Not that long ago, Ice Cube made a pretty bold claim with “I am the West”. Whether or not Cube best represents what West Coast hip hop is these days is an argument for another day, but to me an artist like Mitchy Slick (along with The World’s Freshest AKA DJ Fresh) is bringing the exact flavour on his “Feet Match the Paint” album that I want to hear when in that Cali state of mind, cruising the streets in my imaginary ’64 Impala. In fact, Mitchy is a prime example of what I see as a big advantage that many West Coast artists hold over their East Coast counterparts, i.e. a duality that allows them to switch between the more sample based, break-beat side of hip hop, typically regarded as traditional East Coast hip hop, and the more funk laden, heavy bass and synths of the gangsta styles of their locales. Mitchy makes mention in the album of touring with everyone from DJ Quik to Living Legends, and that in itself typifies the diversity of an artist like Mitchy in the West Coast scene. His past work has always made somewhat of a distinction between the two sides, with his crew Strong Arm Steady (Mitchy, Krondon and Phil the Agony) being a mix of NY flavour combined with touches of Cali funk, but his solo albums delivering much more of a straight-up gangsta lean. “Feet Match the Paint” is very much the latter with Mitchy stating on “Loot Hungry” that his life is “a microcosm of g-shit compacted in one life”, and this album also delivers a microcosm of “g-sounds” compacted on one disc.
Actually, what grabbed my attention initially about this album was the cover. It’s very different these days with the ease of access to new music, but before the world of dot-com it wasn’t unusual for me to buy albums based on the cover/artist name alone (as we had little else to go by in my part of the world in terms of exposure to hip hop songs/artists), and the process of buying “Feet Match the Paint” was a throwback to those days for me. I was familiar with Mitchy from his Strong Arm Steady appearances and some of his solo work, but wasn’t so taken by him that a new solo album would be an automatic purchase. However, there was something that spoke to me about that cover artwork, with its palm trees and two dudes chilling in a drop top with a bikini clad chick (and being paired with someone with the very old school sounding name of “The World’s Freshest”), which gave promise of some classic West Coast low riding flavor, and I bought the CD without previewing any tracks from it. Sure, my interpretation of the cover would have stood for nothing if the music turned out to be wack garbage, but thankfully it lived up to my expectations. Actually no, it exceeded them.
This album isn’t displaying gangsta rap in the peeling caps back and bodies in caskets sense though, it’s more a display of the finer things in the world that become available to those who successfully get their hustle on, as Mitchy himself states: “I got “Feet Match the Paint” for my fans that shop at all the boutique sneaker spots and get they cars customized”. The title track, which opens the album, gives us a glimpse into that world:
The above song marks the beginning of the strongest combination of album opening tracks that I’ve heard in some time, i.e. speaker smashing strength. “The Crown” contains dramatic synths and levels of bass which could almost be measured in Richter scale terms. “Break Dat Bitch” also has earth-shaking amounts of bang behind it, combined with 80’s computer game type blips and beeps, which would be cheesy if they weren’t used in such a dope way. “Hogs (San Diego Version)” is a bit slower and lower, but would still scare elderly neighbours as you drive past bumping the song, with its bass hits jumping all over the place.
If getting excited about the possibility of terrifying my neighbours makes me sound like a reckless 17 year old, well they are the kind of songs that speak to my “inner teenager”, and take me to that side of hip hop where the main appeal was the sonic bombardment of heavy beats coupled with a lively MC. It is a trip back in time in that way, and it’s a great show of energy that doesn’t appear that often these days in any type of hip hop. No, this is NOT an album for your tinny MP3 player headphones; it’s one for “da whip”, or at least a system where all the production elements in the music are able to be displayed in all their glory. I had no idea who DJ Fresh was before hearing this album (apparently he’s quite established in the Bay Area and has worked with many artists in the region), but this album is such an on point representation of the best elements of West Coast hip hop production that I’m going to seek out more of his work.
With all this talk of woofer pounding I’m not about to disregard Mitchy himself. For some reason he never stood out to me that much in the past, but he’s won me over with this album. Being from “Dago” (San Diego) he has an addictive sounding West Coast twang to his voice, is full of personality, and is clearly an MC that is out to impress with his talents on the mic, rather than just reciting rhymes impassively from the lyric sheet. In this regard he reminds me of Planet Asia, where their commitment to executing verses skillfully keeps the interest levels high, even if on this album Mitchy isn’t getting too diverse with his topics. Well actually it goes without saying that the whole state of California has been a breeding ground for dozens and dozens of fantastic MC’s over the years, and Mitchy deserves to rate notably amongst them. It’s refreshing to see he doesn’t overstate his place in that scene either, as evidenced in “The Crown”, where he’s striving to take the mantle of top dog MC and tells us he’s “been campaigning for a while â€¦ I think I want The Crown”, but knows he isn’t quite there yet:
“Ain’t got to work with Cube yet, but it will happen
Just the other day 40 told me ‘keep rapping’
Oh mama, the big homie E-40 told me, sho told me ‘nigga keep rapping’
So the next day I made a hit with Jacka and Freeway
Philafornia rolled tacos, cheese steak
Not platinum, but grateful to be eating
Imma laugh when some real niggas get they feet in”
Whilst tales of “fly shit” dominate the album, Mitchy shows the attitude of a matured ex-gang banger on “Do What I Can Do”, where he’s looking out for his boys on lockdown by trying to help out with their bail money, when others don’t want to know about it:
As the album progresses, Mitchy and DJ Fresh do vary the pace and feel, and also usher in some guests. “Put on a Show (Tonite)” with Murs and Planet Asia is a mellow affair with a sing-song chorus, and Asia in particular rips the track despite its chilled feel. Strong Arm Steady earn a group track on the album in the form of “Grey Poupon”, which is another tale of the luxuriant life with it’s break “excuse me nigga pass me the Grey Poupon, is what I feel like saying while I cruise along”, being a reference to famous mustard commercials (thanks Google). The laid back and catchy “All This Ballin'” brings in the smooth King Trub, and Mitchy decides to sing on the chorus on this one, and he sings about as well as most rappers do (I could imagine this track on a Kurupt album with equally questionable singing).
“Loot Hungry”, “Quick to get Clak” and “Tickets” all feature rappers who are unknown to me, the best of these tracks definitely being the mid-album “Tickets”, which has some intensity added to the heavy bass assault of the early album songs. It features the appealing vocal talents of Mitchy’s homies (from his other crew “Tha Wrongkind”), Ise B, Young Shots and Woodgrain, and a cool aspect of the song is when they rap some lines together in unison. “Loot Hungry” has another Wrongkind compadre called Spank Booty, and is a departure from the overall sound of the album, as it sounds far more “backpack” (like an old Dilated Peoples track perhaps). Finally, “Quick to get Clak” with Philthy Rich and Boo Banga is another exercise in punchy drum machine programming made for trunk rattling drives, but the production is a bit too generic here as is the emceeing from the guests.
A trio of bonus tracks close out the album, the one worth mentioning is “Mitchy Tales”, which is Mitchy’s take on Too Short’s “Freaky Tales” and is a rather appropriate reworking as Mitchy has a bit of Too Short in his voice. In fact, if you like the idea of Mitchy doing cover versions of classic rap tracks, you wouldn’t be disappointed in his “Mitchy-Duz-it” album from 2005 which has many adaptations of golden era gems.
On the surface, this album is (mostly) about expensive cars and other material excesses, made to be played loudly in cars with expensive sound systems. Looking deeper though, I see it as a tribute to the some of the sounds and styles that the West Coast hip hop scene has given us over the years (even the instrumentation on the interlude “Smoke Break(Reprise)” would make DJ Quik proud), and Mitchy and DJ Fresh execute this celebration of Cali vibes to near perfection. If Mitchy Slick keeps making music like this, he might even take “The Crown” away from those better known than him in his part of the world.