The five-man group called Custom Made is not to be taken lightly. This crew has been sharpening their teeth in the Los Angeles underground since high school, working their way around the battle circuit. "LA State of Mind," their first professional foray, represents the culmination of their collective past in the scene. Evoking (perhaps intentionally) Nas' timeless classic from "Illmatic," their debut album aims to put these cats on the map, locally and nationally.
They do a damn fine job of it too. The rest, I guess, is up to the masses. "Informal Introduction" starts things off with a bang, as Element spits:
"Way better than your average
so fuck the mediocre
speak with a wise tongue
and rap like I was older
my acts are precipitated
the raps are sophisticated
the master of innovation
consider me your worst enemy in this industry
with the word of hip-hop
preaching it like a ministry"
Skandalous Scoobs and B-Love follow suit with raw verses of their own. Scoobs also provides the production, as he does throughout the 10-song LP. The beat is nothing spectacular, but with the emcees flowing the way they are, it doesn't need to be.
"Take It" is a B-Love solo track, and he rocks seriously hard over an ill piano loop. By this point, it is more than apparent that Custom Made has put in serious work prior to the conception of "LA State of Mind." B-Love dissects the track with a vicious battle rap that features a slight twist:
"What, you scared to put your feelings on a recycle tree?
no more lies is what this rap cycle needs
I don't like public education, learn what I'm about
doin' the rhymes by myself on the corner
asking for ashy indo
and that's how much I loved it"
B-Love demonstrates remarkable charisma, putting his personal touch on all of the lyrics. Simply put, "Take It" is an excellent contribution.
The high point of Custom Made's debut comes on "What Is It." Element, Scoobs, and Aneek ride a catchy accordion loop, the likes of which I have only heard on "Madvillainy" earlier this year. Despite appearing as a straightforward battle track, "What Is It" becomes inspiring due to Scoobs' stirring production. Don't get me wrong, the three emcees bring their "A" game, but Scoobs brings the song to life with his remarkable work on the boards.
Other standouts on this short album are "Workers In The Mind" and "Not Like This." Custom Made performs on the mic at every turn, so it's no surprise that the best cuts are the most musically sound. Staggered pianos and catchy orchestral loops are Scoobs' specialty, and he truly shines on these two joints. With his crew carrying most of the vocal responsibility, he concocts some serious funkiness for them to ride. Along with "What Is It," the highlights of the album come here.
"LA State Of Mind" gets introspective towards the end, with "Escape Your Mind" and "Thoughts When I Wake Up." Throughout the album, Custom Made demonstrates superior talent, and the leisurely pace of these two does not disrupt their flow. If anything, they are a welcome addition to the mix, adding a bit of variety to the battle-heavy record. Scoobs continues to wreck as well, providing smooth creations that fit perfectly with the rappers' melancholy lamenting.
"B-Solo," is the final track, and allows B-Love another shot at standing alone. He succeeds admirably once again, and emerges as Custom Made's lyrical head. The other four certainly don't pull any punches either, but B-Love brings the thuggish charm and straight up skills that will keep him around for a while. The beauty of "LA State Of Mind" is that all five emcees keep kicking it, coming at the listener from all angles at once. They don't cover any new ground from a conceptual standpoint, but each one is blessed with serious ability on the mic. They mostly don't venture beyond bashing wack rappers, but they do it with such wit and insightfulness that the lack of variety doesn't matter Because of this, the ten songs fly by effortlessly. The lyrical proficiency of this crew's debut will leave you wishing they had tacked on a few more at the end.
The other star here is Skandalous Scoobs. The beats he concocts are not terribly diverse, but each one is quite appealing. He doesn't try to do too much, and because of this, the music meshes well with the vocals. This is what holds the album together, the combination of well-executed rhymes and unassuming, bumping beats by Scoobs. In this case, the sum is definitely greater than its parts.
You've been warned. Watch out for these guys. They don't try anything spectacular, and the result is a superior album. "LA State Of Mind" is short and concise, at only 10 offerings, but too little is far better than a 23 track effort drenched in pointless skits. Each cut springs to life with forceful vocals and mostly understated production. Custom Made won't knock your socks off, but they certainly will get your head moving. If you want to hear hip-hop done right, look no further. This crew is here to stay.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: May 18, 2004