Call me small-minded but I’m of the opinion that Latinos have brought a charmingly mischievous element to East Coast hip-hop. The Beatnuts would be the flagship act for injecting hip-hop with Hispanic jest, followed by the eccentric Noreaga, the superhuman Big Pun and the over-the-top Thirstin Howl III. Spitters who are able to smack you in the face and make you laugh about it such as Tonedeff and Q-Unique fit the bill to me, and as I search, I also find sly subversion in Chino XL’s 2Pac-meets-Ras Kass smarts, Kurious’ mix of humor and humility, Immortal Technique’s pointed political darts, Joell Ortiz’ eagerness to eat his way up the lyricist food chain, Celph Titled’s (by way of Tampa) tongue-in-cheek bullying tactics, and even in Cardi B’s more recent work that saw her turning up her swag.
Miguel ‘Shortfyuz’ Santana is pals with Termanology, with beatmaking aspirations reaching far back to early collaborations with Krumbsnatcha (and, allegedly, Boston rhyme syndicate Wiseguys). He graduated from mixtape (2010’s “Bomb Threat: Security Breach)” to producer album, this year’s “Lostsol ’96” marking his arrival in, well maybe not the big league, primarily because producer albums are very, very rarely big league, but at a level where guest list, label, title and artwork generate enough interest to take a closer listen.
If “Lostsol ’96” too is your introduction to Shortfyuz, you might see why I would be reminded of the Beatnuts and some of the other Latin rascals (excuse the pun). Opener “Telemundo” is on that Beatnuts/early Terror Squad, as an MC – presumably Shortfyuz himself – toddles in Tony Toca fashion over the bumpy and at the same time breezy track. Closer “Cabezon” is in the same vein, that’s to say on a serious Diaz Brothers vibe (minus maybe that peculiar New Yorkness).
While these brief one-two punches bookend “Lostsol ’96,” the actual filling of the project doesn’t emphasize or even exploit any specific folklore but simply fiddles around with the infinite combinations of beats and rhymes. Sean Price makes another prized posthumous appearance on track two, boasting, “I write a rhyme and feel I’m one of a kind rapper,” and rightfully so, because who else would be able to conceive that ‘Wells Fargo’ rhymes with ‘Where’s Waldo’? With “N4N (Not For Nothing)” Shortfyuz provides him with a more polished backing compared to his later works, drum stabs puncuating warm waves of bass with a siren singing a haunting melody in a foreign language.
It is followed by a collaboration with Termanology, “Nuff Props” (not to be confused with Fyuz’ 2012 song with Trife Diesel, “Nuff Shots”), a smart tribute to another dead rapper, this time hometown hero Scientifik, that allows Term to show off his considerable growth as an artist in the ten years since his debut:
“It takes a animal to tear another animal apart
But you can’t put a bandage on a heart
And now I’m like a phantom in the dark
Lookin’ for the light but only found a camera from a narc
Havin’ beef with crews, gotta hold a hammer when it’s dark
Don’t wanna be reduced to another candle in the park
On the evening news, can’t try handlin’ the tought
It’s no beef, but I see you took advantage from the start
I used to be in the stairways, dreamin’ of the airwaves
That was back stuck-in-the-trap, digital-scale days”
Lawrence, MA’s Scientifik earned the reverence that still makes his spirit wander through rap tracks 20 years after his death. Termanology himself has long been chasing a similar status, and on “Royalty” Ransom sounds like he is on a similar mission. He has the commanding presence needed, which in combination with hard echoing drums prevent the track, which also features digitally filtered female vocals, from swinging off into dramatized pop rap territory.
The next segment is more filler than filling. The Reks/Chris River duet “Nobody Seen Shit” suffers from an insipid beat. DJ Statik Selektah assists Shortfyuz on “Real Talk” with a batch of rap quotes as the producer limits himself to a droning, pseudo-hardcore arrangement that only provokes grimey grimaces from Styles P and Lyfe Crisis. It’s quite a leap from that to “Serve It,” which not only interpolates but also samples the biggest hit of one of the 2000s’ biggest rock bands. Then Term is back for seconds on “The Original G.O.D.,” so far the most convincing of the harder tracks, not the least because of the rapper’s inspired performance.
So where does “Lostsol ’96” find Shortfyuz in 2018? Not in a place where he would have found something like a signature sound. Statik Selektah, the king of neo-boom bap compilations, was obviously an influence, as well as the golden days of sampling – via famous drum loops from “Synthetic Substitution” to “The Assembly Line.” (Lest we forget: a certain Jam is credited for ‘additional compositions’.) But the producer also has an understanding of more recent listening habits. It’s just that it all becomes a bit of a jumble. Just as Sonic introduces a more modern flow on “Handz On,” Big Twins and Illa Ghee turn back time by playing Big Willie on the gaudy “Infamous.” And when Term and Kay-R are done sending reassuring messages to their women waiting at home on the musically gentle “Take it Slow,” “Killer” (featuring K.A.A.N. and Cane) gives a modern interpretation of hardcore hip-hop before the album fully arrives in the here and now with Crimeapple and “Aguacate.” If Shortfyuz can’t yet compete with the historical figures mentioned in this review, it’s also because he hasn’t had the opportunities to make his mark. Despite one production credit for Krumbsnatcha dating from 2001. His 2013 album with Termanology, “G.O.Y.A.,” likely only convinced die-hard fans of the rapper, but with a full-length with Reks, “Order in Chaos,” about to be released, as well as the subject at hand, ‘Fyuz seems to be on the right track.