Underground rap is here to stay. I'm not sure if the same can be said for mainstream rap. The reason for that: what is 'mainstream' is ultimately defined by a small number of companies that run the few major labels. 'Underground' may be the term used for music that is not yet deemed worthy of financial investment, but what it really means is musicians being in charge of their own output. If one day big business decides rap music doesn't generate enough money anymore, it will quickly be abandoned, but all the creative minds who caught the bug will continue to make music in the... underground, for lack of a better term.
Underground hip-hop in the new millennium means also that damn near everybody has the means to put out product. It's like the underground debut has replaced the demo tape. Only that these acts aren't desperately looking for deals anymore, they're satisfied with staying 'independent' in the truest sense of the word: they write their own stuff, they produce their own stuff and they put it out on their own. There's two sides to that: no record label staffers telling you what's hot and what's not, therefore total freedom of expression. The flipside of that would be: lack of quality control and myriads of hip-hop releases that each reach only a small audience. In this case it's Arecee doing his thing in Iowa, knowing he lacks any mainstream mass appeal: "I'm a hermit, I'm not urban at all."
Imagine the astonishment of Eminem witnessing the leap in popularity from "Infinite" and "The Slim Shady EP" to "The Slim Shady LP". That's not likely to happen to Arecee, just like it won't happen to the man who immediately comes to mind when you hear Arecee: Aesop Rock. But hold it, although he bears strong vocal resemblance to Aesop Rock, there's nothing enigmatic about Arecee. As he proclaims in "Hoe Shit": "Nothing hidden 'bout me, all upfront / not nice like kittens, I'm just blunt / like my time of month, do what I want / act like a bitch that's bleeding from her cunt." If acting bitchy includes tearing into other rappers, then Arecee does that too, but the focus is really on him and his drinking habits. Drinking is the reoccurring theme here. He goes to lengths about it on "Acceptable Treatment", but it pops up in almost every song. Smoking seems not to be that much of a problem. "Choke" may be about self-desctruction, but it's more a metaphorical than an actual choking. He even takes a break to demolish the vocal booth he's recording in to release some tension. Dude sounds pretty messed up so far; probably why he's wishing for a better tomorrow in "A Better Design":
"Where's mother nature? See, our fate's lately
been in the hands of fakes like Bill Gates
Streamline design, no abnormality
built all around us, our own reality
powered by hunger for progress
It's no wonder we're all becoming jobless
Nature in all its elegance somewhat irrelevant
next to the rebellion of artificial intelligence
Can't upgrade your OS
Do what the government says is best
Your chest, chip implanted
not your choice, it was demanded
Take for granted what's organic
implement it slow to avoid panic
They've landed, they planned it
(Who are they?) I don't know, can't stand it"
The most mature cut on here, "A Better Design" springs from the disparity between nature and technology that many of us feel uncomfortable with, "drawn toward future but achin' for the past / instincts steadfast were breaking like glass / I can't relax, try to stay intact / gonna be like Kaczynski, gotta live in a shack." Sending out bombs to innocent people is certainly not the way to go (as 'Unabomber' Ted Kaczynski did), but many people feel alienated by modern society where we can't even trust our own senses anymore. "Grey" describes that feeling of numbness as Arecee, Know1 and Gai Den report the failure of their sense organs. Unfortunately, the other song that also seems to be about bodily functions and brain chemistry, "Vital Signs" with Sage Francis, is pure junk. They come off exactly like the clones that surfaced in the Company Flow fallout that many expect them to be, but they're nowhere near the intensity of Co Flow. In that same tradition "Someday, One Day...", where Arecee vows to make some changes in his life, strays away from basic hip-hop, musically. The strong point of Arecee's efforts has to be his production. My personal highlights are "Choke" with its flute loop and bumping beats and the swift flowing "Hoe Shit", but whether he's just associating freely or comes up with a concept, he has the knack for picking the right beats for the right songs. Only on two occasions he tries to copy some format (the aforementioned "Vital Signs" and the closing "Whatever's Clever") and fails.
For some reason rappers like to put childhood pictures on the covers of their records. While we see R.A. the Rugged Man (if it is him) already pointing guns as a youngster on the cover of his latest 12" ("Don't Wanna Fuck Wit"), on the cover of "Direction for Children" Arecee (if it is him) is protected by what might be an older sibling laying his arms around the younger brother who displays a perfectly black eye that's so fresh it still is red. No need for posing with daddy's gun, this kid duked it out for himself. And then on the back of the cover we see the same boy sipping on a can of Coors at age 4 or 5. This dude just had to become a rapper with a drinking problem, still "havin' the faintest idea of why I wanna be famous / I guess so I can claim to the plaintiff that it's only entertainment."
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: January 24, 2002