There’s no shortage of independent hip-hop releases to review when you run an independent, unbiased music site and openly advertise your address so people can send in their albums. The House of Lawds CD comes in the prototypical CD-R jewel case that so many unsolicited albums do, but it also has a curious picture on the front: a group of conservatively dressed men and a smattering or workers, all with the sort of sullen and serious faces often seen in a 19th century daguerreotype photograph. The nondescript background they stand in front of may be somewhere in the United Kingdom, because these “Lawds” have an accent that will remind some of Food Network’s own Jamie Oliver, or British rappers such as Lewis Parker and Roots Manuva.
Unfortunately the single typed sheet that comes inserted in the album tells me little about the history of the crew, or even who produced the tracks on it. All I know is that Redeem, one of the rappers in the group, approached me online about having his music critiqued. Looking at the insert I in fact find Redeem and another MC aptly named Lawds listed in brackets next to four of the tracks: “Capital Punishment”, “The Heist Pt. 1”, “Disloyal Subjects” and “The Heist Pt. II.” I often pass off albums that I’ve been personally contacted about because when they’re wack I hate giving people bad news, and if they’re good I distrust my own opinion for fear I may be biased by having established a relationship via e-mail.
Curiosity about the contents under the cover and Redeem’s work on this album got the better of me though, so I popped this CD in the discman for a spin. I think one is enough. Although the tracks are in and of themselves harmless and unoffensive, they don’t produce any sort of headnod effect. The drum beats sound flat and lifeless, and the attempts at original music prove why sampling should be treated as art instead of theft. There’s an attempt to structure a melody as a backdrop for “The Heist Pt. I” and the sequel has some unknown person tickling the ivories – neither one captures the imagination. “Put Your Guns Down” does sample the voices of some people wailing and pairs it with a Nas snippet, but this only applies to the intro and chorus. Original music drags down the verses again, as it does on the ironically named “Billie Holiday” – it could really use a few samples FROM her to give it life.
Many United States listeners don’t give British rap a chance due to the accents, but I find they’re not at all a problem on this CD. What is problematic is that the vocals seem to have been recorded on a low quality microphone, rendering them barely audible most of the time, and badly mixed with the tracks the rest; giving them a muddy and dirty quality which would only work if the beats were choice to begin with. To summarize, think Beastie Boys meets RZA, with one tenth of either’s production talent. The rappers themselves seem unethusiastic, as though they are going through the motions or trying too hard to be too hard. And I’m sorry to say this, but the patois scatting of “Street Scriptures Pt. I” is just TURRIBLE – thank God it wasn’t included in the almost decent vibes of “Pt. II.”
Unlike Fatboy Roberts or OT Baez, I honestly don’t enjoy shitting on albums like these. The House of Lawds obviously had high hopes for their first CD, and I can only shatter those dreams by pointing out how fundamentally flawed their debut album is. This album really can’t compete with the best rappers and producers of their native country, let alone fuck with what anybody is doing globally. If their work ethic is strong, they can always build on their ambitions and come back with better production and much less sullen rap lyrics and delivery. Listening to this album they sound depressed, and I’m depressed about having to shit all over it – somebody hand me the bottle of Prozac. I won’t give up reviewing albums I’m personally solicited to do, but this one makes me a little more wary of the next envelope I open – anthrax or not.