“Underground Overstood” is a new hip-hop compilation from legendary producer bearing a similar name. In fact having pored over the liner notes and one-sheet for this album, there’s not a single track produced by Alchemist on the shit, which to this critic is a real shame. There are few better ways to get underground hip-hop overstood than by pairing a hot beat Alan Maman made with some hungry rapper looking to get paid. Alchemetric professes a ten year history of promoting and booking hip-hop shows in New York City’s finest venues, which built up the relationships that ultimately allowed this compilation to be made.
It should be noted that “Underground Overstood” is actually a pretty hefty project, coming with both a CD and a DVD featuring interviews and live performances. For this review we’re only able to do justice to the audio portion of the project, but in theory there’s enough reason to buy it for the DVD alone. Aside from our own dope weekly hip-hop interviews, you can hardly find a better compilation of underground rappers speaking their minds: PackFM, Poison Pen, A-Alikes and Oktober Zero among others. The audio portion is even more of a who’s who of independent rap’s top talent: Edo.G, C-Rayz Walz, Pumpkinhead, Breez Evahflowin and The Artifacts just to name a few. Just to pick a dope one at random, let’s start with Pumpkinhead’s “Divine Roots,” produced by Ari Why:
“We move humble, close to the earth
I praise Him, but I can’t relate to church
Amen, I guess I’m on my own page
Do it in my own way, away from bright lights on Broadway
I know you like I sound too smooth for my own good
I should rhyme hardcore cause I’m from the hood
But I can’t rhyme like that all of the time (why?)
Cause I’m not mad all of the time
I switch flows like clothes, what else can I do?
I got a little somethin for him, her and you”
It’s slightly unfair to say this is typical Pumpkinhead excellence if you’re not familiar with his previous work, but the husky voiced Brooklynite rarely comes incorrect on an album track. Other rappers here such as Chicago’s own MC JUICE are famous for freestyle skills, but take the time to lay down a studio track such as the Mondee produced “Long Time Coming.” JUICE is so happy with his song that he eschews providing a hook between verses, and given the symphonic backdrop he’s given to flow on it’s little surprise he’s pleased:
“Homey, you small as hell it’s like I’m dissin a bigger me
I could get more competition from a stick of some +Wrigley’s+
Pretty soon, no one’ll have positions as big as me
I don’t cheat I just be teachin all my bitches polygamy
And I ain’t fin’ to fall in them ditches you diggin me
Took trips, the remedy from flippin these similies
White girls adore me all the sisters remember me
Yeah, I spit it physically but this is just energy
At +57+ I will hit a bitch with the +Kennedy+
So much presence/presents, I barely even fit through your chim-ney”
The pride in his hometown is evident for those paying close attention to his bars, but Juice doesn’t beat you over the head with it – he’s more interested in showcasing his skills on the track. The same can be said of any of the emcees spitting on this 17 track compilation, although they do so with varying degrees of success. Some can get by just on the strength of their vocal tone and commanding presence, such as Kool G Rap on “To Live and Die in NY” featuring the A-Alikes, produced by DJ Static. It can hardly be called surprising that Tame One and El Da Sensei impress on “Comin’ From” either, although Brycon’s backdrop occasionally drowns out their vocals and that of guest Foulmouth Jerk. Akir’s “Mindset” and Oktober Zero’s “Tunnel Vision” are also winners. Other songs have solid fundamentals but just don’t rise above background noise. Cee Knowledge’s “The Nutcracker” is too short to gain any momentum over a rather blah Ari Why beat. Agent 23 is trying so hard to explain the “Rules to the Game” he takes what could have been a dope Bski Rocks beat and flows rather monotonously to it. I appreciate Deep Rooted’s desire to “Bring It Back,” but intentionally or otherwise it sounds like a B-side from The Roots not good enough for CD.
It’s a shame this happens with so many ernest and well-intentioned hip-hop compilation albums, but “Underground Overstood” is on a parabolic curve of highs and lows. The selection of artists is aight and in fact they struck a fairly good balance between the HARDCORE underground and better known rappers who simply aren’t in the pop music mainstream. The listener will no doubt appreciate that, but will also question why some songs with mediocre beats or rhymes (thankfully rarely both at the same time) were worthy of inclusion on what is obviously not a cheap compilation to produce given the oversized case and included DVD. Your level of interest will be directly proportional to the amount you feel it’s worth at retail, because at more than $15 it may be the DVD portion is stronger to you, while at under $15 it may be worthwhile just for the music. I commend Alchemetric on the project and just hope the music is a bit stronger on the next compilation.