tale of life on the streets. It has a similar slow-burning menace as Nas’ “NY State of Mind” minus the nihilism. Rob A shows himself to be a talented storyteller with a solid understanding of the realities of the streets, and the consequences of street life: “One thing lead to another and now you have three grieving mother/a crack-dealing brother/for what reason do they suffer.” He even gets political on “You Voted for Him?,” a minute-long dis rap directed at Bush and Cheney. Forget Fifty taking shots at Rick Ross’s baby mama, Rob A is throwing darts at people who deserve them. The first single “She Still Got Dimples,” has Rob A and Doom rapping about the evils of domestic violence. Domestic violence is one of hip hop’s dirty little secrets, and it’s high time that rappers call shed light on it.
Rob A may not impress the younger generation with his old school beats and rhymes. but if you appreciate Golden Age hip hop, or are disgusted with the product most rappers are putting out nowadays, put “The New Mortal Sin” on, and remember the good old days before ringtones, before Auto-Tune, and before selling out was seen as a good thing.