What's in a name? Quite a lot if that name was chosen on purpose. Hip-hop has known plenty of funny, stupid, absurd, as well as many meaningful names. MC Hammer, Ice-T, Noreaga, A Tribe Called Quest, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Brand Nubian, Public Enemy and many more come to mind. But I don't think anybody ever answered to a name that embodies +my+ definition of hip-hop like these newcomers from the Bronx, Strange Sanity. There is indeed a strange sanity to hip-hop and everything it encompasses. Because through all the madness that just mandatorily seems to be a part of hip-hop shines the ability to talk sense in a world where talk has become cheap, the urge to make sense out of events that seem to be nothing more than vagaries of chance. And if I take a look at myself, I must say that while my obsession with hip-hop is past sane, at the same time it has helped ensure my sanity in an increasingly insane world. Rap is like the mental hospital whose patients often see the world clearer than the rest of us, and that's why it indeed exudes a 'strange sanity'.
But let's move on to the crew that bears this meaningful moniker. Brothers Blak Skar and Del Cloga are following up their 2000 debut EP "Bronx Breadrens" with their self-titled album on Marcion Records. Together they exercise a dry, rhythmical delivery that's strictly underground. They both sport a similar style, rooted in freestyle association, piling up consecutive multi-syllable rhymes. But don't expect any stupefying lyrical tricks from these two, these millstones grind coarsely and what they produce would be hard to stomach if it wasn't processed through the beat machine maintained by producer Phil Rust. Make no mistake, this is as underground as hip-hop can get, yet it can still be enjoyed by those who don't constantly have to peer over the cutting edge for a thrill. In other words: you can apply everlasting hip-hop standards like 'Does it rock?' or 'What can I learn from it?' to this album. "Facts of Life" is placed into a soundscape that is almost (electro-)industrial, but the hard hitting beat still manages to come off funky. In case you feel that El-P's beats for Cannibal Ox just lack that certain funkiness, then this album might be for you. However, you might have to lower your lyrical expectations. There's no double-meaning in Strange Sanity's description of their New York, they make, albeit in a slightly different form, the usual statements that range from bold to bland. They do have a knack for catchy hooks though, as strange as that may sound.
Overall, "Strange Sanity" boasts a musical variety and innovation that is rarely heard nowadays. "Poetic Pros" rides on a calm and confident drum pattern, "Dayz R Dun" may be a rap rarity as it nearly gets by without any drums, just hi-hats, which is all the more interesting as the producer originally comes from drumming. If called for, he even has the gangster grooves down pat, such as "Lyrical Stickup", where Strange Sanity put up a lyrical brickwall to fend off trespassers:
"Haters never return favors
they gon' learn later
you have a bad resume tryin' to earn paper
you freeloader, second-hand weed smoker
you better respect the man D Cloga
snakes infect the land like Ebola."
Like true hustlers Strange Sanity always keep their eyes on the prize. But unlike Jay-Z who was ready for retirement after a couple of records thanks to his smooth, slick style, Strange Sanity have to work hard for it, and it shows in their music. The archaic "Runnin Mad" makes being a musician look like coal mining, not diamond cutting. But since Strange Sanity put mental health above monetary wealth, that seems fit, even though nowadays the "rap game is glamour and glitter" ("Glamar N Glitta"). "My motivation is my mind," proclaims Cloga in "It's a Must" before they reminisce over their beginnings on the block in the 'Bron-x' (as they prefer to spell it). The track comes complete with a mood-matching beat, which is pretty much always the case here. Whether it's the sonic boom of "Feel Us" or the storytelling vibe of "Dayz R Dun" and "Settle the Score", the beats, as strange as they sometimes get, they always report for their assigned duty. Every one of these truly mind-boggling instrumentals can be examined at the end of the CD, slightly shortened to accomodate the total playing time. Marcion Records might actually be on to something here: instead of clogging up those 80 minutes that a CD holds with filler songs, why not cut it down to a good hour and fill up the rest with the tightest instrumentals?
It's easy to label someone who doesn't follow any mainstream trend 'original', but I think in Strange Sanity's case it's deserved. Without being too much of a non-conformist crew, they seem to have found a form of expression that is totally their own. As an indication serves the use of unique slang terms like the recurring 'mannequin' (for fakes of all kinds). I'm not sure if their talent is that deep that its main features are still hidden to me ("Deep Talent"), as I find myself often wondering about their way of wording things, but if you think about it, that's exactly what makes a rapper original: when it takes some time to get used to him. On the other hand, it didn't take me too long to get used to Strange Sanity, but maybe that's because I'm very familiar with the 'strange sanity' of rap music myself. How about you?
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: April 2, 2002