Curly Castro describes himself in superhero terms as your “friendly neighborhood rebel” of hip-hop. He’s Brooklyn born and raised but has called the streets of Philadelphia home since the late 1990’s. His album “Fidel” is being released through the rising imprint Double A.B. & Dub Sonata to Vast Aire and MHz (Megahertz) among others. If you called them 2010’s answer to what Rawkus Records was in the 1990’s, you wouldn’t be insulting any of the artists on the imprint, though hopefully MBD doesn’t wind up relegated to a dead MySpace page the way Rawkus’ did.
I think they’ve learned from Rawkus’ mistakes though. The underground hip-hop records they release are just as compelling, sans the unreasonable expectations and contradictory “independent as fuck (with major distributors)” rhetoric. Castro himself revels in his contradictions – considering himself “part Red Foxx, part Che Guevara” in his lyrical approach and willing to name both Boot Camp Clik and Johnny Cash as artistic influences. Can anybody hold so many disparate elements together in a compelling whole without the whole thing coming apart at the seams? I’d argue that Curly Castro does so successfully on “Fidel,” an aptly named album given the communist dictator is himself a study in contradiction – decrying capitalistic economies like the U.S. yet an avid fan of the sport of baseball which was born and flourished Stateside. His political side is found in songs like “The Spook Who Sat” and “Colored Water Fountain,” songs not easily forgotten:
“Welcome to the water fountain, I’m your maitre’d
Segregated cuisine, Jim Crow at table three
Now Jolson is a regular, we ask him more or lesser
to come without his face on, he digs the watercress
Foix gras and catfish was Ronnie Reagan’s favorite
He would wait for hours, while Nancy grew impatient
Hoover had a table with his G-men entourage
More boy toys than mannish, it seemed a little ODD”
It’s hard not to laugh at his tales of George W. Bush being “a tad bit unstable,” but the funny song takes a wicked turn when he informs all his guests that they were poisoned by “the flambe pulled pork” with a sardonic “enjoy!” Therein lies Castro’s road to success in hip-hop – his ability to mix political commentary and comedy like a Molotov cocktail and bomb unsuspecting listeners. “Civil rights – I always laugh at the irony” quips Castro on “The Letter M,” a song written from the perspective of men like Medgar Evers, Martin Luther and Malcolm X. Production from friends like Has-Lo, Zilla Rocca and Small Professor help serious tracks like these go down smoothly, a spoonful of sugar for the medicine as it were. On songs like “Minefield” he’s more about pop culture than politics though, name-checking everything from Ice Cube to “I, Robot” in his personal narrative.
Castro is a master of the concise statement, with 10 out of the 13 songs on “Fidel” clocking in at under 210 seconds, and the entire album coming in under 38 minutes. His gruff vocal tone and passionate delivery ensures not a second of that time is wasted, from the lyrically and musically chilling “Cocaine Blues” to the sci-fi futuristic sound of “Libertad.” Though I’m relatively new to the Curly Castro phenomenon at this point, it’s fair to say that Man Bites Dog Records has kept their winning streak in tact on “Fidel” and given me an artist to check for from this review forward.