The history of Southern rap has been to no small degree shaped by rap duos. 2 Live Crew, Underground Kingz, Eightball & MJG, OutKast, Crooked Lettaz, Clipse, The Convicts, Kane & Abel, Partners-N-Crime, Indo G & Lil' Blunt, Ghetto Twiinz, Big Tymers, 95 South, Ghetto Mafia, Tag Team, even Kris Kross. That's no disrepect to soloists and crews, and especially not those members of the aforementioned acts that too often get forgotten (from Mr. Mixx to Mr. DJ), but there's something about rap duos that seems to make them fit to play a historical role, particularly when looking at the New York scene of the '80s. The duo format may not be favored by the industry, but it provided the genre with crucial landmarks and continues to exist. Considering various recent collaboration albums, one could even say it makes a comeback these days.
One Southern duo that came into existence before Field Mob, Playaz Circle, Youngbloodz, Ying Yang Twins, Dirty, Paul Wall & Chamillionaire, Little Brother, etc. was South Circle, consisting of Mr. Mike and Thorough. They were part of the Suave House foray in the mid-'90s, following in the footsteps of the label's trailblazers, Eightball & MJG. "Anotha Day Anotha Balla" is vintage Southern rap that doesn't necessarily fit current preconceptions about the region. Combining rap's cutthroat rhetoric with the aggressive attitude of the streets, South Circle's music often has the same dark undertones that you'll also find on '90s releases by Geto Boys, Three 6 Mafia or Eightball & MJG. "Be on the look-out / you'll get took out / when me and Mike put out / dope / Can't cope, we killin' em / Now witness the murderism," Thorough concludes the "Intro," and they stick to the violent imagery for most of the album. They're "droppin' grammar like a sledgehammer." They "slap Mother Teresa and pull a pump on the Pope." The confessions pour out of them, often combined with an insanity plea. Mike: "I'm Stir Crazy like Richard Pryor, especially when I'm higher / I'll choke you with the barbed wire." Thorough: "Illegal acts occur in the midst of my spree / as I flee up the block watchin' innocent people drop / Should I stop? / Humanity says yes, insanity says no."
Yet like with Ball & MJG, the commotion is often tempered by laid-back demeanor. Mike proclaims a new beginning on his solo track "New Day," now wise enough not to get caught up in the drama anymore, instead enjoying the good life: "It's funny how time flies / I went from do-or-die / to gettin' high and layin' pipe." But he lets you know success didn't come overnight, ending the song with: "Niggas be stuck on yesterday but I pass / Had to Git Up, Git Out and get somethin' like a OutKast / And you might see me and T in a movie / cause it's a new day."
On the title track, Mike invites you to meet him "at the top of cloud nine," giving his definition of a baller at the very start: "Now should I drop my britches, hit switches, get riches - which is it? / It's all of the above and I'm back payin' visits." Thorough follows up with his, pouring his pimp-tight flow over the high-potent track. Their level-headed approach comes to full fruition on the single "Attitudes." Songs about player-haters come a dime a dozen, but the rarer ones actually have a story to tell. Thorough:
"It's a trip, a bitch in hustler's clothin'
The hoe wasn't showin', so I had no way of knowin'
While smilin' in my face he stabbed me in my back
I react like a mack cause I'm bigger than all that
In fact, fuck you, fraud-ass nigga
See this player figure? Wanna take a picture?
No? What about your bitch, though?
And if she take it with me, partner, she wasn't yours from the get-go
It's so funny, honey got him sprung
but if she come this way, she gettin' bad news and bubble gum
Now 1, 2, this what we gon' do
Crack a brew, light a blunt and let me kick what's true
You know you go with the flow, try to keep your cool
but you always got to worry 'bout somebody actin' a fool
So I use my head, don't let it get me fed
I drink a fifth of 'yac and take yo gal to the bed
Instead of straight trippin' and actin' real rude
I just charge it to the game and blame yo player-hatin' attitude"
Social commentary is largely absent from "Anotha Day Anotha Balla," despite tracks reflective of the urban warfare. Their jail break in "No Escape" together with MJG and Tela is a failure, while in the following "Neva Take Me Alive" Thorough seems to seek revenge for centuries of slavery. But these acts never rise above plain violence. Lyrically, South Circle open doors that would allow them to enter fields such as religion, politics, or introspection, but they never go through these doors. They manage to come up with concepts, such as "Final Call," where Thorough embarks on a payback mission, his tale ending with shots ringing out, then his partner takes over from the perspective of a deadly wounded man. You will hardly find a technically more prolific murder rap track than this or the equally chilling "Neva Take Me Alive," but as lyricists South Circle don't yet have the full control over their expression, which regularly results in clumsy phrasings and loose threads. There's a reason the Geto Boys went down in history, they were able to make sense out of insanity.
Still "Anotha Day Anotha Balla" is a very vivid record that makes sense as often as it doesn't. "Gotta Maintain" has words of encouragement for "the players in my hood" (and anybody else able to relate) over radio-friendly funk grooves, while Thorough keeps it real in his very own way: "I sell no dream cause the truth has no shame." In the end the two are always good for a quotable, from Mike's "You hoes talked all that jazz, so now it's time to sing some blues" to Thorough's "Pump our tape in yo jeep, watch yo gal wanna freak / get lyrically molested by the way that I speak."
While there's a certain disparity between their mic skills and their songwriting, both are very accomplished rappers, commanding a crisp and nuanced delivery, and Suave in-house producer T-Mix provides them with plenty of ammunition, characterized by lush melodical arrangements usually underscored by hard-hitting drums. The musical quality of tracks like "Anotha Day Anotha Balla," "New Day," "Attitudes," and "It's Going Down" is simply not to be denied. T-Mix creates gangsta symphonies, a Southern adaption of the West's g-funk. He will go from the creeping, all-angles audio attack "Unsolved Mysteries" to the funked out voyage "Pimp Thang" without blinking.
With mostly regional support the album sold over 200,000 copies. Along with other pioneering acts (among them UGK, 'Kast and Ball & G), the Corpus Christi/Houston duo was at the forefront of building Southern confidence. As Mike put it in "New Day": "I don't have to scream to tell you hoes 'bout this South shit." Regional pride aside, a lot of what they presented was already highly familiar back then, but even so they said it with plenty of flair and flavor. Originally solo artists, South Circle missed the opportunity to release another album together. Mr. Mike put out two solo albums in the '90s, "Wicked Wayz" and "Rhapsody," while Thorough is still slated to drop his solo debut "Bout Time," but "Anotha Day Anotha Balla" remains an hour worth going back to, or awaits to be discovered for the first time.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 3, 2009