I don’t know which one is Jerry Beeks and which one is Miggs, but I do know they are collectively known as Bronx Slang. I also know they are laced on “Substance” by UK producers Fake Blood and Jadell, who I was honestly just as unfamiliar with going into this review. That’s four people I don’t know who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup of emcees from New York or producers from England going into this review. Why take a chance on it? I suppose having the name Bronx Slang doesn’t hurt. It evokes a certain expectation of old school NYC rap music, and that’s certainly what their teaser trailer builds up to, complete with subway cars whizzing by the camera at breakneck speed.
Last year’s visualizer for the lead single “Copy That” has the same vibe. It gives me the feeling of ordering a 12″ single from Sandbox Automatic just because a rap group had a little bit of buzz, dropping the needle in the groove when the package arrives, and letting the bass and the rhymes wash over me like a tidal wave. “Suburban ways versus urban decay/If they don’t understand your plan, tell ’em stand in the way.” Yeah, I’m feeling this.
“Substance” is 48 minutes of grimy rap with no compromises. Bronx Slang doesn’t bring in bigger names, doesn’t pitch correct sing their vocals, and often don’t even bother with a chorus on tracks like “Another Night in New York.” Listening to this album is like throwing on your Karl Kani and fisherman hat and trooping down the street with a backpack, Discman and a pile of AA batteries. This is the sound of the 1990’s brought up to 2021.
It’s not just bragging and posturing though. “Excuse Me Again” begs the listener to understand “why Kaepernick took a knee” and runs down a list of unarmed black men who were killed by the police from coast to coast. It’s a reminder that the problems that exist where the Bronx Slang their raps are universal and have yet to show any sign of abating. “Excuse me officer, what you still stopping me for/when I’m just over here trying to update my song? (He) said ‘You better shut your trap, or catch a bullet for that/since the last time you rhymed, we killed a whole lot more.'”
Even though I have a natural affection for Bronx Slang, there are some songs on “Substance” which are ironically lacking in it. “Just Say No” doesn’t seem to have been mixed right — the vocals are too quiet on the hook, too loud on the verses, and the music sounds like a parody of a Just Blaze track for Shawn Carter. “Not For Games” plods along so slowly it elicits a yawn. “Jane” recycles samples you already know, and for an album trying so hard to evoke nostalgia for New York rap, it doesn’t have the EPMD style story that you’d expect from the name.
Honestly though my complaints about Bronx Slang are minor at best. “Substance” is better than the majority of random unsolicited albums that land on my desk for a review, and not one that I regret the time I spent listening to. It’s ironic that the sound they are evoking now makes them stand out from the competition when 20-25 years ago it would have made them just another average commonplace New York rap group, but such is the state of the rap scene today that you can stand out by doing what would’ve just gotten you a passing grade back in the day.