"We Got Our Own Thang." Heavy D & The Boyz once rapped to the rhythm of a Teddy Riley beat, as they helped make swingbeat one of the first successful spin-offs of hip-hop. If hip-hop is, at least in some ways, about having your own thing, then it would seem as if having your own thing has gotten increasingly difficult over the years. But guess what, it became easier instead. Sure, as a form of music, as a lifestyle, as a sub-culture even, hip-hop has lost much of its original exclusive appeal. Just to notice that the top-selling rapper is white almost says it all. But upon closer inspection, if hip-hop is your thing, you have much more options today than 15 years ago, during hip-hop's golden years. Back then you had 20, 25 avantgarde acts everybody focused on, all highly original. Today that originality may have spread thin, but you have hundreds of acts that can, in one way or another, be considered cutting edge. That includes everyone from the underrated bestseller to the ridiculed bedroom producer. So it's actually easier to have your own thing, or at least that something special you share with a somewhat exclusive circle of people.
But the real catch is that having your own thing and reaching the masses isn't mutually exclusive. Throughout history, some of the most individual rappers have had the broadest appeal. Whereas others who seemed to possess the ultimate crossover formula couldn't hold anyone's attention. Having many people relate to what you say doesn't mean you can't be a highly original rapper, one who flows different, who writes different, who thinks different, who quite literally has his or her own thing going. People as diverse as Jay-Z, E-40, Queen Latifah, Brotha Lynch Hung, Scarface, Nelly, Slug, Kanye West, Too $hort, Aesop Rock, The Notorious BIG, Jean Grae... Often, casual consumers don't share these standards with their shopping lists copied from the charts, but the true hip-hop fans, the streets, the geeks are still looking for the exceptional, and that preference ensures that rap remains an art, as strong as the entertainment and business aspects of it always will be.
So give it up for E&J Blood Brothaz, because they too perceive their profession as an art: "There's two paths in life, choose one - I'm an artist," they assure themselves on their debut. Dirty Dread und Chucklez most definitely got their own thing, to the point where it becomes a little difficult for the rest of us to grasp the meaning behind their fusion of labyrinthine lyrics and low-budget beats. With a style somewhere between abstract and arbitrary, E&J Blood Brothaz trade verses about - in the broadest of terms, a hostile world and brotherly bonds. It's hard to get any more specific, because E&J chop their lyrics up to a degree where you can hardly see an argument take shape or a thought being extended over more than a few words. In what seems like an endless stream of consciousness, they stitch together fragments of phrases in a seemingly erratic manner: "...pain we intake, absorb / no rewards / tears poured / stolen whips, pedals floored / life precious / roam restless / (...) / sombrero, Don Pedro / gun deliro / .45 blow / reach your high, reach your low / time fast and not slow / merciless / no one deserve this / birds chirpless / a path that's curveless / write a journal / bleed internal / pop guns like colonel / open your external..."
It's like someone kidnapped a hung over Cam'Ron and a depressed Killah Priest and put them in a studio to freestyle, telling them to find some common ground. There are rays of hope, where inspiration comes over them and they do manage to make sense for a fleeting moment. Bits like:
"We form like oregami, an army"
"Justice obstructed, every minute another abducted"
"Some live, others on life-support"
"Understand me, these streets are uncanny"
"There's two paths, to every story there's two halves"
"No time of tranquil, how could we be thankful"
Some of them are even a bit longer:
"We build our foundation, remain stationed
Give 'em what they cravin'
If you ask me, I'm just maintainin'"
"Fit on my thinking cap
grab a paper scrap
my pen writes like chicken scratch"
"Situation dicey, think wisely
Coyotes like Wile E.
Humans soon wiped out entirely"
The weirdest part is that a lot of the lyrics revolve around observing, planning and taking action. E&J apparently realize that not the fittest, but the most clever survive, but the advice they come up with in the process is too disjointed to deduct anything useful from it. However, as surreal as their steez is, they succeed at relaying a sense of urgency. When they open the martial "Pressure Cooker" with the premonition "everybody watch your back / this world is about to crack," that's really all the guidance the listener needs. So maybe some people are able to read between these jumbled lines and will approach these raps as some sort of subliminal messages. There's no denying the almost zen-like serenity of lines like "there's beginners and enders, receivers and senders" and "when your wounds open, who's the sewer?" In a genre that worships 'lyricists', though, you expect a clearer message from someone who calls himself a "Socrates student," "without college, but still scholared."
If you look at this CD or give it a cursory listen, it's easy to mistake it for local Bay Area or Down South gangsta rap with its keyboard beats, stale flows, crammed layout and announcement of upcoming releases on Among Friends Records, who tries to promote itself as the "#1 Independent Record Label In The East Coast.' Yet this album is only half as gory and ig'nant as it looks. As a duo, the Queens-born Dirty Dread and Chucklez really do share the same outlook on life and rap music. They try to watch their language, and despite heavy gunplay violence is rarely included for its own sake. Realizing that "life's priceless," the siblings are keen to establish some ethical guidelines, reminding us that "the evils you do may not get to you but your next akin" and that eventually "all sins catch up."
"Life has no instruction" Dirty Dread says on his solo track "Aquatic." Intended or not, that disorientation is ever-present on "Vatos: A Family Affair." Combined with cheap production devoid of any bounce, any boom, any funk, any crunk, this results in a rap album so bizarre I wouldn't even call it wack, it's just some other shit. For instance, hoping for some airplay, the cover announces three 'Smash Hit Singles' (all edited for radio). But honestly, it's hard to imagine a parallel universe where these songs receive airplay, let alone become hit singles.
Music Vibes: 2.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 3.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 3 of 10
Originally posted: December 21, 2004