The year 2017 has been rocked with controversy largely because of the political carnival of absurdity represented by the Trump Administration. Every day, their ineptitude provides more fodder for mass media, activists, comedians, and musicians. Even with their questionable handling of racist rallies, domestic shootings, weather disasters, et. al., no controversy has stuck to this administration more than Russia. As we all know, it’s been alleged that Russian hackers stole information linked to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and passed it to Wikileaks in order to ensure Trump’s election. There was a time, specifically during Ronald Reagan’s America in the 1980s, when the terms “red menace”, “communist”, “Russia”, and “Soviet Union” were used frequently and with antagonistic delight. American politicians, its entertainment industry, and citizens painted Russia as the enemy of all things mom, apple pie, and baseball. Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union was disestablished and its dissolution was credited to a political movement aimed at reform. The movement was called “perestroika”, which translates to “rebuild”.
Sorry for the history lesson, but it gives context to the title of this album and the Russian themes contained within. Veteran emcees from two tri-state-based hip-hop supergroups (The Demigodz and D.I.T.C.), Apathy and O.C. have teamed up to bring us “Perestroika”. Considering their lyrical proficiency, the title evokes ideas of a fundamental restructuring of what we know as hardcore hip-hop. While not an overhaul, it can’t be denied that both men do deliver here. With song titles that utilize Russian historical figures and imagery, Apathy and Brooklyn’s O.C. have taken the fears from Cold War America and lyrically weaponized them. Apart from his mic duties shared with O.C., Apathy is also behind the boards on “Perestroika”. The Connecticut emcee/producer laced the beats for all except two of the album’s tracks. One of which was the first released single, “Soviet Official”, produced by MoSS. Over a boisterous jazz-rock sample, both emcees start their verses off with invocative words and then proceed to pummel their unseen opponents with hardcore rhymes and braggadocio wit:
“All the bodies and skeletons I produce
Got ’em thinkin’ there’s a Jack the Ripper rapper on the loose
Boost records like Steel from Juice, you want a truce?
When I punch you in the nose like the Wally World Moose”
“Be on the Call of Duty, O’s a Commodore
Rank much higher than the Captain and the Officer
Most of these rappers nowadays ill-advised
Skirt-wearers, purse carriers, look feminine besides”
When emcees combine forces in the form of collaborative albums, it oft-times tasks the listener with doing some comparing and contrasting of the rappers. While both Apathy and O.C. have their styles rooted in ’90s lyricism, their mutual strength lies in topical rhymes. Take the album’s title-track, “Perestroika”, for example. Taking a brief respite from the frequent boastful rhymes, this track is the most in-tune with the album’s Russian themes, specifically and particularly concerning government control having the power to deaden independent thought, feeling, and action. The Illinformed-produced “Globetrotters” is a detailed lyrical picture of the best and the worst aspects of being on international tours, with CT-crooner Jus Cuz singing the hook. The guest appearances are appropriately few given the album’s total of twelve tracks. Slaine, Kappa Gamma, and Marvalyss make their presences known, but Celph Titled has the strongest verse. Though a frequent collaborator with Apathy, his appearance here marks his first time working with O.C. since the latter’s appearance on Celph’s Brand Nubian-D.I.T.C. 2010 posse cut “There Will Be Blood”. With his signature voice/delivery backing his carefully-crafted punchlines, “Stompkillcrushmode” shows why Celph is one of the few who can match Apathy on the mic and why he remains sought-after for his hard-hitting guest verses.
As stated before, the production is handled mostly by Apathy. It’s kind of ironic that, for the two tracks he didn’t produce and considering the album’s themes, help was sought internationally. MoSS is from Canada while Illinformed is from the United Kingdom. But the overall sound of the beats is sample-based boom-bap. Sampling genres from jazz to rock, and even snippets of dialogue from a “Rambo” movie, the beats would sound redundantly throwback if Apathy and O.C. didn’t come correct over them. The opening track, “Live From the Iron Curtain”, has looped horns, a familiar drum programming, and tongue twisting rhyme schemes. The production grows darker on “Tomorrow Is Gone” and its melodies remind me of “Short Change Hero” by the Heavy. The dark tone is similar on “Winter Winds” with its damning piano keys and haunting looped choir vocals. With this being an underground hip-hop album, there’s nothing glossy about the production, but that doesn’t mean that the songs aren’t accessible. The aforementioned “Soviet Official” has dusty drums, triumphant horns, and a wailing vocal sample in the hook.
One of the cons of the album is that it’s too short, I was expecting (actually, the word “hoping” is more accurate) for 16 tracks max. Another thing I was expecting, though very clichéd, was a song on here to be entitled “Red Dawn” or start off with the word “red”. As far as the rapping goes, though Apathy is the more consistent of the two, O.C. is the more influential emcee who isn’t as heralded as he should be. Though I mentioned earlier that both rappers are evenly matched when the rhymes are topical, that’s isn’t true when it comes to their bragging rhymes, though O.C. did spit the better verse on “No More Soft Shit”. Both men have been in the game for a long time and have carved their own niches in hip-hop. But have they ever displayed signs of slowing down? Nyet!