Many of us aren't exactly bargain shoppers; it's usually easier to stop at Best Buy and pick up any albums, DVDs or whatever else our 21st Century digital hearts may desire. But, pawn shops are a unique exception. It's in these second-hand stores we can find odd collections of jewelry, instruments, televisions and maybe even an old Atari system. At some point in most peoples' lives, it's likely they've bought something second-hand that only they find interesting or to be of any value. To paraphrase Mos Def, value isn't quantified only in sex appeal or monetary worth.
Obviously, Feenom Circle is very well aware of this. The Pawn Shop serves as a smart metaphor because amongst much of the used crap found in a real pawn shop, every so often one might be lucky to stumble across something priceless-whether that be in actual monetary value or just something no one else sees the beauty in.
In their biography it states: "The Feenoms are producing music that is neither mainstream nor underground, but a hybrid utilizing the best qualities of both extremes of hip hop." And listening to this album, it's surprising how well they are able to pull-off this seemingly difficult undertaking. "The Pawn Shop" is a self-produced, collaborative effort of three MC/Producers-Sidebee, Oatmeal, and Rawj-who each add their own unique touch to easily-listenable tracks and even chime-in on chorus and harmony on laid-back tracks like "Subtle," not unlike Jurassic 5. But for those who think Jurassic 5 is a little corny or piggy-backed only by the strong performances of one or two particular MCs, Feenom Circle suffers no such fate; all three are nice on the mic. "Subtle" is definitely one of the better tracks on "The Pawn Shop," as light guitar chords are strummed intermittently over a liquid metal bass line and all three MCs display some of their most fluid flows.
The upbeat narrative on "Frisco Disco" is a semi-satirical swipe at today's materialistic club scene which makes it easily-relatable for those who aren't dripping in ice or popping bottles of Cris'. On this track, like many of the others, Feenom Circle shows their ability to croon a bit, and it's refreshing to hear some guys whose talents span across disciplines. "Hood Child" explores the trials and tribulations of growing up over a wistful guitar loop that searches its way up and down the neck:
"The endless width of the sky
The Fahrenheit is a lie
A pleasant memory filed inside the mind of a child
The sun covered our eyes
We felt the mercury rise
Blue skies, clear without a bird in flight
Just enough wind to carry our kites to a height
Where our dreams would soon be casted
Long Indian summers our friendships outlasted
Forging a brotherhood, pride in our neighborhood
As young seeds that grew in the same soil
Days were hot enough to bring the ocean to a boil
So little we know about the outside world
And that the butterflies we chased would soon turn into girls
Growing out of these play clothes
It's time to head back in, summoned
By our mothers when the street lights dim"
Other highlights include the a nice piano riff over organ chords and the stuttering pops of a snare a la ?uestlove of The Roots from the end of "You Got Me" on the socially-conscious "Masters Too." The neo-soul-tinged "I Ain't Askin'" should hold the listener's attention with interesting lyrics concerning women, as does the R&B flavored "Days Go By."
"The Pawn Shop" suffers a bit from the first half of the album being superior to some of the tracks on the back end, but at just eleven tracks long (ten real tracks, and one bonus which is mostly instrumental), this album is well-conceived and tidy throughout. The Feenom Circle obviously take pride in their work as the music stands on its own with solid lyrics and production and without the help of gimmicks or anything of the sort. Unfortunately, there is not one track which really stands-out as far superior than any of the others, but that is also a good thing because no track is poor.
Though they may not possess the celebrity or trademark of some middle-ground artists such as OkayArtists Common, Talib Kweli, and The Roots, The Feenom Circle is definitely challenging to have their name mentioned with such artists as they are obsessed with neither underground credibility nor commercial success. There's definitely potential in this group to put out an altogether stellar product, and give fans something to hang their hats on.
Whether or not you ever shop at second-hand establishments, "The Pawn Shop" shows that it is definitely possible to find great value in what seems to be the purgatory of underground and commercial music.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 4, 2003