Last year, the Alt.Rap newsgroup put their money where their mouths were and released a compilation of their best rappers titled "Battle Mode." While some of the rappers showed serious potential, including A to the L, Pizon and Phantom Syndicate, the album as a whole showcased the problem with "net battling." It's not hard to write a freestyle with great punchlines when it's just words on a screen, but if you can't flow and/or you don't have a good rhyming voice that doesn't translate well into mic skills.
In an ideal world, this review would praise a new and improved roster of MC's who built on what worked last time while eliminating the mistakes of the previous release. It's what I'd like to write, and I I have to admit my bias here: I'm a former alt.rapper myself. Go back far enough to "alt.rap.unsigned.tape" and you can even hear an embarassing track by yours truly decrying the evils of MTV. What did I learn from that experience? Some people write nice but spit whack. Unfortunately that lesson didn't sink in, as I recorded and released another musical mistake on the compilation "RMHH Vol. 2," from the newsgroup rec.music.hip-hop. When you do it once and you're whack you might deserve a second chance; when you do it twice and you're whack it's time to retire.
I learned that lesson, but I'm not sure that alt.rap has. The album does start out on a promising note though with Timid peforming the "Intro" over a nice chunky loop of rock guitars. While he's no Ras Kass or Eminem, Timid seems to have at least mastered the importance of flowing to the beat regardless of what you say. His words serve both as an answer to alt.rap's critics and a challenge to his competitors:
"We don't stop for the flow, we don't care who you is
We gon' tell this like that cause this is alt.rap biz
I'ma tell you last time, you thought my freestyle was written
Ummm, if you thought so, then you was just kiddin
yourself, cause you don't understand, the concepts I come with
You don't understand, how alt.rap get busy kid"
Timid is borderline to being a credible underground force here. The diction is slightly unclear, but I'm not sure if that's technique that needs improving or a better recording studio to lay down tracks. Unfortunately the momentum he builds up is killed by Analyze on "Half Y'all." A cornball synthesizer beat quickly grates the ears, and while this rapper is clearly out to prove that not all alt.rappers are white (either that or he spits the word "nigga" way too much) the fact he's not doesn't make him dope. His squeaky voice seems to not have hit puberty, as it repeatedly breaks verse after verse; and his braggadocio is just weak. "Think I don't have access to numerous guns? Never heard curiosity killed the cat? We seem to have a lot of Garfields and Felix in rap." Wow. That punchline just left me rolling on the floor laughing - NOT. When he says "I go back to high school with this frame of mind" in the third verse it just proves what I suspected all along.
It's not getting better on "1st Infiltry Radio" by All Topics and Fayce. Somebody didn't EQ this album, because the audio levels are way below the previous track. Somebody didn't master this song, because the rappers come in mixed way underneath Sir Sparks track. When you hear the track audibly skip like a badly ripped MP3 about 40 seconds in, it's over. NEXT! Thankfully Timid comes back to save the album from driving over a cliff like Thelma & Louise. While his bassline beat is a bit of a mess on "Blood-ink" it's still a step up musically and verbally from anything since the "Intro."
Unfortunately this pattern becomes epidemic throughout XIV:XIX - a couple of bad (sometimes awful) tracks followed by a decent one. Killah tries to get things started on "Gun Symphony" and while he has a decent voice, his acapella flow does nothing for me, nor does the construction of the concept musically by Krazy Kay: the sounds of "guns" firing, combined with Robocop samples, over a generic loop of some symphony playing. Did it need to be THAT fucking literal? At least Analyze does come off better than he did previously, spitting some nice lines with analogies to the Bulls, the Lakers, and Jesus Christ. "2 in the Mornin'" is a surprisingly uninteresting track though, despite Timid and Pizon teaming up together. It's probably due to the Digital Static beat, which sounds like an unfinished Terror Squad concept.
And here we go again with tracks that are so whack they're the opposite of fat - they're anorexic. Rhythmic and Chill could only compete for "which of these MC's is least interesting" over a Rhythmic beat that whistles the way nails scrape blackboards. When you hear "Save Me" by Analyze afterwards, it's ironically appropriate and surprisingly refreshing. Despite his young age, he redeems himself wirth a heartfelt rap over this simple but effective beat:
"Hoes, done shattered my dreams, I have no wifey
I'm up nightly sippin Nicetea, liquor ignite me
I like life, but life don't like me
I like mics well mics the only thing that excite me
God, I know it's deeper than this
Take my hand before I fall too deep in this fuckin abyss
Depressed teens all cuttin they wrists
I come outside, it's like I'm playin a game of Russian roulette"
"Bloody Basics 3" by Killah and Timid is alright, although the black keys at the far left end of the piano are overworked a bit; especially when paired with a simple tick-tock beat that builds up no mojo. The mix is their greatest enemy here, as the bass heavy keys drown out any chance of hearing their (probably ill) freestyle verbals. "Showboat" by Skrabble is 180 degrees the opposite - it's far too easy to hear him, and he's not worth hearing. Last time I derided DOKool for sounding like the Andy Dick of rappers, but this guy is the rapping Michael Richards (think Kramer from "Seinfeld"). The only bigger joke is his beat; to be brutally honest, it just plain stinks.
Despite what I had to endure thus far, I pushed myself onward to listen to the album to it's grim conclusion. One of the album's most rewarding moments was the entire first 75 seconds of "Final Magnus 2," if only because nobody was rapping the entire time. Old school newsgroup veteran Laze drops in on "Who's That Writing?" with one of the few tracks that's INTENTIONALLY comical, but his rap can't save another motonous beat from hitting the bottom of the scrap pile. "Speak On It" loses any hope of success just two lines into the first verse with the rap: "Got me like Stevie, Wonder-ing about these visions." Possibly the worst name drop in rap since "like Andre, I'm Rison." A to the L shows up for "Lick it Bitch" on track sixteen, but it's too little and a little too late at this point. "When Darkness Reflects" is so bad, it sounds like I was rapping on it. Terrible mix, a spoken word rapper named Andrew Octopus with no enthusiasm to his flow, and nothing Killah and Darth do can redeem Krazy Kay's sonic nightmare. "Alt.Rap 2K2" at least ends the album on something of a high note, since Timid offers his best beat of the whole CD while A to the L, Pizon and Analyze all spit okay verses like a modern day "Symphony" with alt.rap instead of the Juice Crew.
It's never easy to write a review dogging something you had high hopes for as garbage, especially when you personally know some of the people involved. Nevertheless while "Battle Mode" was a worthwhile experiment that broke new ground in a newsgroup whose significance changed from a hip-hop discussion forum to an online rap battle over the years, "XIV:XIX" doesn't raise the bar any higher from the previous effort and actually falls short of the first release. I expect some of those friends may now consider me an enemy for saying this but whack is just whack - and I know from personal experience.
Music Vibes: 3 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 4 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 3.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 19, 2002