Below The Surface claims to be touted by some as the next Beastie Boys, and while the group does its best to imitate Hip-Hop's original partying white boys they don't possess the charisma and originality that made the Beastie Boys so popular. Hailing from Atlanta, Mala and Sev-Leven borrow elements from their ATL brethren to make what could best be described as crunk-pop. These overall watered down beats are combined with party-themed lyrics to make uninspired and generic music.
The one highlight among the 16 tracks is "Southern Belle" featuring Scales from Nappy Roots. The high and low pitched guitar licks on the track combine to make a catchy and bouncy beat. Below The Surface come through with average verses dedicated to the ladies, but Scales' smooth interpolation of a classic Slick Rick verse completely steals the show. Aside from this track, everything else from Below The Surface flows into itself and does little to standout.
"Full Frontal Nudity" finds Mala and Sev-Leven practically yelling over a decent voice-driven beat, but they say nothing of substance. "3, 2, 1" is filled with the usually party-driven call and response chants and lyrics over a predictable beat. "It's About to Get Live" is another party track dedicated to rocking the crowd and freaking. The album maintains the same theme and pace, with only a few songs earning mention. "Shut It Down" deserves attention because it might be the albums worst track. Over a horrible Lil' Jon imitation, Below The Surface attempt to get buck but sound completely out of place and out of their element.
"Do it Now" actually is decent attempt lyrically as the first verse is crafted around video game references, and some of the lines are actually dope. "Elbows Out The Window" is an attempt at a smoothed out ridin' track, but such songs have been done before and done a lot better (Youngblood's "85 South" comes to mind). The beat lacks the punch or catchiness for such an attempt and the lyrics are nothing new.
"Break the Knob Off" is notable for an annoying hook featuring yelling once again, though the Beastie Boys' style came close to yelling at times for some reason tracks like "Brass Monkey" never were as irritating as anything from Below The Surface. The album ends with "The Party Song." Why the group felt the need to make a song called "The Party Song" is a mystery as every other track on the album exudes a blatant party vibe. This effort, like the others is a fmiss as it would fail to move any crowd due to its unoriginal lyrics and bland beat.
Normally, my "bad" or negative reviews include advice for improvement, but in the case of Below The Surface the group seems to have reached its maturity artistically. Mala and Sev-Leven rhyme on time, but aside from that their lyrics are boring and generic calls to partying and their style is annoying. Yelling into the mic only works for a few, and I don't see this group becoming the next M.O.P. Beat-wise a huge improvement could be made, but it would do nothing to change the emcees and therefore would improve the overall product only marginally. As it stands, the production reminds me of a watered-down version of Hitman Sammy Sam's work, and though Sammy Sam is a crunk pioneer his music was never that great to begin with. Anything can be improved, but since the essence of the group is built around the somewhat shallow theme of partying it would take a great amount talent in other areas to make "Push Play" a viable product. Despite their best efforts, Below The Surface should probably take a different approach with their next effort before beckoning the listener to "push play."
Music Vibes: 4 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 4 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4 of 10
Originally posted: May 17, 2005