It has been almost 20 years since Arsonists released their seminal underground rap album “As the World Burns.” Even though that launched them into the rarefied Nines air for their 2001 follow-up “Date of Birth,” it may have been the first sign of trouble as well considering the group shrank from five members to just three: Q-Unique, Jise One and Swel Boogie. Where did D-Stroy and Freestyle go? No idea dunn. RR staffer LOS praised the move as making them “a more flexible three man crew,” but after their second album none of that muscle got flexed.
While Q-Unique and Jise One released solo albums and projects between then and now, the collective vision of the group seemed to evaporate like a small puddle of water on a hot sunny day. You can do all the speculating that you like. Perhaps egos swelled due to success and clashes followed. Maybe being everybody’s underground darling just didn’t generate the ducats to keep going. Record labels might have held them hostage to bad terms that made them decide it wasn’t worth it. Take your pick and stick with it until the surge of press coverage following “Lost in the Fire” gives us more insight. Until then even the press release promoting this album says the group “dissolved in 2002” with no other explanation.
The irony here is that this new album from the group isn’t even “new” in the most literal sense. It’s going to be new at the digital download store of your choice, or new on CD if you’re still willing to cop the physical, in which case you also get a remastered copy of “As the World Burns” as a bonus disc (that’s tight). Not everything here is a “new” song though. The group did reunite to record six new tracks, but the rest of these songs are more of a time capsule – unearthed by modern audio archealogists who carefully brushed off the dust and released what they were able to preserve. As a result many tracks here are NOT remastered, probably because they simply COULDN’T be. Again you’re let to your own conclusions as to what exactly happened – my best guess would be that the original studio tapes are either lost or deteriorated beyond repair. The problem is the wildly variable quality of the audio here may be detrimental to your ears. You’ll crank up the volume for overly quiet tracks like the original version of “Pyromaniax” and the “Blaze (Remix)” then suddenly get your ears blown out by “Wee Hours” featuring J-Live. It’s so dope that you’ll forgive the brief headache, especially when hearing J drop gems like “If rap was good as sex then they’d have to call you Grandmaster-bation/find another occupation.” Damn!!
There are plenty of similarly ill moments in the 60 minutes of “Lost in the Fire.” A posse cut that’s chunkier than peanut butter features The High & Mighty along with Mass Influence is simpled called “AYO!” There’s no better word to describe your reaction to it even as the Sammy Sosa references remind you just how old it is. That’s okay though. Some things stay fresh long beyond their release date. I feel the same way about the old school nostalgia of the laid back and breezy “Fat Laces,” the unsurprisingly hard rocking Ill Bill cameo “Favorites,” the minimalistic and uptempo “AEIOU” and the melancholy melody of “Tough Guy” featuring Vinnie Paz. Among all of this album’s songs it’s the one that sounds the most up to date so it clearly falls into the “new six,” even though nowhere in the press kit does it explicitly state or seperate one group from the other.
Hearing both old Arsonists material brought to (a wider) light alongside brand new joints is refreshing. I’d even say it’s a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, not to mention one of an increasing number of reminders to me of just how long I’ve been covering and writing about hip-hop music and culture. I have to be honest though and say that there are some songs that were “Lost” that didn’t need to be saved, and the solo careers of various crew members (again Jise and Q-Unique in particular) show they didn’t really need to form like Voltron again other than for the purpose of remastering their old classic to resell it. If you cop the physical just for “As the World Burns” I don’t blame you. That’s a 10 out of 10 decision and alone worth the price of admission. If “Lost in the Fire” are just bonus tracks for you after that – super. As for me it ends up working the other way around, so what I’m listening to is hit or miss in audio quality, with the “hits” being so good that the “misses” are actually more annoying. Make an informed decision based on what you’re really looking for here.