Indie labels come and go - some succeed, some fail, some briefly rise above the tide and sink back beneath the surface. Indie labels have been thus invested with a mythic status: bearer of the industry standard for creativity and risk taking. Corporate labels refuse to risk their bottom line for the sake of something bold and original. Or do they? Such stereotypes ignore both the freshness of major label artists like OutKast and the mediocrity of indie MC's like Shabaam Sahdeeq. Falling somewhere between the two is the debut album "DNA-lysis" from Double Helix; on the label Indie Pennant (no joke, that's their name).
The album starts strongly on "Slo to Toledo" with a flurry of Chino XL-esque punchlines like, "Y'all still on my nuts like the NBA was jockin Kobe" and a slow-flowing, almost gothic beat. The duo definitely has an interesting chemistry owing to Spon's hailing from Ohio and JON?DOE's hailing from California. Their record label claims they met on the internet but whether true or not it seems a point overstated - you can TELL they wouldn't have ordinarily crossed paths. Regardless, their style works together.
Perhaps the strongest song of all on the album is the immediately following cut, "Fool's Gold." Stripping apart Ja Rule and Junior M.A.F.I.A. samples and quoting underground favorites Ras Kass and Talib Kweli, their track presents a strong indictment against "gimmicky nonsense." Double Helix clearly draw a line in the sand that's supposed to read "underground indie rap here, commercial mediocrity here." This could prove dangerous if their steelo blows up as they will inevitably fall victim to the same questions that now plague Pharoahe Monch's rise to success.
The rest of the album presents a mixed bag of tracks which are mostly successful. "Riddle of the Sphinx" retreads the same topic of spousal abuse explored by El-P on "Last Good Sleep," the opus "Power of Thought" is somewhat comically confusing in it's indictment of the "similes and metaphors" they used successfully in their rhymes (guys, I missed the point) and "The Fifth Element" features the beatboxing skills of Click tha Supah Latin (who you may also remember from the debut album by Styles of Beyond).
At fifteen tracks long, the debut from Double Helix is definitely bold in it's confidence in the listener. What would raise these rappers above the echelons of other up-and-coming rap soloists and groups though? That may be the ironic problem. By pledging pride in being Indie Pennant and criticizing commercial rap throughout; they may have condemned themselves to their own mediocrity. These rappers are obviously talented and the music is well produced but you get the feeling they'd resent their own success if they blew up. They'd become the very people they hate. Therefore; buy their album if you like dope hip-hop - just don't mention to anybody that you did.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: January 2000