From a consumer standpoint, one-off collaboration projects make an essential statement – they exist based on mutual interest. At least two individuals found each other interesting enough to collaborate. It’s like observing a couple you just met and maybe not yet fully understanding their connection but accepting that they apparently have something going on. Maybe watching them side by side helps you see what they see in each other.
Flee Lord and Eto are part of a new wave of rap artists who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, whether vocally, musically or in terms of subject matter. If you remember, street rap (or what was sold to us as such) sounded relatively polished for an extended period. From Puffy’s Hitmen to RZA and Muggs spiffing up their influential underground sound to Noreaga rapping over Neptunes beats to the Cash Money Millionaires’ brassy N.O. bounce to fastidious sound designers such as Ski and The Alchemist to the height of the commercial mixtape era to Rick Ross’ extravagant musical tastes, soundwise the genre seemed bent on brushing off the dirt off its shoulders (to say it with the poster boy for rap-driven entrepreneurship). Lately, hip-hop artists have begun to lace the grind with the grime again, a recollection of the raw energy it initially radiated – an aesthetic the greater cosmos of underground hip-hop was more faithful to.
If you wanted to be overly analytical, the urge for a musical upgrade could have been a result of the prevalent megalomania and materialism displayed in rap music’s content, and also bigger budgets as well as the necessity to forego samples. Rap went pop, rap became professional, how could it not come around just a little bit preppier?
Pop or preppy is not how you would describe Flee Lord and Eto (formerly Lil Eto and even Lil E – kudos on dropping the diminutive). Their voices are worn, husky and raspy from whatever their eyes saw, their gullets guzzled and their lungs inhaled. Actually one reason they may have connected in the first place is that they sound rather similar, which also makes it hard for novice listeners to tell them apart. For a proper introduction, check “Mob Ties”, where Eto goes first:
Powered by JR Swiftz’ hypnotic melodic loop, “Mob Ties” illustrates the duo’s ability to complete the canvas a producer lays out before them vocally with their flows. There is structure from the very beginning of the creative process, saving the post-production that would be considered an obligatory ‘professional’ element in pop music. Without melody, Flee and Eto manage to avoid coming across monotonous. Paired with frequently elaborate rhyming efforts, the flows ensure that the lyrics embed themselves in your brain:
“Streets don’t come with an instruction sheet
Young’n, I learned the game up the street
Leave it up to me – kick them niggas out your company
Sucka-free – and you can live comfortably”
(Eto, “Strip Talk”)
“Don’t Get Lined Up” feels like straying into a desolate corner of the Empire State, industry veteran DJ Green Lantern (like Eto a fellow Rochester native) carefully placing what sounds like somber steel guitar strummings to recreate the atmosphere of a 1996 b-side. “Roc Connectin’ “producer Tricky Trippz is looking for an Alchemist kind of high, the smooth sounds engineered to elevate but not render too euphoric. V Don lets the figurative camera run for the cinematographic “In the Lobby”. Epic is an adjective that has been thrown around in rap reception forever, but when you contemplate Melks’ beat for “44 Long”, you realize that the true mastership lies in letting the track tell a story of its own, regardless if the final product can be called epic or not.
On the musical front, “RocAmeriKKKa” leaves little to be desired, from the sparkling subterranean sound of Graph Wize’s “Out the Mud” to Fith’s heavenly finale “Past the Curb” (assisted by a young talent named Imanii Skyy). Only Eto’s own “Felon Paper”, which lacks that special something, doesn’t bode too well with his announcement that the project’s sequel will be entirely produced by himself. For now, their October 2019 inaugural address is still worth revisiting half a year later. The sheer number of releases these guys accumulated in a relatively short timespan can be overwhelming to newcomers, but “RocAmeriKKKa” seems like a suitable entry point to delve into either artist’s discography.