In 1996, on their unexpected but powerful comeback album "The New World Order," New Jersey's Poor Righteous Teachers vented their pent-up frustration about the large-scale power shift in hip-hop on songs such as "They Turned Gangsta" and "Conscious Style," strong indictments of a rap community that had traded in its political and spiritual sensibilities for a basic surival-of-the-fittest philosophy. Faithful Five Percenters, PRT lamented how there were less and less 'gods' teaching knowledge of self, and more and more 'gangstas' pursuing personal wealth. Historically however the 'god' and the 'gangsta' are both products of the same timeframe (1986-1989), and have co-existed ever since, with the latter arguably being the more fertile species.
Clearly identified by the author as a "righteous rap duo" in our coverage of their debut album "The Self Science," Self Scientific are back with a 'mixtape' CD entitled "Gods and Gangsters." The CD reflects the diversity of life and hip-hop in LA. Contradictions included. Left to their own, Self Scientific operate mostly in righteous mode. On "Rap Is Outta Control," rapper Chace Infinite, the "young nigga with a old soul," asks:
"Who woulda ever thought you gotta be a thug to go pop?
Or get shot to sell records a lot?
I wanna be rich but a fool I'm not
On my own shit while niggas want you to be like Pac"
On "Circa 89," he argues that "it's hard makin' records about love / it's easy to make records about weapons and slugs / or felons and thugs, or bitches and drugs / it's safe to say that nowadays that's what niggas love / they want the latest beef on they mixtapes to burn / every rhyme is a open letter to whom it may concern." These words ring certainly true at a time when the rap world is abuzz with beefs once again. "Seven" is where Chace's righteous side shows the strongest, as he preaches:
"Niggas want the wealth and need knowledge first
These raps ain't nothin' but words
But shit gets real when niggas test what you say in your verse
To me that's how famous niggas got to cease
when rappers cross the line between the booth and the street
The street force niggas to get security guards
I remember niggas buildin' that unity, god
And it was better, cause everybody knew who they was
Now the money got niggas away from right thinkin'
For that thousands'll die this evening
The fact that we are the original beings
means nothing when in the public we portray heathens"
On "Inner City," Chace is willing to extend a hand to the gangsters, realizing that "bein' from LA we all associated in some way." And two tracks later, on "Jealousy," he's ready to embrace the criminal element whose presence in hip-hop he elsewhere laments: "My conglomerate consists of killers in the mix / SA's, Bloods and Crips and real niggas 'bout they chips / [...] / Self Scientific is gees, nigga, you better ask / somebody 'fore you get knocked flat on your ass."
It would be too easy to diagnose Self Scientific with schizophrenia. In reality this type of duality is part of rap music's make-up that incorporates the mental, physical and spiritual struggle on the streets. That's why LA hip-hop has always brought forth MC's who weren't just street-smart, but smart period. That's why it would have been cool to hear established voices of reason like Tray Deee, Bad Azz, WC or Quik on this mixtape. Instead, the guests are mostly limited to Strong Arm Steady. If you're not familiar with SAS, Talib Kweli gives up the info on "Shame":
"Touch down, get up with the Strong Arm Steady Gang
Asia is a beast, nigga, Xzibit got the steady aim
Krondon got the streets, Phil got the trees ready, mang
That nigga Chace lace the beats spittin' bigger and better things
Khalil got the heat that come down like heavy rain"
This line-up seems not particularly up-to-date, though, as Xzibit (who recently featured Strong Arm Steady members on his "Weapons of Mass Destruction" album) is absent. But Mitchy Slick is here, and "Be Easy" indicates that Self Allah is also part of the crew. Is he the same guy as Born Allah who makes himself a couple of cameos? I have no idea. Blame this reviewer's ignorance and the notoriously unreliable Nature Sounds for any inaccuracies in this piece. From what I heard, this might actually be a re-issue of a record released last year on Self Scientific and DJ Mugg's joint venture Angeles Records, and it might then already have contained older material.
This would explain the variety of opinions, but it doesn't explain the blatantly thugged out Planet Asia of "For the Gods & Gangstas," it doesn't explain the gun talk in posse cuts like "Serious As it Gets" and "Triggerside," which suddenly present "street-level, heartfelt hip-hop from a gangsta's perspective" (Mitchy), and where Strong Arm Steady gets christened the "new N.W.A, Niggas With AK's from LA" (Krondon).
If anything, "Gods and Gangsters" makes it clear that the City of Angels remains a dangerous territory, a tangle of enemy lines running across town like the highway system. Too bad for Self Scientific and Strong Arm Steady that the most compelling description of this situation comes courtesy of guest Born Allah. On "Confrontation With a Gangsta," he puts a young banger in his place:
"He talkin' 'bout he Lil' So-and-So from Such-and-Such
I'm lookin' at him like, 'Homie, I gives a fuck'
Look, I'm Born Allah from the Nation of Gods and Earths
Now I can give you life or I can put you in the dirt
Noticed the bulge around your shit - oh now he can't speak
cause he gotta make it all the way to the car to get his heat
Damn man, that's too bad, du
and you ain't gon' get much traction in them house shoes
Who you think you frontin', fool, you ain't said nothin'
We can go hand to hand or we can get to bustin'
click-a-clackin', fuck the yappin'
See, I'm a supreme being, black man
and I hate ignorant niggas with a passion"
The conclusion is that Self Scientific probably would have fared better with a proper new album or with a Strong Arm Steady mixtape. But who knows, maybe it was a smart move not to show the gees the cold shoulder, or else they wouldn't get to hear more meaningful songs like "Change Pt. 1," "Seven" and "Amungst Gods":
"The youth fascinated with guns
I'm like fuck it, that's a good thing, we need to teach 'em how to use one
The police is always fuckin' with us
and it don't take much to have your black ass on the back of a bus
My generation is in love with ballin'
Consume and never save so we stay starvin'"
Musically, the mixtape format prevents "Gods and Gangsters" from achieving proper album status, but producer DJ Khalil validates his Soul Assassins spot alongside DJ Muggs and the Alchemist (check for their upcoming "Soul Assassins III" project) with Dilated Peoples-styled cuts ("Change Pt. 1"), with Eastsidaz-type beats ("Circa 89"), with Left Coast backpack tracks ("Seven"), with mixtape bangers ("Jealousy"), with Hammond soul ("Killaz & Builders"), with classical samples ("Shame"), etc. It's got a little bit of everything. Which turns out to be both a good and a bad thing in this case.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: March 8, 2005