In today's age of diversity, labels and titles can often times be constricting and limiting. One might think Life For The Better (LFTB) would be difficult to categorize or label because the collective is comprised of ten members: Mr. Cleen, Banana 9, Ben Yomen, Afcelfe, DJ Jacko, Divided Line, DJ Stereotype, Plural Clarity, Offbeat and Shrodur. So, it's fair to assume that there's a lot of different minds bringing a lot of different styles to this operation. But, as the title "File Under: Hip Hop" would indicate, their goal is to create some music native to the hip hop culture. The result is both good and bad. For those in need of a label to put them into context, LFTB is definitely underground.
The better tracks show flashes of potential. "View from Tenth Street," featuring the spooky, piano-tinged beat of Afcelfe and rhymes of BenYomen. "Puppy Love," a DJ Jacko production, is perhaps the best track from "File Under: Hip Hop," however, it's unfortunate that, for whatever reason, the track is instrumental. A light piano riff builds steadily into a beautifully-chaotic montage of vocal samples until a decrescendo leaves us with just the original beat. "Inconsistent Characterization" features a mellow guitar part over a nice beat which may remind some of a Cody ChesnuTT track. Plural Clarity, who produced the track, also flows nicely over his own beat. Other highlights include "Wee Hours of the Night," produced by Offbeat, which boasts a dark, offkey piano chord.
LFTB definitely did themselves a favor as they pulled the right strings to land the solid guest production of DJ Stereotype from Styles of Beyond. The track, titled "At Large," obviously got some special consideration because the group's best lyrical performance, courtesy of Mr. Cleen, is reserved for the light, bouncy beat:
"Enter me, the fuse on the dynamite
I might flow tonight 'cause you ain't rhymin' right
You should design a mic meant to be held
By MCs who don't have any stories to tell
Too many wack groups get put on
They talk and talk and talk but don't say nothin'
They must be from, Babylon"
What seems to be the biggest obstacle for this group of guys is that they struggle to truly claim an individual, and-equally important-a collective identity. That's not to suggest that they should make 16 tracks which all sound alike, but the mark of successful artists is their ability to make fresh, new material while putting the stamp of their "sound" on it. The Wu Tang Clan is obviously the best example of the successful supergroup because each MC was distinct in style, voice and flow, and the majority of the production was handled by just one producer whose sound was easily recognizable. The case here is that LFTB uses a myriad of combinations and permutations of producers and MCs, which inevitably leads to a disparity in sound. The better tracks are uniquely eclectic, and the weaker ones are just too far off the deep end. While the majority of the production is pretty good, no MC comes to the forefront as doper or more recognizable than the others.
Music Vibes: 4.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10
Originally posted: October 28, 2003