Curly Castro :: Fidel
Man Bites Dog Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Curly Castro describes himself in superhero terms as your
"friendly neighborhood rebel" of hip-hop. He's Brooklyn born
and raised but has called the streets of Philadelphia home since
the late 1990's. His album "Fidel" is being released through the
rising imprint Man Bites Dog Records, home of everybody from
Double A.B. & Dub Sonata
to Vast Aire and MHz (Megahertz) among others. If you
called them 2010's answer to what Rawkus Records was in
the 1990's, you wouldn't be insulting any of the artists on
the imprint, though hopefully MBD doesn't wind up
relegated to a dead MySpace page the way Rawkus' did.
I think they've learned from Rawkus' mistakes though. The
underground hip-hop records they release are just as compelling,
sans the unreasonable expectations and contradictory "independent
as fuck (with major distributors)" rhetoric. Castro himself revels in his
contradictions - considering himself "part Red Foxx, part Che
Guevara" in his lyrical approach and willing to name both Boot
Camp Clik and Johnny Cash as artistic influences. Can anybody
hold so many disparate elements together in a compelling whole
without the whole thing coming apart at the seams? I'd argue that
Curly Castro does so successfully on "Fidel," an aptly named album
given the communist dictator is himself a study in contradiction -
decrying capitalistic economies like the U.S. yet an avid fan of
the sport of baseball which was born and flourished Stateside.
His political side is found in songs like "The Spook Who Sat"
and "Colored Water Fountain," songs not easily forgotten:
"Welcome to the water fountain, I'm your maitre'd
Segregated cuisine, Jim Crow at table three
Now Jolson is a regular, we ask him more or lesser
to come without his face on, he digs the watercress
Foix gras and catfish was Ronnie Reagan's favorite
He would wait for hours, while Nancy grew impatient
Hoover had a table with his G-men entourage
More boy toys than mannish, it seemed a little ODD"
It's hard not to laugh at his tales of George W. Bush being
"a tad bit unstable," but the funy song takes a wicked turn when
he informs all his guests that they were poisoned by "the flambe
pulled pork" with a sardonic "enjoy!" Therein lies Castro's road
to success in hip-hop - his ability to mix political commentary
and comedy like a Molotov cocktail and bomb unsuspecting
listeners. "Civil rights - I always laugh at the irony" quips Castro
on "The Letter M," a song written from the perspective of men
like Medgar Evers, Martin Luther and Malcolm X. Production
from friends like Has-Lo, Zilla Rocca and Small Professor
help serious tracks like these go down smoothly, a spoonful
of sugar for the medicine as it were. On songs like "Minefield"
he's more about pop culture than politics though, name-checking
everything from Ice Cube to "I, Robot" in his personal narrative.
Castro is a master of the concise statement, with 10 out of the
13 songs on "Fidel" clocking in at under 210 seconds, and the
entire album coming in under 38 minutes. His gruff vocal tone
and passionate delivery ensures not a second of that time is
wasted, from the lyrically and musically chilling "Cocaine Blues"
to the sci-fi futuristic sound of "Libertad." Though I'm relatively
new to the Curly Castro phenomenon at this point, it's fair to
say that Man Bites Dog Records has kept their winning streak
in tact on "Fidel" and given me an artist to check for from
this review forward.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: February 19th, 2013