I.T. is Infinito and Thaione, two vets from Chicago's South Side. Both were part of the now defunct Nacrobats and have been involved in a great number of projects, especially Infinito, who will run down a long list of releases and aliases when asked about his track record. Their collaborative effort "Low Income Housing" is the official debut of Domination Recordings, the new venture of DJ Fisher, formerly of Day By Day Entertainment, which did a good job providing us with quality indie hip-hop: Count Bass D, LightHeaded, Prophetix, Chops, Cadence, and more.
The most apparent quality of "Low Income Housing" is the beats. Thaione Davis composes organic Chi-Town hip-hop in the tradition of the Molemen. His tracks may seem simple, but in hip-hop, as anywhere, the simplest things are often the hardest to achieve. From his tracks, you can tell Thaione is a man with a musical vision. They're all more or less sparse and smooth, not particularly spectacular, but every detail betrays the beatsmith who can spend hours until his shit sounds right. In his case, that means unique beats with character, defined not so much by their ingredients but by how they interact together, to the point where you can't be sure if you're listening to sample-based hip-hop or not. Musicianship like this is in fact very rare, where music can transcend the narrow confines of genres, instruments and references.
On "Acknowledge the After," a harmonica glides over strategically placed drums and a spacey bass/organ hybrid. "Green Card" hooks you with hints of JB grunts and breakbeats before reeling you in with organic, headnod-inducing guitar strumming, "Some Wise Water" is a collage of old rhythm and blues records, while "Casual Libertation" and "Low Income Housing" reverbrate with a soft thump. "MK Ultra" and "My Life Creation #63" add soulful bits to that thump, reminiscent of a J. Rawls or Hi-Tek creation. "You Are Not It" loops bluesy guitar licks that echo confidently over a bouncing beat, while "Bubblegum Artist" reflects the song's theme with angrily pounding drums and a disgruntled bassline.
Thaione kicks the occasional verse or hook, but vocally this is mostly Infinito's time to shine - or not. The self-described Regular Black Dude manages to keep his eye on the bigger picture and focus on certain details, but seems unable to translate his concerns into comprehensive songs. At times, his self-absorbed anti-industry stance even reminds you of Kool Keith. His voice is similar to Planet Asia, a young, engaging tone, but his timing is not particulary precise, his rhyme schemes not really intricate, his rhetoric not refined. Yet unlike many of his peers, he has an agenda that goes beyond his own personal welfare. It might well be that in our radio-formatted day and age, Infinito works in ways too mysterious for the average listener to grasp. Some of the song titles here seem to have little to no relation to the lyrical content. "1884 Berlin Conference," referring to the conference where European colonists divided the African continent amongst themselves, doesn't contain the faintest historic detail. "Low Income Housing" tells you nothing about low income housing. "Equal Opportunity Employment" is an instrumental. "Samuel L. Jackson VS. Dolomite," a duet with Thaione, gets its title from the Dolomite and Samuel L. Jackson snippets it uses in the break.
Eventually, though, you realize that Infinito (who is also a painter) is something of an expressionist - his need to express himself is stronger than the pressure to conform to any one format. He virtually raps what he feels like. Early on, he invites us: "In a unemotional world, go and feel my pain." That doesn't mean that only his personal strife matters to him, on the contrary, he has a clear vision of how the world should be, and how it shouldn't be. If he often refers to rap, it's because that's one of the things he cares about and has first-hand experience of, but indeed rap serves as a surrogate here to illustrate how black people continually have to fight for theirs. "Why do everything we do some others get a share?" Infinito asks, arguing: "You think everything's fair - cause you not black."
Keeping it explicitly "un-jiggy," Infinito knows it's an uphill battle, realizing: "When you love yourself it's a problem where I'm from / You can't just be runnin' around saying: black people unite." But that won't prevent him from trying a few songs later: "And I say: black people unite / and I say: black people must fight." Notice that this is a condensed statement made in this review, Infinito himself tends to be all over the place with this lyrics. Still, there's always a chance that he drops a pair of straight lines, like in "1884 Berlin Conference":
"You not the illest to me, you just like all the rest
Old school rules makes my hip-hop the best
Outside the lines, I'm politically incorrect
made you upset, huh, but still get respect
Nobody has to like me, I'm secure of myself
the perfect display of one knowin' his own self"
Despite its familiar subject matter, this album lacks traditional hip-hop quotables, those hot 16 kids are eager to quote. Unless you're going for the shorest of soundsbites, such as the dead-on "that's not hip-hop, that's just men playing roles." The main problem here is that any rapper who rhymes, "we fight with intelligence, you gotta get guns," raises some expectations. Infinito doesn't meet these expectations a hundred percent, as he is thought-provoking only in the broadest sense. But that's also what makes him refreshing, even moreso as he doesn't succumb to the frustration of the struggling indie rapper.
Rather than a master lyricist, Infinito establishes himself as an independent mind: "It's not easy for you to comprehend what I'm saying / Going the easy way out, you need to stop obeying / In a uneducated world of ignorant and dumb / cold-blooded people walk through the world numb." And if you think it through, you can see why the track where I.T. relate tales of rappers pursuing pipe dreams is called "Green Card," why "MK Ultra" is named after the CIA's '50s mind-control experiments MK-ULTRA, or that "My Life Creation #63" chronicles a certain chapter in Infinito's life, "when hip-hop wasn't pop and the mainstream world didn't care about us / we had a break and a few turntables / a couple cans of paint and some broken slang language."
But clearly the most intriguing - and also best - track is "Some Wise Water," because for once Infinito is able to focus on a concept, without losing his special touch:
"She loves me, she loves me not
Huh, but this not another song on hip-hop
See, when I first met her, it was a long time ago
She's the element water, natural to the soul
Even at an older age we would still turn the page
Strawberry Letter 23, I never knew she was for me
Emotional and relaxed yet animated, sensitive
If I had a moment, mine's was her's to give
So intrigued by her intelligence, she listens to me
My perfect combination, ain't another for me
This lady could have those kids I'm afraid to bring
She could even have that song that I can't sing
That moon in my life that makes the sun complete
When I open up, she can even have my trust
because it's not another day, no more livin' in lust
The day I don't stress is when you open up my eyes
A reason to exist and bring meaning to life
She don't even have to tell me, I can read it in her mind"
Not long after Thaione advises competition to "switch up yo style, get a different type of rhythm," you realize that I.T. themselves don't need that type of advice because they already got a different type of rhythm. And it's their very own, too. Together they teamed up for a refined jam session, Thaione supplying original quality beats, Infinito complimenting them with his lively performance.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 16, 2004