There used to be a time when I was up on the missions man undertook in space. As a teenage boy, I too dreamt of reaching for the moon and beyond. I can remember when the Cold War was staged in space, at least the latter days when President Reagan envisioned his own version of Star Wars with his Strategic Defense Initiative. And I sure read my share of science fiction books. But as I got older, I realized that I'd be confined to the third rock from the sun for the remainder of my life, and so I concentrated on making my heaven (and occasionally hell) right here on Earth. These days, whenever the Americans, the Russians, the Europeans or the Chinese report on their outer space activities, I'm always mildly surprised at how things are moving slowly but steadily forward. Take that space station thing. How long have they been up there already? Doing what exactly? Are we in secret negotiations with alien invaders? Did anyone come down with space madness yet? When can humanity expect the first child conceived in space? Why did nobody think of turning the entire event into a reality TV show?
One development that suprises me in particular are these so-called space tourists. Funding must really be at a historic low when you give elderly men a lift into space and turn ISS into a space motel. I'm kidding. I actually have the utmost respect for anyone brave and in shape enough to be admitted on board of a Space Shuttle. But I wonder if there were not men and women more deserving of a space trip than those who have enough money to pay for it. Let's say Albert Einstein (whose breakthrough publications we commemorate with the World Year of Physics 2005) was still alive, moderately aged, physically fit. Obviously he would qualify as a scientist, rather than a tourist, but even if he just wanted to enjoy the view, I'd say someone get that man a space suit quick.
Sometimes a RapReviewer's mind wanders off, and today is definitely one of these days, as you can gather from this odd introduction. But even though the oddest part is yet to come, the following is something that occurred to me before this review became necessary. Watching the latest space tourist return safely to Earth, I wondered if there were any hip-hop figures deserving of a space trip. Who among hip-hop's bright minds has best represented man's ambition to conquer space? Until now, that was an entirely pointless question. But inspired by this record, I've taken it upon myself to search the archives for astronomical references. Prime candidate for a hip-hop community-sponsored space walk has to be Jimmy Spicer, for the simple fact that 1979's "Adventures of Super Rhymes" make him the first rapper to ever defy gravity, claiming he came to us as Super Rhymes from Planet Rhymeon. Afrika Bambaataa deserves a nod for turning Earth into "Planet Rock," as does the Jonzun Crew for getting "Lost in Space." While these old school pioneers were influenced by original pop culture cosmologists George Clinton and Sun Ra, reflecting early hip-hop's strong ties to futurism and funk, a variety of new school MC's kept the Mothership Connection alive.
De La Soul were "Transmitting Live From Mars." Kurupt did the "Space Boogie." The Ultramagnetic MC's were "Travelling at the Speed of Thought." OutKast made us see "ATLiens." Gift of Gab witnessed "Fourth Dimensional Rocketships Going Up." Justin Warfield reported back from "My Field Trip to Planet 9." Keith Murray and Devin The Dude both blazed it up with aliens. Eightball & MJG were "Space Age Pimpin'." Pastor Troy swore, "I'm 'bout to move to Mars y'all, the world a mess." MC Shan suited up as "MC Space" and flew "the galaxy wearin' laser Cazels." Killah Priest was on "Mars building the holy synagogue for the royal seminars." Lyrics Born aspired to "be the first ever Asian astronaut." Brother J introduced himself as "an afronaut," "the original traveller, an unraveller of all mysteries," inviting us to "take a trip through space, without no suit." Jayo Felony promised he'd be "walkin' on the moon by 2004," partying "with the OG's" in "space ships on gold D's." Puff Daddy (or his ghostwriter) claimed to be "out of this world like Mars when I spit these bars." Binary Star were "Solar Powered." Tha Funkee Homosapien became Deltron 3030. Butterfly told his moms he'd "split to Earth to resurrect the funk." Thanks to "God's amazing grace," Cee-Lo was able to "travel outer space while standin' in one place." CL Smooth (taking a clue from Les Brown) boasted, "I shoot for the moon, but even if I miss I'm among the stars, to put a bullethole in Mars." Akrobatik drew comparisons of galactic proportions, rapping, "My brain cells are large like Jupiter / while other kids' mentality gets stupider and stupider / talkin' 'bout their street Star Wars / can't rock for eight bars, eyes redder than Mars." And they all followed Rakim's lead, who travelled at magnificent speeds around the universe while Earth got further and further away and planets became small as balls of clay.
Yes, if there was one hip-hop representative I would want to offer a trip to space (anxiously awaiting his return, as always), it would be Rakim, the one rapper who truly was out of this world back in 1988. What does all this have to do with "Dynamic Universe Volume Six"? Not an awful lot, to be honest. It was the one thing I was able to concentrate on while I was overwhelmed by the strange occurrences on this CD. Dynamics Plus is a member of Long Island collective The Lenzmen. Unfamiliar with their work, I have no idea what Dynamics is up to when he's around other people. But when he's by himself, he apparently likes to rap sci-fi babble over low-fi beats. "Doctor Atomics and the Fortress of Solitude" pretty much defies further explanation. There'd be more to relate if there was a clear plot, if the characters would stick to their roles, if there was a mission statement by which the project could be judged. Instead, Dynamics Plus puts up the disclaimer "Maybe all of this is just too much for you / could be my views are made to only touch a few." Not me, obviously.
Despite the seclusionist nature of this recording, musically it does occasionally adhere to traditional values. Dynamics Plus possesses rhyming stamina ("Been a fiend since 16 and seen sicker scenes than sealed in the ceiling of the Sistine"). The music he creates sometimes ventures beyond the blip hop microcosmos (the soulful "Machine Slave"). He clearly has put some effort into the whole thing. There's humor. There's hooks. Female singers. Movie dialogue. You can even make out a serious undertone every now and then ("One Chance") - usually a key component in science fiction, if I might add. One song even fully delivers what I expect from a project like this (the 007-like narrative "STACI III: Garden of Eden"). There are some great lines, such as "We can bathe in cosmic showers / and watch supernovas from solar flare flowers / feel the rush of this cosmic stuff / and write our names in the tail of a comet's dust." But exactly because you kind of know what would have been possible, the enticingly-titled "Doctor Atomics and the Fortress of Solitude" is such a disappointment. You might be tempted to celebrate it as a piece of original hip-hop (which it probably is to some degree), but only until you try to enjoy it the way you've enjoyed the original hip-hop cited above.
Music Vibes: 4 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 4 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4 of 10
Originally posted: November 15, 2005