Here’s an independent release that actually doesn’t sound as heavy as it looks. At times I even think these guys have the formula for how that good ol’ homemade household hip-hop that some people still do for fun should sound like in 2001. Following up their January release “Free Association Music Vol. 1 The Foundation” with “Vol. 2 Lyrical Slaughter” in the summer of the same year this Milwaukee-based crew comprised of rappers MC AK and Slangston Hughes and producer Nicsosa does not really experiment with ‘free association music’ as it simply makes hip-hop music, and it does not really commit ‘lyrical slaughter’ as it simply writes rhymes and records raps. Another crew failing to live up to its own promises then? No, just a recently formed group trying to fuse two minds together and trying to express these minds.

Great or not, some minds think alike: AK and Hughes roughly have the same agenda, the same level of enthusiasm about rap and the same level of frustration with the rap business +and+ they both sport a similar flow. They are pushing the same dream, so it makes sense that these two would come together. What I’m getting at is: the duo format has a long tradition in hip-hop, from Double Trouble to Run-D.M.C. to Salt-n-Pepa to EPMD to M.O.P. to the Smut Peddlers. The halves that make up a rap duo can differ from each other considerably, but there has to be a common denominator. MC AK’s (white) and Slangston Hughes’s (black) common denominator would be their moves in the music biz on their hometurf Milwaukee. So they get together and decide to remake EPMD’s classic “Please Listen to My Demo”. In an effort to get closer to the original, they even recreate its atmosphere without using the actual sample. “Please Listen to My Promo” tells of the difficulty of making the next step after someone listened to your demo: get someone to listen to your promo. Like Erick and Parrish they recall those often humiliating attempts to make yourself heard. “Please Listen to My Promo” isn’t nowhere near as superb as “Demo” (“promo” does not rhyme as well with “limo” as “demo” does…), but I give them props for the reference.

Indeed Rearranged are thankful towards those that influenced them, as evidenced by the surprisingly radio-friendly “Thank You”. But if you’re in this hip-hop hustle, you’re not likely to meet only well-meaning people. There’s ‘the industry’ waiting to gobble up innocent rappers, and so Rearranged face their fears in a song of the same name. Decidedly more funny is “The Scoop”, backed by Boogie Down Production’s “Word From Our Sponsor” instrumental. The song is basically a interview with Slangston, done by an annoying show host. Slangston breaks down his philosophy, interrupted by the inevitable words from the sponsor and the interviewer, who at the end announces that next week’s guest will be… Sisquo. So much for hip-hop music and media. Slangston remembers a time when hip-hop was, well, just a tad bit purer, and he does so on “Bring It Back”, rocking over Pete Rock’s “Nighttrain” remix for Public Enemy. That’s a beat you can hardly fuck up to, but still, his performance is far from perfect. Plus it irks me that he gives the impression that anyone else but Terminator X could be doing the cutting in the break. Slangston Hughes also teams up with his brother Nicsosa on the eventful challenge to competition, “2 Ya Face”.

MC AK, on the other hand, is not a name you should be fooled by. Although he announces a “lyrical drive-by” at the top of “Lyrical Slaughter” (w/ Acyd Reign from Rockford, Illinois), he’s not exactly making ’em lay down with his harmless style of rapping. He seems to suffer from the white US rapper flow/voice syndrome (which others have overcome). Rappping is not just talking, it involves changes in tone and timbre, as well as in speech patterns – ones that work, I might add. Whenever this CD slumps, it’s likely due to AK’s performance. “Beat Lockin'” is ridiculous. Even if guest rapper Noizwave claims he was “forced at gunpoint to do this song”, he isn’t excused to take part in such nonsense. I don’t think that AK wants to be taken serious himself on “Trooper Theme”, but the wackest of these selections has to be the one joint that’s the most serious, “Suiride”. Imagine Eminem in the biggest creative crisis of his life. Still, MC AK plays a key role in the two moments most worthy of mention on this CD. “Life’s Fair?” – which manages to turn its initial tell-me-something-new attitude into a positive manifesto – has him examining life’s lack of fairness with two convincing examples, while Slang Hughes offers insight from his own perspective:

“I’m just tryin’ to keep my sanity, while the man in me
keep tellin me I should chill out, settle down and raise a family
cause although my experience and age is young too
doesn’t mean that stressful situations I haven’t been through
And with stress, I’m sure there’s to be more in store
Who knows, will I even make the age of 34?
They say trying times will make you wiser and stronger
But I don’t know how much longer I live, so I wrote a song to
help alleviate the stress, believe me it’s a mess
Gotta worry ’bout a rep and niggas tryin’ to take my breath
And what’s left? Death, lingerin’ overhead
Bad thoughts (…) so I write a rhyme instead
Cause things out here in these streets is so crucial
Associates’ll shoot you and act like they never knew you
tellin’ other niggas who were cool with you
that the beef between y’all never cooked because respect was mutual
Then after your funeral biz is back to usual
the cats you associated with are doin’ whatever suitable
to make a livin’, but they fake, so they never take the ribbon
only winnin’ when the rules of the game involve sinnin’
It’s the Devil’s new religion, beware the New World Order
Novus Ordo Seclorum, black folks serum.”

It’s not like you get a black and a white take on the problems of the world today with Rearranged. But outside of matters rap each one has their own issues obviously. It strikes me that AK is the second white rapper to dedicate a song to his daughter, while I’m hard-pressed to think of a black rapper that talks about his kid(s) on such a personal level (I’m sure there are some). Expect no twisted “Bonnie & Clyde” tale from AK though. “Daddy’s Little Girl” is so sweet it’s truly endearing. He might glance at radio play with this upbeat ditty, but why not, really?

“If you hear bad things about me, just shut it out
if you hear them tell those lies, tell them to cut it out
You’re one half your mommy, 50% me
but when it comes to daddy, 100% my honey
You may cry for hours straight, act all hyper
spill stuff on my FUBU shirt, leak all over your diaper
that’s okay, dad’ll be here to clean up for free
– please talk your mom into doin’ it for me
Never thought you’d see AK pushin’ strollers down the street
never thought you’d see AK washin’ someone else’s feet
never thought you’d see AK make someone else a meal
never thought you’d see AK truly love someone for real
never thought I’d see anyone as beautiful as you
you’re my mini-boo, me and you, we crew.”

Isn’t that cute. (And I mean it.)

What else is going on on this album? A slow burning posse cut with the aforementioned Noizewave and Acyd Reign, over a beat sounding like it was done by Suave House resident producer T-Mix (“Pass tha Mic”). Plus two somewhat connected cuts, one “Dan” and the other “Know I’m Dead”, both getting a anti-violence message out. Plus a hidden track where they jack another BDP beat, taking out the opportunity to shit on some friends and foes of theirs. By the way, if there’s a correct way to stash a hidden track, Rearranged have officially discovered it.

If you’re looking for an album that is not marred by negativity and nihilism, that puts creativity where others put curses, that is not too intellectual but intelligent, then you might wanna give this one a try. In the album’s title track one of the rappers says: “I gotta make my life worth more than a 40 hour check / music became my disease, and now I wanna infect.” I’m not sure if everyone would like to get infected with Rearranged’s special type of disease; but I’ve already had my shots, so I’m only carrier of the virus. Anyone down to catch it for real, hit up their website for a dose.