If only all radio were like this. “Rebel Radio,” a mixtape from Deepthinka Records, is what the radio should sound like. Advertised on the cover as “featuring new tracks from: Grand Phee, Edotcom, Catastrophic Minds, Rime Royal, Ajent O, 3rd Son, Cup Fulla Nasty, Noble Truth, Zidda, and [One],” this mix is everything that a hip-hop fan wants to hear flying out of their FM. Haven’t heard of any of the artists? That’s the point. I can’t recall the last time I turned on the radio and heard something from someone I have never heard of. With Clear Channel and similar companies controlling nearly every facet of American Radio, this is the kind of shit you will never pick up on your dial. For sixty minutes or so, though, it is OK to dream.
The mixtape plays exactly like a radio show, with several names that recur throughout, but instead of radio-friendly topics, it is a satisfyingly eclectic collection of underground hip-hop. After a nice little “Introduction,” an abrasive horn loop ushers in “Awriteokay” by Rime Royal and Ajent O. Furious’ beat is actually a bit irritating, but the rhymes, while not spectacular, are consistently entertaining. “Deus Ex Machina,” by 3rd Son, is the first example of surprisingly heavy political content on the album. Over T1X’s wicked bassline, 3rd Son says what plenty of people have been thinking:
“In a world full of nuclear weapons
Rich Texans who win elections
Through their brethren’s manipulations
Provoking foreign nations’ aggressions
Idiotic rich boy initiating Armageddon
How long until the heavens come down
Or another Boeing 767 death 9/11 threat comes round?”
One of the album’s highlights comes next with the Catastrophic Minds’ “Coming of Age.” A brilliant balance of soft and hard makes up the beat, which consists of loud drums and a nifty trumpet section. There is nothing spectacular about the track, but it is expertly designed to bob heads. This is what makes “Rebel Radio” great. None of the emcees stand out, but they do their jobs, and without drastically varying styles, the mixtape has a surprising continuity. Additionally, only a handful of producers bless the fifteen tracks, which allows each track to sound familiar and unique. Furious, in particular, turns in a couple of magnetizing performances behind the boards, most notably the splendid “On Wax.”
Around track twelve or so, I started waiting for the inevitable tail-off. Most albums have it. Fortunately, there is solid material right through to the end. “Black Champion,” especially, is a wonderful political concept song, one of the two that an artist named One closes out “Rebel Radio” with. As with most of the other tracks, One’s two solo joints are balanced with riveting drums and the softer sounds on top of them. These two selections are an excellent end to the record.
For the most part, there are no emcees that stand out. This is a bit disappointing, and you will not find your finger creeping toward the rewind button. This is ultimately inconsequential, though. When there is such a hearty platter of hip-hop at your disposal, you won’t be missing the fact that the record is a bit short on punchlines and quotables. The rhymes are solid from start to finish, and the apparent lack of a standout helps the album as a whole.
“Rebel Radio” really is a perfect title for this record. There are plenty of pleasing samples scattered throughout, but each is thrown on top of hard-hitting basslines and drums for an enjoyably schizophrenic effect. It’s nearly as if they went through radio hits, stripped down the music to the bare samples, and then put varying degrees of slamming beats underneath. Also, none of the names will be recognizable to the masses, which is against the point of the radio, and thus is “Rebel Radio.” Finally, many of the topics explored are not the kind that Clear Channel would allow flying through FM radios everywhere. The result of this intentional twist on the concept is perfect listening for people who love the concept of the radio but wish it would cater to their underground tastes. Tune in.