various artists :: Definitive Swim :: [adult swim]/Definitive Jux
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

If the best things in life are free, 2007 is truly the year hip-hop heads are living the good life. Ever since Talib Kweli & Madlib's "Liberation" dropped in January, the internet has been flooded with LEGAL FREE DOPE in the form of entire albums given away as downloadable MP3's. Now why in the hell would anybody give you free music for nothing, especially when it costs money just to supply the bandwidth for those millions of broke filegrabbers out in the cyberverse? One interpretation is that it's the ideal way to flip a middle finger to pure corporate greed, expressing an ideal that art is more important than commercial. On the other hand there are certainly corporate interests at work in giving away something for nothing; building up goodwill with potential future customers can be a far more effective viral than any millions of dollars spent on advertising campaigns.

It's interesting to note how the Definitive Swim project is completely blurring the lines between the two realities. You can't argue that anything given away for free by [adult swim] is really altruistic. Follow the money trail - [as] is part of the Cartoon Network, which is itself part of Turner Broadcasting, which is itself a part of Time Warner Incorporated, one of the world's most powerful business and media conglomerates. There can be little doubt that at the end of the day, TWI is looking at the bottom line on a corporate balance sheet, as they are beholden to their own interests to make a profit and shareholders who expect the same. On the other hand Definitive Jux couldn't possibly be more iconoclastic if they tried, a record label which is the living and breathing embodiment of a middle finger to watered down pasteurized homogenized and commercialized hip-hop. Founded by Company Flow frontman El-Producto after a frustrating tenure at the Rawkus Records label, one characterized by accusations that the label was really an offshot of Rupert Murdoch's megalithic News Corp since his son James provided financial backing. Since then El-P has relied on his hero-worship status in underground rap as the lyrical and musical architect of hip-hop classics to build his label's reputation one fan at a time.

For the label popularly called Def Jux, the kind of exposure that "Definitive Swim" gets via free plugs in the popular [adult swim] television block and free downloads on their website is the best publicity of all. Given [as] appears to operate in a largely autonomous fashion despite their corporate backing, they solidify their credibility as counter-culture mavericks with this collaboration, making it a win/win for both parties... as long as the album's good. El-P certainly does his part to make it a winner with the heavy-handed futuristic track "Smithereens," spitting lines like "Why should I be sober when God is so clearly dusted out his mind?" and "Old folks say 'Time to build,' but demolition pays more loot" not to mention closing with these disturbing words:

"Y'all creepers give me some privacy
Don't ask for something literal from a shy to secret society
There's a position to be filled so {motherfuckers} keep your eye on me
Forsake your precious advice, cause in my life everyone's lied to me
And I'm crying"

Few artists can get away with El-P's extremly verbose style, spilling beyond beats with ease while still keeping his flow sharper than ginsu knives, but doubting him results in his cuts leaving deep cranial lacerations. In fact much the same could be said for "Definitive Swim" as a whole, where the rappers within are operating on multiple levels far beyond the literal. Despot's "Get Rich or Try Dying" is just such an opus, the kind of song that changes every time you listen but gets more pleasant on each repeat. The beat interweaves eerie echoing sound effects into a boom bap drum track and dope bassline, resulting in an instrumental that could stand on its own that becomes gestalt once the lyrics are applied:

"The "told ya so" kid, lookin like he's itchin to sing
The day hell got cold, sellin plane tickets to pigs
Time-tested method for turnin a fat chance slim
No win dyin, push whatever's bad back in
And that grin's there is through first, place taste beautiful
A cookie for the straightest faces, spilled milk's funeral
Snoopin through the junk for a tall glass to tip it in
Shootin at his feet only tryin to see what he steppin in
So far just the street, at least makin use of the weapon hand
No promise to keep a set force in the mode of guess again
Food stuck in the bristles, every brush with death tickles
'Round the mouth the whistle creation of birth in the middle
When the pistol swivel towards the sunny spot he chose to sit in
Holding hands up, flashin a joy buzzer, just kiddin
Then a spark and a single shot that start the face sinkin
Caught the bullseye blinkin, thought of that usin thinkin"

"Definitive Swim" has only one major drawback - as a free download none of the parties involved could stomach the idea of an explicit release, particularly given that whether intended or not the [adult swim] lineup of shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force is popular with a pre-teen audience. As such you'll have to live with curses being edited out of tracks, from Aesop Rock's deep and dank "None Shall Pass" to Hangar 18's uplifting sing-song chorus and positive vibes of "Think Big." Nonetheless the choice of cuts found within the album are as impressive as they are thought-provoking, but it's also fair to say these are not rap songs meant for every hip-hop head. Cage's "Blood Boy" is a harrowing tale of disease and death in a cruel and heartless world, punctuated by a chorus with the repeated line "you can all pretend you gave a {fuck}." Even if you get beyond the bleak presentation, Cage's verbal stylings have always been aimed at a very niche underground audience that wouldn't fuck with Paul Wall and Will Smith on their happiest day or vice versa. That's not to say there aren't some definite (no pun intended) crossover tracks on here such as Camu Tao's "Plot For a Little," but more songs than not fall into the category of being written by and intended for a rap audience that's just as "independent as fuck" as El-Producto himself. All things considered though you have to applaud "Definitive Swim" for being given away for free, garnering larger exposure for all artists involved and doing so with a quality product WORTH getting for free. Be suspicious of the altruistic motives of [adult swim] if you like but don't let that prevent you from enjoying a mind AND eye-opening experience.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: March 6, 2007