Cunninlynguists :: Southernunderground :: Freshchest Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

The name might make you think they're a joke, and at times even they seem not to take themselves too seriously. After all, the title of their last album was "Will Rap for Food" and featured songs like "Thugged Out Since Cub Scouts" and "Fukinwichu." Regardless, the trio of Deacon the Villain, Mr. SOS (official group member since 2002) and Kno hold it down with underground hip-hop that's as dope as it is comical.

Lest you think "Southernunderground" is another of their whimsical titles, the trio actually do hail from points due South - Kno from Atlanta, SOS from Florida, and Deacon from Kentucky. You wouldn't know it from their debut or this followup album though, because the flows sound like any East coast backpacker cult favorite - and that's definitely meant as a compliment. On the promo copy at least, the fictional DJ Billy Bob pops in with the occasional "yee-HAW!" to remind you they are from the South, a comical element one would actually miss if cut from the CD; not unlike the infamous noises of braying animals recorded into reviewer copies of a De La Soul release.

Most of the music is handled by Kno throughout, who easily qualifies as one of the underground's most underrated. The whistling melody and soft jazzy backdrop of "Appreciation" could lull you to sleep, while "The South" has a boom bap and flute dap so snazzy you'd mistake it for The Beatnuts. "Rain" is a somber track with a Kanye West feel, split into halves with different predominant instruments unified by a common tempo and haunting chorus. The sporadic work handled by outsiders neither detracts from nor upstages Kno's beats, but instead sounds so appropriate to the mix you'd mistake them for his. RJD2's work on "Seasons" featuring Masta Ace is to Kno's "Doin Alright" as Domingo's "Southernunderground" is to Kno's "War." Trying to find a flaw in the music is as difficult as trying to block out Shaquille O'Neal in the lane - no matter what, they score.

No great beats are complete without great rhymes, so Deacon and SOS live up to the high standard these tracks set in admirable fashion. Of course, it's possible some of the lyrics are so Esoteric they'd even go over 7L's head, but readers of the CoFlow/Def Jux boards are undoubtedly going to chuckle when they hear this one from "The South":

"Yeah, and I can battle rappers for cash or sell trees
But I feel like +WillHigh+, cause I just wanna drop an +El-P+
Respect when it drops if not I make your girl put her breath on my cock
while tellin her it tastes like peppermint schnapps"

It's not all jokes though, as "Doin Alright" illustrates a more serious side:

"Back in the 16th century, way WAY back in the day
Nostradamus predicted the end of the world will be on May, 5th
1999 and I don't know how
But as I'm writing this that's only one day from right now
What the fuck? I pull up, to shelter my truck
Look up - NAH, Earth ain't about to erupt
Open my door, get up, slam it shut, Marv whattup?
Let me get a bag of ice and a stack of plastic cups
For a, minute we chat bout life and alladat
Then we dap, check you out tomorrow night I'll be back
Grab a, beadie and light it, turn the key and start drivin
Back off into the night and, then I start to get frightened
Thinkin - damn! In my whole life I was just a dreamer
I never got to put on a show in a packed arena
I wanted to go on Rap City and act witty
But all I ever did was put up with hoes who act shitty
What a whack pity - damn, was I choosin a road
that didn't get me there in time and I'd be losin our globe
Hold up I'm losin control, thinkin realistically on it
What could fuck up a planet in one day without warnin?
And even if the world does end, I can't be mad at guys
Cause life coulda been much worse, at least I'm satisfied
At least my dad's alive, married to my mother
I have a sister and friends that I can call my brothers
At least I have life, some people they life is stolen
Set up for a crime but behind bars is where they hold 'em
We got kids killin kids cause Earth is cold
Women usin abortions as a form of birth control
It hurts the soul and leaves a scar on your conscience
But it's a blessing that I made it through this nonsense
So even if this would be my last night
At least when it's over I'd be doin alright"

If you think that's heavy, the second verse is about the World Trade Center. The whole vibe of the song though is ultimately that you should give up about worrying what could happen, and just live life to the fullest. That's a concept the Cunninlynguists embrace, from the raucous reminiscence of "Old School" to the straight up skills of the Cunnin crew and Masta Ace on "Seasons" to flip the script political thoughts on "Dying Nation." No matter where you tune in on "Southerunderground" you'll find a well thought out album where the craft of hip-hop arts is taken seriously even when it's made silly. By mixing the absurd, the abstract, and the absolution of a rapper's soul, the Cunninlynguists have created an album which is the paramount opposite of "sophomore slump." These sophomores get straight A's, occasionally sounding nerdy but in the process always sounding funky.

Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10

Originally posted: March 4, 2003